A Brief History of the Power of Pull
On April 13, we drop our new book — The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. We began writing it more than a year ago, but the direct research started even further back. In some ways, the three of us have been working on this book in various permutations since 1996.
That's when Net Gain (Hagel and Davison) was written around a foundational insight: that digital technology was setting in motion a shift in market power from the makers of goods and services to the people that buy them, and to talented employees from the institutions that employ them. We developed that theme even further in a subsequent book, Net Worth (Hagel and Davison).
While we may have had this insight fourteen years ago, what we didn't yet have in clear focus was the mechanism by which this shift in power from institutions to individuals would take place. We now know that mechanism is pull.
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.
Pull means a lot of things, then for different institutions. Employers that fail to provide sufficient professional development opportunities for their employees. These companies will lose their most talented workers to more magnetic organizations that provide better chances for learning and growth.
We first saw examples of companies harnessing the power of pull and talent management as a competitive advantage when we ventured to the geographic edges of China and India for research for Net Gain. There we saw entrepreneurial companies developing new approaches to talent development that harnessed loosely coupled business networks to provide scale without inertia. Observing this success led to another book and our tenet that the only sustainable edge in the future will come from accelerated capability building — creating the conditions to enable people to learn faster by working together.
So how to structure these learning environments? We've been examining that critical question for over 15 years. One successful method we've observed (and, for John Seely Brown, participated in when he served as the head of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center) centers around communities of practice to drive learning and performance improvement. Once again, deep personal relationships were a key to driving capability building. In addition to those essential relationships, it's key that members of this community represent diverse backgrounds--critical for the creative tension that often arises from confronting different points of view. We've found through our years of research and writing that this mix greatly increases the potential for innovation.
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. In short, companies need to refocus technology innovation on providing tools to amplify the efforts of communities of practice to drive performance improvement.
It's not just the private sector that stands to benefit from a smart embrace of these principles. We believe the ideas and opportunities present themselves to all manner of institutions- education, government; large and small. Need more evidence of the far-reaching relevance of pull? Well, here's a data point: Both Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich "blurbed" our book!
In many respects, this book is simply a continuation of themes under development for a couple of decades. We explore power shifts, evolving social contexts, scalable networks, and new modes of learning and performance improvement, as well as the development of technology infrastructures that continue to change the game in profound and pervasive ways — all themes that have focused our previous writing as well. In some ways, we're finally seeing the technologies in place to enable the kinds of social networks, communities, and information transfer we wrote about in the abstract over the last 15 years.
Because of this arrival, we can now bring our thinking to a new level, into an integrated framework that bridges description and prescription, destination and migration path, and individual and institution. The three of us now find ourselves not at an end point, but on one more step on a broader journey. Where will we go from here? In part that's up to you. Let us know what you think we've gotten right — and what you think we've missed or where there might be the greatest potential to focus as we seek to build upon the perspectives in this blog and in this book. Rather than identifying a single element and elevating it to represent the whole, we've tried to capture the whole itself. You'll be the best judge of how well we've succeeded.
We encourage you to join us for two launch parties we're holding in New York on Monday, April 12. The first will be hosted by John Heilemann - this one is from 6-8:30pm and requires an e-mail to gbattisto at deloitte dot com. Space is very limited at this one so an e-mail is essential to get the details and we may not be able to accommodate everyone who wants to come to this one. The second event later in the evening is an edge party at 10pm will be hosted by Jack Hidary, Doug Rushkoff and Clay Shirky - details and RSVP at our website ). There will be other launch events, including Silicon Valley on May 4 (hosted by The Churchill Club and Tim O'Reilly), San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. For more details, visit our website and sign up for e-mail updates on the event plans and other developments regarding the book as they unfold.
Lang Davison is the former executive director of the Deloitte Center for the Edge and was previously editor-in-chief of The McKinsey Quarterly. He is co-author of The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Set Big Things in Motion.