Power to the People

2016 started already and we all have some resolutions that we finally believe will become true over the coming year. One of them might be to get more power to achieve more things, to be more respected or to be successful in the things we do. But we have to understand that we entered the terrible era of the decay of power. The forces driving the decay of power are manifold, intertwined and unprecedented. Something we may fear but that we cannot control over time.

A great metaphor was brought by Moises Naim in his book ‘The End of Power. From boardrooms to battlefields and churches to states, why being in charge is not what it used to be’. He is talking about James Black Jr., a chess player from a working –class family in Brooklyn, New York. ‘By the time he was twelve, Black had become a Master at chess, a ranking achieved by fewer than 2 percent of the 77.000 members of the United States Chess Federation – and only 13 per cent were under 14. The year was 2011, and Black has a good shot at becoming a Grandmaster (…) Grandmaster is the highest title a chess player can attain. Once obtained, the title is held for life (…) His idol is Mikhail Tal, Russian world chess champion of the 1950s. What motivates Black, in addition to the enjoyment of the game, is the way it lets him wield power. As he told a reporter ‘I like to dictate that the other player has to do’ – as clear a statement of the innate urge for power as one can find’


But this attitude or those expectations are no longer one of a kind. They are part of global trend, a new widespread phenomenon that changed the world of competitive chess. Players are learning the game and achieving mastery much younger. More Grandmasters also exist – around 1.200 compared to 88 in 1972. And newcomers defeat more easily and often the top people of their categories. More competitors can climb the ranking and they come from wider origins, countries, educations or languages. What explains this dramatic change in the world’s chess hierarchy? In part: the digital revolution.

For some time now, chess player can train on computer games capable to simulate the best plays of the most famous champions. And they can play them again and again, learning along the way. It allows millions of capabilities, even for the players coming from different age and socioeconomic backgrounds. But this is not the whole story. The demolition of the power structure of world chess also stems from changes in the global economy, in politics, and in demographic and migratory patterns. Open borders allow more competitors to participate to tournaments, the standards of education is higher than ever, child healthcare is more accurate everyday, more people live in cities where the game is more played than in the countryside and the economic growth has opened opportunities to billions of people for whom the game was inaccessible.

Of course, chess is just a metaphor here. But it says a lot about this shift in the power understanding and usage. The barriers and the boundaries are falling one after the other, allowing the people to enjoy the similar things. Those barriers fading away can explain also the changes in politics, in science, in ideologies, in NGO. Wherever power matters, power is also decaying. So enjoy this New Year to understand that it’s not about getting the power against others but really about learning, opening up, sharing, contributing, making things happen. This is what 2016 should give us. This is what you should expect and aim for.



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