Power of Pull

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Book: The Power of Pull. John Seely Brown, John Hagel, and Lang Davidson

(See also our explanation page on Pull Economies)


John Hagel:

“Pull allows each of us to find and access people and resources when we need them, while attracting to us the people and resources that are relevant and valuable, even if we were not even aware before that they existed. Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, pull gives us the ability to draw from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential.

The power of pull puts each of us, individually and together, in a position to collaborate in a complete re-imagination of our biggest private-and public-sector institutions, one that may eventually remake society as a whole. As customers, we have more choices, and more information with which to make those choices, than ever before. As talented employees we have greater power too than before, since we create the lion’s share of today’s corporate profitability. As each of us votes with our feet and allies ourselves with new generations of institutions, we’ll abandon the old ones, leaving them to drift into obsolescence and setting in motion a reshaping of broad arenas of economic and civic life.

While this broad shift in power to individuals is one thread woven through our work, another has to do with how technology is amplifying and transforming relationships. That theme came into even sharper focus in the book Out of the Box (Hagel and JSB), which described the emergence of a new generation of technology architecture – service oriented architectures – and placed it explicitly in the context of new relationships that this more flexible architecture enabled.

It’s a peculiar thing about technology: Many people seem to regard it as an end in itself. (Consider the companies that throw money at technology without thinking through commensurate changes in management practices or social relations necessary to create value from that investment.) Yet technology is revolutionary in its implications due to the changes it enables in how people find each other, interact, and collaborate to create and share knowledge.

In many respects, The Power of Pull can be read as an attempt to reinstate the central role of socially embedded practice in driving knowledge creation and performance improvement relative to the recent emphasis in the management literature of process reengineering. The Power of Pull at one level seeks to refocus technology innovation on providing tools to amplify the efforts of communities of practice to drive performance improvement.” (http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2010/04/the-power-of-pull-has-finally-arrived.html)

Review / Commentary

1. Gordon Cook [1]:

Introduction: The Power of Pull, An Examination of a Brave New World

"The world is broken. Business doesn’t work anymore. Across the S&P 500, return on assets is headed toward zero. Wall Street goes on an unregulated tear and tanks the economy. Washington steps in and bails everyone out pushing the deficit to unthinkable heights. A monetarily fueled recovery is knocking at the edge but once more it will be jobless. These events render pretty well impossible any future resurrection of the mass production, centralized, top down, economy-of-scale version of the petroleum fueled, assembly line based, push economy that powered the world up to the point of the popping of the internet and housing bubbles. Everyone would like to understand: ‘why did all these things break?” The Power of Pull explains the seeming inexplicable.

I first met John Seely Brown almost five years ago not long after his previous book, The Only Sustainable Edge was published. Now John Seely Brown and John Hagel, have joined forces with Lang Davison in a new book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves Smartly Made Can Set Big Things in Motion. This work offers both a descriptive examination of failing industries -- one of its stunning conclusions is that they are all failing across the board - and a proscriptive analysis of the kinds of human economic organization that are producing positive economic results.

The book’s thesis is that a ‘big shift’ from push based, mass production, top down, economy of scale kinds of organizations is taking place. The digital micro-processor, internet based economy that has matured over the past 30 years has insinuated itself into the old style companies and enabled them to make changes that squeeze more efficiency out of the old models but that is in pursuit of a diminishing returns strategy as The Power of Pull explains. In some ways, what the authors describe has overtones of Carlota Perez but goes beyond her work in showing with finer resolution how the productivity enhancements of our new digital infrastructure enable what he calls creative edge that can pull the no longer productive aspects of the core to innovative projects at the edge. Edge based skunk-works transform the core in this new world.

Frame by frame the authors show how what the networked world does renders the continuation of the old push based world impossible. Its collapse is inevitable and the way forward is to understand what is happening, and get out of the way by going with and enabling the flow!"

What Are the Flows Found in the New and Successful Digitally Based Ecosystems?

The book posits a shift from push-based economy to a pull-based one and is in my opinion at its most useful when it is not positioned as a self-help book. You are the executive and this is what’s happening and here at the end of every chapter are the key questions the answer to which will tell you where you are in the process. It seems that the book’s publishers bound by the push-based world of economy of scale, assume that this is necessary to sell more and more copies.

Such was my first reaction. But JSB responded with the following VERY eloquent informative paragraphs when I asked him to do a final quick review of my text. My thanks to him for permission to include here what he wrote.

“Actually John and I pushed the publisher into putting those questions in. Why? Very simply. The more I talk about this work to executives the more they may nod their heads and say: “yes yes we get it.” But do they? When we start laying out specific issues or questions and ask them to start answering them - then we start to get the oh-my-God reaction. “You mean I should change MY behavior?

You mean I should actually get out of MY comfort zone? You mean I should think about Reverse Mentorship? You mean I should be re-thinking the not invented here syndrome, MYSELF? And the more precise we are on each element of the Pull Framework, the more they realize they could do something. However, by really grounding it in crisp questions, many realize they are not really prepared to engage in the emotional work required to do that. We want to try to drive the same lessons home to those who are reading the book”

“Our purpose in this book is to bring about a change in behavior at all levels of the firm and eventually public policy. We need new ideas, new frameworks but also new pathways in - into the minds and action spaces of the firm! That is what I think is unique about our effort. We have sweeping ideas but also show readers pathways to action.”

“Ironically John Doerr was the one who told us that he found the questions at the end of each chapter the most powerful part of the book. These are questions that Boards of Directors should be asking their CEO, etc. These questions are way beyond the purview of HR or Chief Strategy Officers. But they are also questions each of us should be asking. Indeed, you asked yourself many of these (even before reading this material) which, as you have pointed out in this document, is leading to your morphing your own operation .. We hope this gives more folks courage to do what you are doing, yourself.”

Before JSB added the above information I had written: forced to chose between self-help and a more descriptive point of view, I much more prefer the writing contained in the December 2009 Deloitte Shift Index which gives an analysis of how knowledge flows in the three phases of what the authors see as the big shift. The 20th century firm was structured on the ability to process stocks of raw materials. But flows of knowledge are now key in the networked 21st century pull-based economy. Worker passion fuels better knowledge flows that in turn are the keys to viable economies.

The problem is not binary. It is not just technology or organizational but rather very much the combination of the organizational emotional drive and the human technological enterprise that is critical in determination of future outcomes As the chart on the next page shows, the most basic foundation of everything is indeed telecommunications and computer infrastructure no matter whether you are mapping strategy for your own career or that of your firm or that of government policy.

The authors presume a very fluid economy rather than static one. If new knowledge gained through productive friction is the new fuel the new raw material and therefore the new currency then, in tracking it, you have a lot more to consider than you would if you were only tracking bags of cement from the quarries to the warehouse to the construction site. Knowledge “flows.” Amplifiers of these flows are found in indices of worker passion and social media activity. The old economy valued predictability – something that meant passionate creative workers with new ideas were too often received as threats. It also flows in terms of physical indicators such as migration of people to what Richard Florida calls creative cities and the authors more loosely term “structured spikes.” Movements of people in travel and movements of capital are also indices – as well as virtual flows of Internet and wireless traffic.

Over all what fascinates is that things like intellectual property on which the 20th century push economy focused turn out to be things that are less important and often largely irrelevant in the 21st century economy. What was possible and productive in the former is destructive in the later.

The authors ask critical questions like what is value and where does it come from, in doing so they may help us separate productive from destructive activity.

Perhaps because most of the economic activity of the globe is still found among the largest corporations, they assume that these will remain significant economic engines. The environment in which those engines operate is undergoing rapid flux and the authors are very good at describing that flux while along side of that, the open source knowledge commons world being catalogued by Michel Bauwens is also growing and will be the subject of another COOK Report."

2. Umair Haque

"Let me, nevertheless, endeavor to draw out just a few of the key lessons that resonate with me.

Flows, not stocks. Economists divide the world up into stocks and flows: think, literally, stockpiles of the many different kinds of resources, and the stuff that flows into or out of them. Arcing through Pull is the central idea that while 20th century advantage was created by hoarding stocks, 21st century advantage will be created by gaining access to richer, more intense, higher velocity flows.

Relationships, not transactions. You can buy or sell bits of stocks in isolated, arms-length exchanges. But surfing a set of flows usually requires deep, enduring, trusted relationships — because flows are like always-on sets of transactions that happen in continuous time, embedded in a social and cultural matrix.

Emergence, not planning. Access — the relationships that power flows — can't be engineered, planned, or forced. Rather, it's emergent: my relationship with you depends on your relationships with Sophie, Joe, and Abdul. So the challenge isn't nearly as simple as "hire biz dev manager, make a list of prospects, befriend them." Rather, gaining access to flows is nonlinear, complex, irreducible, dynamic: it requires thinking carefully about interdependent sets of payoffs, and structuring your network, in collaboration with your neighbors, to (loosely speaking) tune, tweak, and optimize the payoffs that matter most for all.

Serendipity, not determinism. "Unexpected encounters that surprise and delight" — that's how the authors describe serendipity, the upside of getting all the above right. If success is down to being in the right place at the right time, think of serendipity as designing the structure of your network to maximize the chances of making exactly that happen. It's an astonishing insight, one that literally turns network economics upside down: instead of seeking "network effects," structure the network for maximum effect. When an organization can do so, it can attract the resources it needs in real time, instead of merely stockpiling them quarters, years, or decades in advance.

Potential, not "product." When serendipity happens, your potential — your capabilities and capacities — grow. Here, I've argued, maybe a little too passionately at times, that measuring tomorrow's success in yesterday's terms is a sure path to staying stuck in the past. Pull doesn't try and make a convoluted case that all the above is merely a path to more of yesterday's empty success, whether GDP, profit, or shareholder "value." Rather, it makes the case that it's potential that matters — and one of the great challenges of the next decade is turning our thinking away from the former, and toward the latter." (http://blogs.hbr.org/haque/2010/09/the_power_to_pull_prosperity.html)


"Whether it’s in online gaming, amateur astronomy, open source software development, apparel manufacturing, or online music remixing—what is it that makes one set of circumstances right for individuals or institutions to flourish while others yield weak or even depreciating results? How can a group of obscure motorcycle assemblers in China challenge the best Japan has to offer? Why does World of Warcraft remain the most popular online game, despite competing titles that keep coming along to challenge it—and failing? How can a big software company attract into a sprawling virtual community everybody it needs to get a difficult new product adopted quickly? What, in other words, does it take to turn passion into success?

The common dynamic that we see underlying all of these success stories is what we call pull, the ability to connect with resources in ways that help all participants better achieve their potential. Pull gives us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we’re not quite sure what “it” is. Pull allows us to harness and unleash the forces of attraction, influence, and serendipity. Using pull we can create the conditions by which individuals, teams, and even institutions can achieve their potential in less time and with more impact than has ever been possible. The power of pull provides a key to how all of us—individually and collectively—can turn challenge and stress into opportunity and reward as digital technology remakes our lives.

The key thesis is that, unlike previous generations of institutional change—when an elite at the top of the organization created the world into which everybody else needed to fit— the changes required to harness the power of pull will be catalyzed by and driven by individuals, from the bottom up. As each of us brings into the workplace the practices we have mastered in our personal lives, the institutions where we work will be transformed, and our professional lives along with them. Not every one of us will make this leap equally willingly or at the same time.

To get to pull, first we’ve got to come to grips with what push is and how it permeates our lives. Push approaches begin by forecasting needs and then designing the most efficient systems to ensure that the right people and resources are available at the right time and the right place using carefully scripted and standardized processes.

Push programs have dominated our lives from our very earliest years. We are literally pushed into educational systems designed to anticipate our needs over twelve or more years of schooling, which in turn are designed to anticipate our key needs for skills over the rest of our lives. As we successfully complete this push program, we graduate into firms and other institutions that are organized around push approaches to resource mobilization. Detailed demand forecasts, operational plans, and operational process manuals carefully script the actions and specify the resources required to meet anticipated demand. We consume media that have been packaged, programmed, and pushed to us based on our anticipated needs. We encounter push programs in other parts of our lives, whether in the form of churches that anticipate what is required for salvation and define detailed programs for reaching this goal, gyms that promise a sculpted body for those who pursue tightly defined fitness programs, or diet gurus who promise we will lose weight if we eat a regimented diet. Push knows better than you do, and it’s not afraid to say, “Do this, not that!”

Pull is a very different approach, one that works at three primary levels, each of which builds on the others. At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. Search—including Bing and Google —is an iconic example of this level of pull. There’s a wealth of data indexed and waiting for us. Quick and easy search is ideal when you know what you’re looking for. But in a world characterized by more unpredictable change, simple access has diminishing value. We are no longer certain what to look for – we even struggle to frame the questions.

In this world, a second level of pull becomes increasingly valuable – the ability to attract people and resources to you that we were not even aware existed but, when you encounter them, you realize just how relevant and valuable they are. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Serendipity often occurs in social networks, where we unexpectedly encounter friends of friends or even total strangers who prove helpful. We’re not simply talking about old style networking, however, where you “work” a party or a conference for everybody who might prove useful to you. We’re not talking about the mutual back-scratching of the old-boys’ network, either, to fix parking tickets or an embarrassing situation with a relative. Nor are we talking about pulling strings behind the scenes, or making Machiavellian use of information. Anyone approaching pull in a mercenary, “what’s-in-it-for-me” fashion is likely to get burned. In act, he or she will not really be practicing pull at all, as they will offer no reciprocal benefits to the people and institutions with whom they interact. Pull is a way of creating value, period, not just extracting a bigger piece of some mythical pie for yourself.

These first two levels of pull—access and attraction—are ultimately static: they assume that the right people and resources already exist and that the challenge is merely to encounter them. But in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull – the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential. We can use pull to learn faster and translate that learning into rapidly improving performance, not just for ourselves, but for the people we connect with—a virtuous cycle that we can participate in.

Serendipity is also one of the secret ingredients explaining the continued growth of “spikes”—geographic concentrations of talent around the world. The Silicon Valley engineer attends his daughter’s soccer match and happens to meet another engineer on the sidelines. In the course of their conversation, the engineer stumbles upon an interesting solution to a design problem he had been wrestling with for months. And so on. When talented individuals choose to live in spikes rather than, say, small towns or rural areas5 they’re doing so because it increases their rate of discovery, making it more likely they’ll stumble on what they need. Of course, it’s important to choose the right spike. If you’re interested in surfing (or your child is), it doesn’t do you much good to live in Washington, DC, even if it might be easier to get there. Thus aspiring country musicians move to Nashville, while up-and-coming software engineers go to Silicon Valley or Bangalore, screenwriters to Los Angeles, models to New York, and so on. Talented individuals tend to go where they have the greatest chance of running into what they need in order to take the next step, even if they don’t quite know or understand what form it will take or who might inspire it.

Online communities are perfect for bringing together far-flung people who have common interests. If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it. Online social network sites like Facebook play an interesting role in all this. They help people stay in touch with their existing friends, but, increasingly, they also provide environments for serendipitous encounters with friends of friends or even people that one has never met before. Social scientists call these “weak ties”—people we barely know who can connect us to rich networks of relationships in domains completely different from ours.

In markets and industries that were relatively stable, such as those in the industrial economy, a given stock of knowledge – whether it was a proprietary technology or a unique insight into how to organize production or marketing activities – could be relied upon to generate economic value for an indefinite period. The only challenges were to guard against others appropriating this knowledge and to design and execute the most efficient and scalable ways to extract value from this knowledge.

What we knew yesterday—either as employees or what our institution as a whole knows about its business—is proving to be less and less helpful with the challenges and opportunities we confront today. Growing topple rates (the rate at which companies lose their leadership positions) gives powerful testimony that stocks of knowledge, no matter how valuable at the outset, are diminishing in value more rapidly. Across many industries, product life cycles have begun to compress – early success with a blockbuster product has become harder and harder to sustain.

We must accelerate a shift to a very different mindset and practices that treat knowledge flows as the central opportunity and knowledge stocks as a useful by-product and key enabler. Increasingly, strategic advantage for corporate institutions will hinge on privileged positions in relevant concentrations of high value knowledge flows and the practices required to participate in and profit from these knowledge flows. (http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/24/power-of-pull-ito-vardi/)