Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Power of Pull by John Hagel III, Et Al

Hagel, John III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison. The Power of Pull. How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. New York: Basic Books, 2010. 277 pages. Price: $27.50.

The book sets out to describe the transformation of the traditional business paradigm under the influence of Internet-related technologies. According to the authors, the deployment of digital infrastructure has reduced barriers to entry and facilitated movement in the business world, leading to intensifying competition. With new challenges come new opportunities to create and capture value. For institutions, proliferation of knowledge on the web makes it easier to solicit and access new ideas globally. For individuals, participation in digital knowledge flows opens new ways to develop creative potential and achieve success.

Under the new paradigm, the aficionados of big wave surfing use the web to share experiences and new surfing techniques. In the world of online role-playing games, users enhance their experience by participating in guilds and discussion forums, and by using tools such as customizable dashboards. Microsoft has established their operating system firmly in the market by opening it to third-party application developers. SAP extends the application of its products by tapping into the intellectual power of user communities through online forums, wikis, and blogs. Through these platforms, users generate, share, and profit from creative solutions.

The authors view these new ways to do business as part of the big shift away from the rigid, self-limiting "push" model that dominated the twentieth-century economy. Under that model, businesses relied on forecasting and planning, maintained top-down control through fixed organizational structures and boundaries, and discouraged innovation by treating people as gear in the corporate machinery. In contrast, the new, "pull" approach is flexible, modular, and responsive to evolving needs.

Pull builds upon three functions: the ability to find people and information through search and customer-feedback services such as Google or Orbitz, the ability to attract others through social media such as Facebook, and the use of environments or "creation spaces" (such as gaming or user communities) that stimulate individual potential and creativity.

The Power of Pull offers a good overview of the transformation of business in the digital age. Readers may also profit from its general advice (pp. 139-151) on developing successful creation spaces: keeping the barriers to entry low, encouraging the formation of community teams, motivating users through a scoring system, and striking a balance between control (governance protocols) and user spontaneity. A set of thought-provoking questions at the end of each chapter is also a useful feature. But the book is only moderately successful in fulfilling its larger promise, which is to offer a key to unlocking the hidden potential of individuals and organizations. Its observations sometimes lack depth, and the value of its recommendations is uneven. Many readers do not have to be reminded, at considerable length, of the need to change along with the changing world (p. 33), the usefulness of informal social networking in conference hallways (p. 95), the advantage of being passionate in one's work (p. 166), or the merits of opening up to a wide range of experiences (p. 115). The book tries to be both informative and motivational. Unfortunately, because of its penchant for generalities and cliches, it does not quite live up to its ambitious goal of showing us how to "harness pull to change the world."

Peter Pollack, Ph.D. works for Woodside Global Partners, an organization that researches conditions conducive to achieving beyond-predictable business results. For more book reviews by Pollack, visit

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