The Pull of Your Network: A post on the Power of Pull

In The Mystery of Capital (discussed in my last post), de Soto uses the metaphor of a hydroelectric dam to describe Western property systems. These systems harness the potential energy of land into the power to drive economies with additional capital.  In a sense, there is a pull like gravity that is constantly tugging at property. Once the land/property is put into an effective system, this pull can be harnessed to create energy, value, and wealth in new forms.

A mysterious (and I believe similar), force is at work again in The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III (@jhagel), John Seely Brown (@jseelybrown) and Lang Davison.

The PoP’s thesis is that the internet and web-based communities allow for what they describe as “Pull”. Pull is the self-organization of people into something bigger than themselves through massive feedback and online communities. It’s what brings people together to get coordinated.

Pull is contrasted against Push organizational structures. Push structures are driven from the top, where knowledge and decision-making are centered and pushed down into the organization through hierarchical structures. Action is driven in one direction, from top to bottom, and much of the information flows the same way.

In Pull organizations, on the other hand, the key knowledge occurs at the edges of the organization, or beyond it. Information flows in all directions throught the organizations and beyond them. In a sense, Pull organizations have a high surface area to interact with their environment.

For companies and individuals to transition to pull, according to the authors, they’ll need to move through three sequential levels:

  1. Access– Finding and accessing people when needed.
  2. Attract– Having the ability to increase the chances of interacting people with common goals, shared pursuits or some other mutually beneficial pursuit (serendipity)
  3. Achieve– Increase learning and improve our ability as individuals and groups to act toward our goals, these can be accomplished with creation spaces, new places for attracted individuals to come together and create things, make things happen.

Each of these can come together in what the authors call creations spaces. Generally these are online arenas where people can access, attract and achieve together, while remaining in a state of constant learning and reorganization.

One of the first things I noticed about the ideas put forth in PoP is that the access and connection is very similar to what I described in my last post as de Soto’s six attributes of Western property systems: these pull networks open up new access to people and resources and they make knowledge assets fungible. There is a free exchange of knowledge among the participants in these creation spaces such that new forms, new ideas and new innovations are created.

It makes me wonder: Are the networks Hagel & Co. are describing similar at their core to the property systems de Soto is describing? In the Pull world, the assets described by de Soto would be from the Push world. They are stocks. Yet the ability to make these stocks flow seems to be critical, just as the flow of knowledge is key for Hagel’s networks. I think the critical issue may be that the half life of the value of knowledge is an order of magnitude shorter than it is with real estate assets. Most of the time we need timely knowledge to apply to emerging situations. It’s a question for a future post on what exactly is doing the pulling, but I think it’s interesting to think about the implications.

The authors dive into the reasons driving the new model of pull, which are partially derived from a Deloitte Center for the Edge research report called “The Shift Index“, which documents why ROA has diminished over the last 4 decades for US companies. In summary, the report finds that Tecnology Infrastructures, Knowledge Flows, Institutional Structures are shifting, and these changes make up the overall shift from the center (Push) to the edge (Pull) of the enterprise.

What’s really different about this book is that they really capture the human side of what’s required in the Pull/Web 2.0 world, and that’s having a human voice. You can’t fake authenticity in this world and there’s some great advice on just being authentic.

Ultimately, it’s about navigating a course on where you want to go, then letting your network loose to pull you there, but you’ll need to let go of some fear along the way. Some key related takeaways:

  •  Serendipity is becoming a science.  We each need to find the best way to find the people (and tools that will help facilitate the process) that share or can help us develop our purpose in life. Serendipity is about connecting people or systems with common goals or ways of helping each other. Where you are mentally (sharing passions and ideas) and physically along with what you share, will have a big impact.
  • On the road to effective serendipity, we can’t be afraid to share information about ourselves and be vulnerable, lest it get in the way of providing info that can drive serendipity. I expect to see some cool tools that will let us do just that.
  • In a Pull world, knowledge is king. Those from whom you most need to learn,(your employees, your customers, your idols, those with the most valuable knowledge), now have a channel through which they can teach you better than ever. You just need to open the doors, ask the right questions, and don’t be afraid of the answers. The name of the game is scalable learning rather than scalable efficiencies, and it’s your network that will teach you.

Oveall, PoP is a must-read book on how organizations must change in a connected world. The book distills these changes down to where even those who are not engaged in social media can get a pretty good idea about what’s happening in social media and online collaboration, and why it’s important.

By the end of reading this book, just about anybody at any level should have the tools and the inspiration they need to start connecting with people who share their passion. I think one of the big benefits of the book as I see it: If you follow the guides at the end of each chapter, and set your tragectory toward what you want, you’ll be an expert in this new world (and in a much better place) within a year. Great actionable steps you or your company can take. I’ve been making steady progress on several of them, and they really are working. In future weeks, I’ll take John Hagel’s example and turn this string of posts into a sort of passion trajectory.

The faster you follow the advice in their book, the better off you’ll be as the story of business in the 21st century unfolds. It’s a story of adaptation and integration into the networks and markets where you’re best suited to thrive. Finding the right network in which to thrive is the essence of what you’ll be able to master if you follow their advice.

Up next. What is the source of the Pull of Capital and Networks?

Closing notes: I’ve been a fan of Hagel and JS Brown’s work since about 2004 when I read “Out of the Box”. These guys get the ideas behind complexity and how to apply them for business results. Fortunately for most readers, they are very skilled at explaining these concepts in a way that casual readers won’t be intimidated by the complex theoretical framework on which their books are built. For that, you’ll nee to check out their research papers, so be prepared for that if you’re looking for something that dives a little deeper. If you’re not familiar with complex adaptive systems, these books can be a good intro into how they work in a business context, although they probably will never use the term “complex adaptive systems”.

Although I highly recommend the book for just about anyone with an interest, I do have a few quibbles:
   * There were times in the book where the authors talked around something rather than being specific and descriptive, partially due to the new vocabulary they were using and the abstract nature of the concepts.
   * To help, I think they could have made better use of figures. Because of the abstract nature of the concepts, more pictures and graphs and overall data could have been useful.
   * I know the authors are aware of complexity theory and economics, so I would have liked to see how these systems related. How these systems of organization are like other systems, and what benefits they’ve shown (I also recognize their reasons for not including this info, however).
   * Some of the examples seemed a bit worn. I’ve been reading about SAP, Li & Fung since I was in business school 10 years now. No doubt a great company with great examples, but it seems there could be some examples of (this being a new phenomenon) that are a little fresher.