Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of Pull

This is a cross-post from my blog on the Military Social Networking system milBook.

I had heard of the book The Power of Pull back in October at the Army Operational KM Conference. Prior to that, there was a post on milBook about a video of a lecture by one of the book's authors John Seely Brown. I finally got around to watching the video earlier this week and was very impressed by the concept and Brown's presentation.

I will base much of this post on a document on John's website that provides an excellent overview of the material. (John Seely Brown╩╝s Stanford Entrepreneur's Corner Talk of April 14 2010 and Thoughts on The Power of Pull by John Hagel, JSB and Lang Davison- © 2010 Cook Network Consultants)

Even with all these great online resources, I plan to purchase the book in order to learn more on the topic.

Here is a collection of the high points from the Cook Report:

The world is broken. Business doesn’t work anymore. Across the S&P 500, return on assets is headed toward zero. Wall Street goes on an unregulated tear and tanks the economy. Washington steps in and bails everyone out pushing the deficit to unthinkable heights. A monetarily fueled recovery is knocking at the edge but once more it will be jobless. These events render pretty well impossible any future resurrection of the mass production, centralized, top down, economy-of-scale version of the petroleum fueled, assembly line based, push economy that powered the world up to the point of the popping of the internet and housing bubbles. Everyone would like to understand:‘why did all these things break?” The Power of Pull explains the seeming inexplicable.

The book’s thesis is that a ‘big shift’ from push based, mass production, top down, economy of scale kinds of organizations is taking place. The digital micro-processor, internet based economy that has matured over the past 30 years has insinuated itself into the old style companies and enabled them to make changes that squeeze more efficiency out of the old models but that is in pursuit of a diminishing returns strategy as The Power of Pull explains. It shows how the productivity enhancements of our new digital infrastructure enable what he calls creative edge that can pull the no longer productive aspects of the core to innovative projects at the edge. Edge based skunk-works transform the core in this new world.

The Shift Index consists of three indices that quantify the three waves of the Big Shift - Foundation Index, Flow Index and Impact Index - each measured by a set of indicators:



The authors presume a very fluid economy rather than static one. If new knowledge gained through productive friction is the new fuel the new raw material and therefore the new currency then, in tracking it, you have a lot more to consider than you would if you were only tracking bags of cement from the quarries to the warehouse to the construction site. Knowledge “flows.” Amplifiers of these flows are found in indices of worker passion and social media activity.

Problem solving and strategy building is a central foundation for all business. With the very complex changes brought about by the Internet and the continuing exponential advance of computing (often involving new architectures) that the authors describe throughout their entire book, the old top-down ways, “push” based ways of doing this, are no longer very productive.

The authors say that the on going practice of business depends both on accessing resources and attracting new people and their passions. Doing this is of little value unless coupled with a third set of actions "that focus on driving performance rapidly to new levels. These practices involve participation in, and sometimes orchestration of, something we call “creation spaces” -- environments that effectively integrate teams within a broader learning ecology so that performance improvement accelerates as more participants join." [p.18]

To quote the authors: “we need to marry our passions with our professions in order to reach our potential... Passion in this context refers to a sustained deep commitment to achieving our full potential and greater capacity for self-expression in a domain that engages us on a personal level. As we make our passions of our professions, we may find our dispositions shifting ... Rather than dealing change as a threat and something to be feared we will find ourselves embracing change, recognizing its potential to drive us to even higher levels of performance.” [p. 21-22]

The new world that is emerging is one made almost inevitable by the technology but it is also a world where information is used very differently than in the pre-internet world. It is shared but the sharing is done with reciprocity. If the recipient doesn't get something in return eventually the sharing ceases.

The scalable efficiency of the 20th century (pre-digital) corporation is fundamentally at odds with the way that knowledge flows in an internet connected world. It creates a world where rewards, on the one hand, are gained by capturing, hoarding and controlling stocks of knowledge. This conflicts with the digitally enabled ability to use the new Internet based tools to capture, duplicate, distribute and create new information. In the 20th century economy rewards are based on hoarding and hierarchy rather than on problem solving. The closed proprietary model needed to protect the old style corporation helps to ensure that benefits of new tools and technologies are tied up in keeping people bound to old closed proprietary systems where lawyers are used to protect fortresses and kingdoms and to bar the creation of new wealth, this return on assets goes down because emphasis on billing systems and maximum extraction from “customers” goes up.

The digital internet creates alternative models and delivery mechanisms that permit disintermediation of corporations that spend money fighting change. The economy of scale in a pre-digital age becomes diseconomy of scale leading to the declining return on assets noted above.

All of this has a tremendous implications to the theory and practice of Knowledge Management. With knowledge flows being a key ingredient in a pull economy, the people that can put efficient processes in place to leverage the technology to outperform other organizations are the ones that are going to be successful. Another key part of KM that the concept of Pull affects is the idea of KM practitioners are going to be important agents of change. The transition from Push to Pull and the attendant Big Shift are going to require the ability to effectively manage change, and that is going to fall to the KM personnel in many cases. 

While most of the examples given throughout the Power of Pull material center around the Corporate world, these concepts are just as applicable to the Government and the Military. Fostering the "creation spaces" mentioned above is important for all types of organizations. Collections of passionate, talented individuals are going to form into the teams that will ensure organizational success.

This is just a general, brief overview of a very important concept. I anticipate posting more on this topic as I continue to study it. Once again, the Cook report cited above is an excellent source for more information.

On a totally unrelated topic, there is an online community for Federal Wave (FedWave) located here. You must apply for membership first at APAN.org. I will approve all reasonable requests for group access.Thanks to those of you who have already joined. FedWave and Apache Wave may be another transformational technology that could enable the Big Shift.

This has been a good year for me blog-wise as this is my 33rd post- a personal best. I know this isn't one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, and I do appreciate everyone that takes the time to read my online musings.

I wish you a wonderful 2011.

Mark

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