on November 2, 2010
Last Friday I finished reading The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion (italics yours).
I was intrigued (as intended) when the authors cited a group of big wave surfers from Maui as an example of 'Pull' in the Introduction. It was nice that they followed up with Li & Fung, the hundred year old, Hong Kong-based fashion outsourcing business in Chapter 1. And I admit that I was drawn in by the breathless description of the global effort to re-encrypt Twitter so that Iranian dissidents could keep on communicating after the fraudulent elections in June last year in Chapter 2. Well done for using the SAP Developer Network and PortalPlayer to bring us readers back to the realities of the commercial world before moving onto Chapter 3.
But that was pretty much it.
These weren't just a few quirky examples, drawn from many, of vastly different but equally successful enterprises that had mastered this new 'Pull' thing. They were pretty much the ONLY examples.
By the time we got to p. 167 we were at the banal heart of the argument. The magic that attracts the people you need to you is your 'passion'. The good news is anyone can have it provided they want it enough: -
"The truth is that virtually any type of work can become the focus for passion. Many auto-repair mechanics are passionate about cars and knowing what makes them run. Carpenters can take great delight in building things that are beautiful and enduring."
Really? Mechanics and carpenters? That's it? The authors' hat-tip to all those drones who don't have jobs as interesting as their own is, "Jesus. Oh, and the guy who fixes my Prius"?
That's not to say that the authors don't know their readership. We're all afflicted by 'illusory superiority', that cognitive bias better known as the Lake Woebegone effect ("where all the children are above average"). It's what keeps me upgrading to the latest version of prosumer software like FinalCut Pro and promising myself that next year we'll make it to SWSX and buying books like this as soon as I read about it in The Economist. But readers like me aren't 'everyone'. Not even close.
The authors are of course free to market it any way they see fit - caveat emptor and all that - but pretending that they've hit upon some ground-breaking reevaluation of all work is disingenuous. Better technology leading to greater interconnectivity does mean that many 'knowledge worker' jobs will be done better by passionate people working in a more connected way but universalising that idea rings false.
Spare me the conceit that every workplace can be rendered artisanal.
Adapted from [...]
John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Land Davison (HSBD) have written a good book with strong views on the future nature of enterprises and their relationship to individuals. The Power of Pull is one of the most comprehensively thought out books on the subject of social media and the future of the enterprise to have come out. It goes way beyond the buzzword or branding driven works that concentrate more on staking out territory than investigating the future of companies, individuals and technology.
This is not a technology book, in fact it is more about the theory of the individual, their value and the impact of that value on companies. Hagel and Seely Brown's central premise is that "institutions will be shaped to provide platforms to help individual achieve their full potential by connecting with others and better addressing challenging performance needs" page 8. This is a distinctively different view form others who see the future of social computing as one of communities or collectives taking action. Hagel, Seely Brown and Davison then go on to discuss such an environment as one of "pull" with three basic principles
* Finding and accessing people and resources we need
* Having the ability to attach people and resources to yourself that are relevant and valuable
* Pull from within ourselves the indicate and performance required to achieve our potential
Now you can combine the quote and the points above and think this is a book at the cross roads between an academic researcher and Tony Robbins. This book is anything but. I have tremendous respect for this duo and they along with Davison have delivered a comprehensive and thoughtful book on a complex subject.
Hagel, Seely Brown and Davison see pull concentrating on the innovation and new ideas that come from the people on the edge, those who are experimenting and pushing the envelope. They use the example of large wave surfing to illustrate that people working on the edge of their profession deploy sophisticated tools and communications patterns to make breakthroughs.
Creating breakthroughs is an integral part of competing in the future and therefore something that companies need to get better at. That is where the individual fits into their argument, they can engage the edge, learn more, build the relationships that bring the best of the edge into their creation spaces that allows them to leverage themselves in the corporation. It is an interesting premise and one that the authors illustrate through several `mavens'
I recommend this book in general and particularly the introduction and first chapter to business leaders who want a different view on the future and social media. Lately there are few books that I have highlighted or taken notes in the margins as much as I have with this one. There are a few strong ideas, well presented and discussed.
* The introduction - among the best and clearest I have ever read. It lays out the issues and scope of the book in a way that helps you figure out where to concentrate your attention as you read.
* The blending of business activities with technology as the book talks about the importance of platforms rather than applications and how enterprises will operate and compete more on platforms than products or market positions.
* Anti-hype, this is a serious look at the future without the platitudes about the net generation or how all our skills and what we know will be rendered irrelevant. In fact it is much the opposite.
* A rich blend of academic and engineering approaches to the issues that make for deep treatment of the issues.
* The book gets repetitive at times particularly as it talks through the three aspects of pull. It often relies on the same story that can lead to it becoming worn and overused. The reliance on three or four cases does provide depth, but no one case can fit all of these ideas, reducing the effectiveness of the examples.
* The two major examples are non-business examples that are fun to read, but challenging to see how it applies to me. It was great to learn about surfing and the world of warcraft but real companies are applying these ideas and it would have been better to hear about them.
* The book has more than its share of jargon and in an engineering/academic style this makes reading it a little harder than it should. Jargon includes: push, pull, edge, creative spaces, big shift and shaping strategies to name a few. This is where the consultant-ese gets in the way.
* The emphasis and contrast between push and pull is stark and needs to be for literary purposes. However much of the economy and much of our work will remain heavily push influenced even when we are all knowledge workers. Building that bridge is the bigger challenge than saying 'all smart people go be self actualizing.'
Finally, this book is a Deloitte developed book and the authors are all associated with Deloitte. The authors have done a great job in not writing a book about why you should buy pull based consulting services. While the authors have done a nice job in maintaining or presenting their ideas independently, they have a business basis that the reader should take into consideration. Still recommended, but the ideas are big, the presentation comprehensive so you will need to pull on your thinking cap and take the time to reflect on what is in this book. Enjoy.
on April 9, 2010
When I picked up my review copy of this book, it was with the eye of a cynic, but before I knew it, I was eagerly reading and reflecting, not in the least because "The Power of Pull" begins with a story of up-and-coming Maui surfers. In fact the book is full of engaging stories, many about individuals--both in and out of the business world--who have tapped into their own passions and the passions of the people around them (and even people they've never met) to improve their performance, to develop innovative solutions, to shape industries and even to change the world. One of the strengths of this book is the way it engages the individual and then makes a compelling case for why and how the individual can move the institution. Organizations are comprised of individuals, after all. Perhaps most relevant is the chapter that proposes techniques for managers to cultivate and harness the power and passions of their employees, for mutual benefit of individual and corporation.
This is not a "how-to" book in the sense that it is not prescriptive and doesn't oversimplify by proposing three simple steps for corporate nirvana. That's part of what makes the authors' analysis so credible. "The Power of Pull" forces the reader to think, presenting seemingly simple concepts such as the value of networking and extending them past the individual level to the institution and beyond. Although this book makes a case for how digital and communication technologies have removed barriers and opened the door to new opportunities for conducting business, the book's message is fundamentally about building relationships, as individuals and as organizations, with or without technology.
The Power of Pull ultimately reaffirms the power of the individual as the central force and rationale behind the work we do and offers an inspiring vision for moving beyond obsolete practices of command and control.
on April 8, 2011
Like the previous reviewer, I am very impressed by Seely Brown The Social Life of Information. Hagel is also is also an interesting author (although his books often turn an article into a book). This book is another matter. A rehash of lots of good ideas written in a slightly dumbed down way to appeal to middle managers. I suppose that is how the publishers think. Why would there otherwise be so many similar management book. The previous reviewer called it consultant speak. There are so many good books in the world and you won't have time for all of them. This book does not deserve five minutes of your time.
The book started with a bang. The introduction tells the story of the Mauai groms (kids learning extreme sports) and how they parlayed persistence and crowd wisdom into becoming Surfing World Champions. I love stories like this. But as the introduction went on and on for 29 pages, my interest started to wane.
I perked up again when I read about serendipity and how to shape one's environment to achieve a goal. It was a momentary interest though.
What a disappointment. The authors, all senior executives at the Deloitte Center for the Edge, seem to have good credentials and they should know their stuff. Maybe they do, but they can't communicate it.
This book is filled with verbose `corporate speak' that says very little. It's also annoying to see the same funnel picture showing "the big shift" and an uphill rise towards prosperity. Okay, we got it the first time, we don't need to see it in all seven chapters.
I think they are trying to explain the importance of information flow and how we must tap into this in order to succeed in today's world. They call this "the power of pull."
I do not recommend this book to anyone, save your time and your money.
on March 26, 2011
I read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion for one reason: "John Seely Brown." If JSB writes something, I'm buying. If JSB gives a talk, I'm there (at least virtually). If JSB says to "jump", I'm saying "how far." You get the picture.
The Power of Pull is one of those books that I'm happy I read but did not enjoy reading all that much. What is most instructive about The Power of Pull is that the book demonstrates how good ideas and clear thinking are necessary but not sufficient to engage us readers. What is missing from the book is precisely why I bought the book, the authors. The great ideas are filtered through a sort of omnipresent consultant speak, homo consultilis, instead of through the voice of any recognizable homo sapien. I know for a fact that the all 3 authors lead fascinating lives, but one would never know it from reading Pull.
Educators need to keep this lesson in mind. When we teach, we need to connect our disciplines to stories, and our stories to our students and ourselves. Dan Ariely does this masterfully in his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, telling the story of his recovery from a horrific accident to help us understand the science of behavioral economics.
It is shame that the Pull authors allowed themselves to slip into consultant speak, as the ideas and lessons from Pull are worth pondering. The big argument of Pull is that a combination of globalization and digital technologies has fundamentally changed the rules of economics and employment, a big shift in which companies and institutions must draw ideas and people from the "edge" and leverage their talents to change the practices of the "core." People who will succeed in the uncertainty and turmoil of the digital economy will be those who can authentically follow their passions, connect with other passionate individuals, and re-skill themselves to compete and add-value in a globalized economy. Companies can no longer either create or forecast demand (push), but rather must offer a compelling product or service that "pulls" potential employees, partners, and customers in to mutually beneficial relationships.
I particularly like what Pull has to say about education:
"It's quickly dawning on us instead that our education was at best a thin foundation that needs to be continually refreshed in order for us to stay competitive". (page 12)
"Until relatively recently, most of us believed we had to invest considerable time and effort early in our lives navigation an educational system designed to transfer stocks of knowledge to us. As a reward for our diligence and persistence in school, we believed, these stocks of knowledge would serve us well throughout our lives". (page 52)
"We have to be willing to risk looking like we don't know the answer, or maybe the question. We've got to wean ourselves from the over dependence on expertise we've labored so hard to accumulate. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we must avoid letting our education interfere with our learning". (page 117).
Good stuff. But I can't find much that is really all the new. A much better book about our economic and job future in a globalized and digital economy is Sonic Boom, by Gregg Easterbrook. Seth Godin has written extensively about finding our tribes and passions at work. Dan Pink's new book, Drive, is all about how intrinsic motivators always trump extrinsic ones in determining performance at work. Matt Ridley, in The Rational Optimist, explains how a globalized world organized around trade and open markets will mean greater prosperity for all of us. (You should really check out Ridley's TED Talk - "When Ideas Have Sex." And The New American Workplace provides in-depth case studies of companies that are able remain competitive through a results only workplace environment (ROWE) that allows creative people on the edge to be nurtured and thrive.
JSB - I hope your next book includes more of JSB.
What are you reading?
on April 11, 2010
I like business books. I enjoy reading about the science and theory of how to lead complex organizations and how to make them successful in a hyper-competitive world, but I've often had difficulty. I am not a CEO of a major company. The decisions I make on a daily basis do not shape the lives of thousands of people. Thus I have felt forced to hypothesize about that time when I am finally *that* leader. That is, until I read The Power of Pull. The principles and techniques herein apply to all of us, no matter who you are or what you do.
The main tenant of the Power of Pull is that in order to thrive now and in the future, companies and individuals need to develop pull "the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges." In their latest book, Authors John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, join forces to evaluate the power of pull over multiple decades across all aspects of business, people and industry. The authors ascertain that the "success of institutions will depend on their ability to amplify the efforts of individuals so that small moves, smartly made, can become catalysts for broad impact."
Using concrete examples from big enterprise, the authors tell stories of pull: SAP reaches out across corporate boundaries to build a creation space that is driving change back into the company; Visa implements back-office credit-card processing services allowing other banks to jointly own the venture, reducing the investment required to enter the credit card business; Li & Fung works with thousands of business partners in more than 40 countries to deliver capabilities that support a bevy of consumer goods, even recently (Jan. 2010) entering into an agreement with Wal-Mart that may generate an additional $2B in sales.
While those examples are certainly credible and to the point, the authors firmly state that we must first understand how individuals will harness the power of pull before we can understand how institutions will change. So perhaps even more powerfully, the authors share examples of how people like you and I use pull. Surfers in Maui, dubbed grommets, connect and collaborate within small groups and across the Internet to learn how to ride sixty foot waves and World of Warcraft aficionados get better faster using social media and innovative teamwork.
Ultimately, the best test for me personally, of the quality of a book, is how inspired I am after I read it. That is something that cannot be forced or faked. I either feel that way, or I don't. After reading the Power of Pull, I am inspired to try harder than ever before to more effectively achieve my potential, to collaborate with others, and to pull an institution along the way.
on September 11, 2011
"highly recommend this book. Most people on LinkedIn will 'get it.' Rather than 'push' ideas out, this book shows the importance of 'pullling' ideas from crowd sourcing (such as LinkedIn). Great tips to go beyond simply gaining a large LinkedIn connection base to making a larger impact on those that are on our connections. Think-'what can I do to improve their careers and firms.'
on April 24, 2010
American inventor Charles Kettering said: "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." He would have loved The Power of Pull" How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion" by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison.
Most business books are a collection of recipes. They outline the ingredients to gather and how to fix them up to get a specific result. If that's what you want, pass this book by.
This is more like a book about molecular gastronomy. According to Wikipedia, "Molecular gastronomy seeks to investigate and explain the chemical reasons behind the transformation of ingredients, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general."
As you might guess, that means you will have to spend some time with this book in order to get value from it. If you're not willing to put in the time for careful reading and re-reading, with lots of reflection mixed in, pass this book by.
If you are willing to put in the effort, this book will pay big dividends. You will have a picture of what forces have created what everyone seems to call "unprecedented change" over the last couple of decades. And you will gain insight into how the future will play out and what it means for you and your business.
After all, as Charles Kettering also said, "A problem well stated is a problem half-solved." In this case you will find that the situation is well-described and you are more than half way to the opportunities.
The Power of Pull is the result of a lot of focused research and reflection by some very knowledgeable people over a period of a decade and a half. Much of the work as been done by the authors and by the team at Deloitte's Center for the Edge. Here are the key insights.
The companies of the Industrial Age start by forecasting and planning. Then they design systems to push the right resources to the right place at the right time. They are hierarchically structured. They concentrate on controlling resources and achieving efficiency through economies of scale.
The companies of whatever we want to call the next age will be different. They will concentrate on attracting resources when needed and achieving maximum learning and adaptation. Instead of seeking efficient scaling of production, they will seek effective scaling of learning.
Here's how the book lays out.
I put the Introduction and first chapter, The Diminishing Power of Push, together because they combine to introduce the key ideas of the book. The authors trace infrastructure changes from the personal computer through social networks to show how they make many changes both possible and desirable and sometimes necessary or natural. The next three chapters describe the three most important aspects of pull.
Access in an Unpredictable World tells you how to find the right people and resources when you need them.
Attracting What We Need - Ignore the foo-foo language about "shaping serendipitous encounters." I'm pretty sure serendipity will still entail surprise in the future. But pay attention to ways to attract people with their talent, knowledge, and relationships from unexpected places.
Achieving Our Potential - The Highest Level of Pull shares the promise that you will achieve your potential faster and more powerfully than ever. Probably more hype than substance.
If you choose to read this book, read the Introduction and the first four chapters completely and in order. You will benefit from the logical progression of ideas and from the way the key ideas are connected.
After that, you can pick and choose from the other chapters in the book. They are: The Individual's Path to Pull; Pulling from the Top of Institutions; Using Pull to Change the World; and, Epilogue: The Journey from Passion to Potential.
This is a well-reasoned and well-researched book. It benefits from a long gestation period.
There's too much academic/consultant language for my taste. If you find that rough going, you can turn that to you advantage, by stopping for more opportunities to reflect on what you've read.
There is a problem with the business examples. There aren't enough specific ones. For example, when the authors tell us that one misconception about pull is that it's only for large companies, it would have been helpful if they had offered a smaller company example right then. There are too many references to "companies" and not enough specific companies.
That's a minor flaw in a book like this, though. If you want to understand some of the changes of recent decades, this book will help. If you want an idea of some changes that lie ahead, this book has a framework you can use. If you want to exploit those changes for your own success, The Power of Pull will point you to tools and concepts.
on April 10, 2010
I have long been a fan of John Hagel (The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization) and John Seely Brown (TOSE and The Social Life of Information). I find that their latest collaboration with Lang Davison, The Power of Pull, continues to exceed my expectations. This book reminds me of reading Grove's Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company (Remember when we all started looking for strategic inflections and 10x changes?). The Power of Pull is a compelling case for business leaders and individuals to take note of the need for fundamentally different thinking driven by The Big Shift. Thomas Friedman summed-up this idea in the New York Times:
"We are shifting from a world where the key source of strategic advantage was in protecting and extracting value from a given set of knowledge stocks -- the sum total of what we know at any point in time, which is now depreciating at an accelerating pace -- into a world in which the focus of value creation is effective participation in knowledge flows, which are constantly being renewed."
As a result, Hagel, Brown, and Davison call for institutions to pull resources, embrace edges, and utilize the relationship economy and for individuals to build expertise around our passions and participate in social/creation networks. Further, the authors provide the first quantifiable evidence as to how far the shift has progressed in the form of The Shift Index.
As a young person in the midst of a job change, I was able to incorporate the authors' concepts into my recent interview with a leading internet company. For businesses that operate at hyper-speed and lean relative to their volume of activity (e.g., Facebook, Google, Twitter), their ability to pull resources is critical. The book's thinking resonated with the executives who I spoke to as they were quick to build on the ideas that I discussed. In addition, traditional businesses must find a way to harness the power of pull as illustrated by cases in the book including Li & Fung, SAP, and Visa.
Hagel, Brown, and Davison engagingly approach the subjects of passion, shaping serendipity, and creation spaces with stories and frameworks that help readers apply these themes both in and outside the office. I would not typecast this book as a "business book" for corporate VPs and CXOs. Rather, the concepts in the stories speak to - and are accessible to - individuals from big wave surfers to engineers to educators. I recommend that you read the book, share it with colleagues or with young people that are entering this rapidly changing business environment, and consider how "The Power of Pull" is changing the world.