John Seely Brown & John Hagel III & Lang Davison:


"The Power of Pull" (Harvard, 2010)

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
A general rule that rarely fails is: "Be wary of books written by multiple authors". Multiple authors tend to amplify each other's crap instead of edit it down, and the results are often embarrassing ideological pamphlets, no matter how smart the premise.

The premise here is interesting. The digital age has changed the world in which we live in not only from the point of the consumers but also from the point of the producers. We live in the age of Web platforms that were not designed top-down but sprung up bottom-up. The future may be more of it, and faster.

A push organization is one in which someone forecasts needs and then designs a solution in terms of people, resources and processes. The whole thing is carefully scripted and the solution is provided by carefully-programmed routine jobs. This works only if it possible to forecast demand. A pull organization is one that adapts to and exploits the people who are already using resources and setting in place processes that serve those needs.

"In previous generations of institutional change, an elite at the top of the organization created the world into which everybody else needed to fit it... The institutional changes ahead will be quite different: changes will be driven by passionate individuals distributed throughout and even outside the institution, supported by institutional leaders who understand the need for change but who also realize that this wave of change cannot be imposed from the top down... The success of institutions will depend on their ability to amplify the efforts of individuals so that small moves, smartly made, can become catalysts for broad impact. Institutions will become powerful pull platforms, helping individuals gain leverage they could never achieve on their own."

This sounds like a documentary of *what has already happened*, not as a book on how to prepare for the future.

The book talks about the importance of serendipity (chance?), which is the main factor behind the success of geographic concentrations of talents such as Silicon Valley. A way to turn serendipity into a science is to form "creation spaces": "environments that effectively integrate teams within a broader learning ecology so that performance improvement accelerates as more participants join". These spaces encompass more than one institution and are not driven by learning but learning is a by-product of their performance improvement. Creation spaces happen if institutions "flip perceptions of risk and reward" and "quickly gather a critical mass of participants".

Again, this sounds like a documentary on Silicon Valley.

The book's main theme is that "small moves, smartly made, can have an impact far beyond the initial resources and effort invested".

This book has obviously been written by old people for old executives. Most of what is in the book is simply daily life for the younger generations. The younger generations don't need to be told about serendipity and creation spaces the same way that older generations, when they were young, didn't need to be told what rock'n'roll or television were.

The authors talk about the "Big Shift" with the same pomp that a middle-aged social worker might have spoken of rock'n'roll in the 1950s to the parents of rebellious teenagers.

It would have been more interesting to discuss the mathematical models behind push and pull worlds. The authors are correct in saying that push models work when the demand is known and a program can be devised to meet it, and this is because, fundamentally, there is a consumer who is not a producer. When the consumer becomes a producer, a "prosumer", then it becomes impossible to forecast demand. They are not familiar with the mathematical terms "linear" and "nonlinear", otherwise it would be simple to say that a push system is solved by a linear equation whereas a pull system is represented by a nonlinear equation and therefore exhibits what mathematicians refer to "chaos" dynamics.

What the authors suggest is the best way for an organization to deal with the nonlinear world of pull is to unbridle the creativity of the members of the organization instead of forcing them to behave "linearly" according to preestablished rules. In other words, simulate internally the chaos of the external world. Fine with me. That's what scientists have always done to study nonlinear systems.

(See also Brown, John Seely & Duguid, Paul: "The Social Life of Information" )