Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are you Pulling or Pushing? My Review of The Power of Pull

After reading the Shift Index (Big Shift) I was curious what the book ‘The Power of Pull’ would bring. I was hoping for a more practical story than the Shift Index. I was also hoping for examples on how to move from Push to Pull.

I’m not sure if I got what I was looking for. And I’m not sure why either. Is it because I read the Shift Index before reading this book? Is it because I’m already in the Pull area for some time (at least I think I am…)? Or is it because I’ve read lots of books and blogs about the same topic (like the books The Cluetrain Manifesto, Wikinomics and Macrowikinomcs)? (After writing this interview I went through the reviews on Amazon. Lots of different reviews there: from very positive to very negative.)

What is this book about? Let me give you the author’s short summary on p. 2:
“Pull” is the common dynamic they see under several success stories. Pull is “the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges. Pull give us unprecedented access to what we need, when we need it, even if we’re not quite sure that “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.
There are two challenges in this time: making sense of the changes around us, and making progress in an increasingly unfamiliar world.

The book starts with describing where we came from: the push era. Push operated, and still operates, on one key assumption: that it is possible to predict demand. (p. 34, also refer to list on page 37) Control is the essence of push. (p. 49)

So how do we (move to) pull? “Pull starts by exploring three increasingly powerful levels of pull – access, attract, and achieve.” (p. 6) The first part of the book explains what these levels are. The last part of the book wants to help you implement them in your life, institutions and the world. Every chapter is closed with a set of very good questions to assess yourself, institutions (you work for) and the world. The questions are maybe the best part of the book to me. I found them very valuable and confrontational.

Pull is about flexible access. The ability to fluidly find and get to the people and resources when and where we need them. The authors stress the fact they don’t point to digital networks in the first place. Pull platforms can also by physical networks. Why is access important? “Access will become increasingly necessary as competition intensifies and disruptions become more frequent. It used to be that we could rely on “stocks” of knowledge – what we know at any point in time – but these stocks are diminishing in value more rapidly than ever before.” (p. 11) We need to make sure we tap into knowledge flows, as chapter 2 says. Interestingly these flows relate to tacit knowledge, therefore connecting to (lots of) people is essential.

But access is becoming increasingly less important. We’re often at loss what to search for and what questions to ask. “Our success in finding new information and sources increasingly depends upon serendipity…” (p. 13) Interestingly the authors stress serendipity can be organized (to a certain extent). (Also refer to page 90 and on.) For serendipity to happen we need amplifiers and filters. (p. 97) And we have to pay attention to environments (physical and digital location), practices (be passionate, attract (sustained) attention, beginner’s mind), and preparedness (be open to encounters, deep listening, relationship-building skills). Serendipity can be shaped by the people you talk to, the conferences you go to and the sites you pay attention to. We have to look at the edge of our areas of interest. “Edges are places that become fertile ground for innovation because they spawn significant new unmet needs and unexploited capabilities and attract people who are risk takers.” (p. 16)

But even accessing and attracting have little value unless they are coupled with a third set of practices that focus on driving performance rapidly to new levels. These practices involve participation in something they call “creation spaces” – environments that integrate teams in a broader learning ecology so that the performance improvement accelerates as more people join. (p. 18 and from p. 140 and on the authors give insight into how to design creation spaces)

Second part of the book starts with how we can work on the power of pull in our personal lives. The reason to start with individuals is mentioned in the book: the locus on power and change is inexorably shifting to individuals (p. 241) Lots of management books describe how organizations should/could change. This leaves the reader thinking: OK, how am I going to do this by myself?

The steps to move from push to pull in your personal life are:
  • Pursue your passion (develop a deep understanding of who you are)
  • Find a good location where your passion can be fulfilled (geography matters)
  • Use social tools that create and capture value from knowledge flows
  • Maximize return on attention (don’t narrow your information sources to soon, be aware that we live in a world of information overload and knowledge scarcity) 
I like the way the book talks about small steps. The book doesn’t talk about taking a big leap, but taking small steps and slowly move to pull. In the words of the authors: Shaping strategies show has small moves smartly made can have an impact far beyond the initial resources and effort invested. (p. 29) Even the authors stress we are still at the beginning of the Big Shift. (p. 45 and 148)

I enjoyed reading the book, although I skimmed through larger parts of it. There lots of repetition in the book. In my review I tried to cluster topics together. I think this book would have been better with more visuals. This book contains one diagram, which isn’t a very helpful diagram. For instance I wouldn’t hang it up on a wall. It’s not self-explanatory. Furthermore the diagram shows one arrow going up exponentially in one direction with a spiral in it. Aren’t there also larger feedback/learning loop going (all the way) back when we find out we followed the wrong passions, lived in the wrong place, etc.? Moving to pull can never be a single shot; it’s more like trying (and learning) over and over again. Right? (Or is that what page 163 says?)

I like the focus on individuals/you first in this book. I/You can start right away and don’t have to wait for institutions to move.

As I said, I loved the questions at the end of the chapters, they’re very good. I wonder if more could have been done with them to help readers drill down and move to action. I think the questions really help you and your company define where you are on the push-pull spectrum.

Bonus: A extensive part of this book is about organizing for serendipity. Ana Silva gave a very insightful talk about this topic some time ago.
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