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Pushing Back on 'The Power of Pull'
July 18, 2010 - 9:41pm

I read The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion for one reason: "John Seely Brown." If JSB writes something, I'm buying. If JSB gives a talk, I'm there (at least virtually). If JSB says to "jump", I'm saying "how far." You get the picture.

The Power of Pull is one of those books that I'm happy I read but did not enjoy reading all that much. What is most instructive about The Power of Pull is that the book demonstrates how good ideas and clear thinking are necessary but not sufficient to engage us readers. What is missing from the book is precisely why I bought the book, the authors. The great ideas are filtered through a sort of omnipresent consultant speak, homo consultilis, instead of through the voice of any recognizable homo sapien. I know for a fact that the all 3 authors lead fascinating lives, but one would never know it from reading Pull.

Educators need to keep this lesson in mind. When we teach, we need to connect our disciplines to stories, and our stories to our students and ourselves. Dan Ariely does this masterfully in his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, telling the story of his recovery from a horrific accident to help us understand the science of behavioral economics.

It is shame that the Pull authors allowed themselves to slip into consultant speak, as the ideas and lessons from Pull are worth pondering. The big argument of Pull is that a combination of globalization and digital technologies has fundamentally changed the rules of economics and employment, a big shift in which companies and institutions must draw ideas and people from the "edge" and leverage their talents to change the practices of the "core." People who will succeed in the uncertainty and turmoil of the digital economy will be those who can authentically follow their passions, connect with other passionate individuals, and re-skill themselves to compete and add-value in a globalized economy. Companies can no longer either create or forecast demand (push), but rather must offer a compelling product or service that "pulls" potential employees, partners, and customers in to mutually beneficial relationships.

I particularly like what Pull has to say about education:

"It's quickly dawning on us instead that our education was at best a thin foundation that needs to be continually refreshed in order for us to stay competitive". (page 12)

"Until relatively recently, most of us believed we had to invest considerable time and effort early in our lives navigation an educational system designed to transfer stocks of knowledge to us. As a reward for our diligence and persistence in school, we believed, these stocks of knowledge would serve us well throughout our lives". (page 52)

"We have to be willing to risk looking like we don't know the answer, or maybe the question. We've got to wean ourselves from the over dependence on expertise we've labored so hard to accumulate. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we must avoid letting our education interfere with our learning". (page 117).

Good stuff. But I can't find much that is really all the new. A much better book about our economic and job future in a globalized and digital economy is Sonic Boom, by Gregg Easterbrook. Seth Godin has written extensively about finding our tribes and passions at work. Dan Pink's new book, Drive, is all about how intrinsic motivators always trump extrinsic ones in determining performance at work. Matt Ridley, in The Rational Optimist, explains how a globalized world organized around trade and open markets will mean greater prosperity for all of us. (You should really check out Ridley's TED Talk - "When Ideas Have Sex." And The New American Workplace provides in-depth case studies of companies that are able remain competitive through a results only workplace environment (ROWE) that allows creative people on the edge to be nurtured and thrive.

JSB - I hope your next book includes more of JSB.

What are you reading?


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