“Out of this massive restructuring of power relationships, like the shifting and grinding of tectonic plates in advance of an earthquake, will come one of the rarest events in human history, a revolution in the very nature of power.”
~ Alvin Toffler, Powershift, 1990
Millions of people around the world watched the U.S. Women National Team (USWNT) dominate the Netherlands to win a fourth World Cup championship - the most ever won by a women’s team. It was the second consecutive World Cup win for USWNT, which shared the honor with only one other team - Germany. Jill Ellis, the team’s coach, became the first women’s coach in soccer history to ever win two back-to-back World Cup titles. Even more impressive, that’s a feat that has been achieved only one other time - Italy’s men’s coach, Vittorio Pozzo coached two consecutive wins in 1934 and 1938.
As with most championship sporting events, news outlets and social media have given almost 100% of their coverage to reporting on the amazing achievement. Audiences have devoured highlight stories about the players - where they grew up, where they went to school, their individual soccer accomplishments - all of this backstory has been shared thousands of times across the networks. We became personally invested in the sport and its champion players. Throughout the month-long tournament, thousands of existing fans watched their favorite team beat its competition again and again. With each win, thousands of new fans were made. Each win affirmed the incredible power of human energy.
“I believe we also all take in and we all emit energy. Very few leaders talk about it, and even fewer have mastered it. But when you find it, energy is like discovering your passion, listening to it, exploring it. It’s like this forward charging spirit that creates challenges and embraces those change in challenges.”
In March 2013, then-Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts stood nervously on the TEDx Hollywood stage, offering this profound perspective on how human energy can unite people and transform companies and communities. She challenged the audience to see human energy as emotional electricity with the power to create confidence and a sense of belonging.
In her work and life, Ahrendts had witnessed how uniting ordinary people and their collective spirit would propel them to “do and give more.” She had seen how shared community could fuel an organization to accomplish extraordinary things. Progress comes from the powers of perception and listening to others. It is born out of the willingness to accept and embrace ambiguity (the uncertain win at the start of the match) and to work together with others toward a greater purpose for the organization.
This, she asserted, is what leaders do. They embrace humanity.
The Human Revolution
Say what you will about the politics swirling around the USWNT win. If you choose to avoid getting caught up in the debates and instead revel in the phenomenal power of this tight, focused, talented group of women you’ll see it - we’re in the midst of a revolution.
At its core is a human energy. It’s a movement that’s in many ways disseminated by technology and created by our growing desire and capacity to fulfill the need to belong. Even as the technology that enables that connectedness is changing the way we live, work, and engage, we are aware that what we’re actually living in is a social revolution, and it’s altering our cultures and values.
In coming together seeking belonging, we’re becoming teams capable of producing energy and outcomes that none of us could tap into alone.
“Technology is the conduit...you are the content. Or if technology is the physical connector, you’re the emotional connector.”
~ Angela Ahrendts
As technology becomes more ubiquitous, people become more important. Connectivity is nothing without participants. Only humans can bring the energy – the emotional electricity – that transforms companies, governments, and societies and that accomplishes extraordinary things.
For leaders (like Ellis and Ahrendts), the human revolution creates an imperative to increase the value and priority we place on the people within our organizations. Leaders must understand how the fundamental values and priorities of their people create the energy and power to define - and redefine - organizational boundaries.
The boundaries of our civil society are ever-widening, becoming an increasingly diverse ecosystem of communities, organizations, and individuals. Our ability and willingness to connect with others anywhere in the world (from the palm of our hand, anytime) has evolved to an ability and willingness to join our voices on vital issues and topics. That, in turn, is altering our value systems and creating new societal norms.
Consider, for example, that U.S. soccer ranks as the fourth most popular sport in the U.S. (behind football, baseball, and basketball) and is growing in popularity faster than almost any other sport. It’s played by more girls and young women than any other team sport. And every time the country has won a World Cup, its fandom and participation rates have skyrocketed.
Where and how we unite and amplify
In just a few short decades, the web has made it quicker and easier to find people ‘like you’ – others who share similar experiences, heritage, and beliefs. With a few clicks of the keyboard, people across the organization, town, country, or planet can become part of your network. They may look different, spend a different currency, or follow different leadership - but be deeply connected on fundamentals.
The alliances work because the global communication infrastructure acts as a virtual superhighway through which billions of people can connect, share ideas, collaborate, and learn from each other. People can aggregate, join their voices, and address societal challenges in ways never before possible. Some of these people have been under-represented or even voiceless through history. There’s a new source of power emerging, to be sure.
Today, all of the people on the planet are approximately four degrees of separation from one another. It’s not at all far-fetched to believe that soon, that chasm will be even smaller.
Connection and collaboration no longer require introductions, physical spaces, or even time. Those interventions are relics of a bygone age. Today, we are all members of a connected society, partners in the workforce, and a community ripe to create change. We are, in effect, members of a team. It’s not hard to see how unleashing this empowerment could infuse incredible progress and resilience in our organizations.
Businesses must recognize they are operating in human-centered markets. The private sector must actively engage in social programs. Individuals have a responsibility to use our connectedness productively. And governments are challenged to respond to, represent and engage this proliferation and diversity of voices.
Influence comes from expected sources like a high-powered, highly respected executives like Ahrendts. It also comes from teams of talented athletes who are courageous enough to use their physical victories to rally the public to talk about issues of (in)equality. And it comes from populations that have been voiceless or under-represented until connected platforms offered a way to gather and raise their voice. From every corner, there’s more potential now than ever in history to raise our collective energy to make real, positive change.
There’s a new source of power emerging, to be sure.
As Chairman of the Board for Toffler Associates, Deborah brings skills and insights honed over 30 years working with some of the top minds and leaders of governments and Fortune 100 companies. Deborah has an MBA from Webster University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico, and has completed extensive continuing education with Harvard Business School and Wharton Business School. She is also a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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