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Pulling the strings together

28/365 - Interwoven

I don't know how many different ways one can play with the word "pull," but John Hagel has put a lot of them into his new work, The Power of Pull.  At least it sure seems like he's done so, given the book discussion held this evening at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, hosted by David Weinberger

The big pull for me is that he is pulling together many threads from conversations and readings and ideas that have been floating around.  As I took notes, I also had a lot of questions about whether these ideas reference other things I've been reading or whether they are inspired from the same underlying ideas.

Rather than giving a synopsis of his book, Hagel talked about some key propositions that have to do with the book.  I only captured six, but I think he mentioned seven.  This isn't necessarily a linear description of the discussion, but it works.  Sorry about the length.

  • The basis of competition is changing.  The claim is that competition is moving from capitalization of knowledge stocks to gaining benefit from knowledge flows because the pace of change is just too high to expect to be able to extract value from static knowledge.  This made me think of Freakonomics and their discussion that people capitalize from having an upper hand on knowledge (realtors, used cars salespeople).  And the stock and flow discussion was familiar from five+ years ago in knowledge management circles.
  • Shifting from Push to Pull.  The basic argument here is that push environments rely on the ability to forecast with some accuracy (impossible, by the way).  As timelines get shorter and the world moves faster, this assumption of forecasting vanishes.  Businesses need to change mindsets from fixed borders and fixed roles to flexible everything.  And where will that change happen?  On the edges, where the most interesting challenges are and where the passionate people in the organization can flower away from the "core" of the business.  And as the new model grows, there will be a natural pull into the new way of working.  [I really need to read the book to get a better grasp of this.]  Naturally, I drew on the thread of pull that I learn in Theory of Constraints discussions, but Hagel said off-line that supply-chain style pull isn't scalable enough for him.  Pull has to operate across thousands of entities for his picture to come alive.  Another element of the book that I'll have to investigate is that the idea of Pull can apply to the individual, the single institution, and to an entire arena. 
  • The innovation center is shifting to China and India.  And here Hagel clarifies that he isn't so much thinking of innovation in products and services as he is about innovations in the way of doing business.  These are things that western executives don't see, because they are looking for the results not the processes.
  • There is an opportunity to change.  Given all the above, there is a silver lining.  Hagel sees evidence that organizations can change - evidence seen in extreme cases, but evidence nonetheless.  A big element of that is changing to organizations which are based on human networks and thrive on them - a familiar theme from the social software crowd.  One example he highlighted was that of Starbucks' CIO Stephen Gillett, who developed his leadership skills as a guild leader in World of Warcraft.  There was a larger discussion of leadership and driving this change, and I couldn't help thinking about Davis Taylor's The Imperfect Leader, which I read two weeks ago.
  • Finally, Hagel says that we need to resolve the Dilbert Paradox.  Why is it that that executives claim "talent" is their number one asset (or at least in the top 3), but there are cultural phenomena like Dilbert and The Office that very accurately describe how many people feel in their workplaces: bored, disconnected, or worse.  How can these two things coexist?  Hagel argues that organizations mostly miss out on the most important aspect of their "talent:" developing and growing the talent internally.  This discussion had me thinking of Luis Suarez and Matt Simpson's recent Sweettt podcast discussions.

A big thread of the discussion was related to #1 and #6, and the idea that people are what drive enterprises.  Hagel claimed that "push" organizations force people into very specific roles, and that creativity and passion don't work in that kind of mindset.  Management wants people to comply with their directives and do what they are told in a reliable and predictable way.  They want their people to be "productive."  Creative and passionate people are too variable for that kind of system.  But it is just these people who are going to help the organizations solve their hairiest problems and pull them into a new way of operating.  It was a very familiar idea to hear that personal passion will always win out - when it is allowed to breathe - because passion relates to authenticity and trust that doesn't come through purely transactional behaviors.

A number of the audience questions asked some version of "but aren't we different?" (will we have to change too?) - whether that was start-up companies or academics or governmental agencies.  Hagel was fairly clear that while he doesn't have the data to back up his claims, he sees the same behaviors in all of these types of institutions.   And that they are all ripe for a change from push to pull.

And to top it all off, there are more threads everywhere I turn.  I happened to pick up The Conductive Organization by Hubert Saint-Onge and Charles Armstrong (from 2004) and the introductory chapter seems to be referencing a number of the same things that John Hagel spoke about this evening.

[Photo: "28/365 - Interwoven" by Niharb]

Seek first to understand. Thanks, Frank

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