Last night I had the pleasure of introducing John Hagel at a TEDxBayArea event.  He came to talk with us about The Power of Pull, his new book with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, and the broad-based shifts in our organizational and social environment. Others have written great general reviews about the book (e.g., here & here) , so I don't feel guilty about putting a systems savvy filter on my comments.  I see The Power of Pull as emphasizing the need for systems savvy management.  That is, the environmental shifts described in the book demand that you use a solid understanding of available technology tools, organizational practices, and human capabilities to weave together effective organizational and personal action. The Power of Pull also gives us examples of what this weaving might look like.


Before, the pattern of how technology tools, organizational practice, and people were woven together was generally pushed down from above, and not always effectively. Things have changed.  We have entered a period where important patterns (everything from organizational innovations to personal work strategies) can come from anywhere.  The Power of Pulldescribes three waves of this Big Shift:

  • First wave of the Big Shift: New platforms built on the Internet.  This wave has already arrived.
  • Second wave: Focus on flows versus stockpiles of knowledge.  Our feet are wet on this one.  Facebook, Twitter, corporate and employee blogs, customer-built technical support -- these are at the forefront of this wave.
  • Third wave: Organizational changes that result from the forces of the first two waves.  The emerging business relationships built on communication from throughout organizations are examples of this wave. SAP, for example, opened enough of its technical "secret sauce" to engage a number of partners who could then develop SAP innovations independent of SAP own engineers.  Turns out these efforts are beneficial to all.


With these shifts we have the opportunity (need) to "pull" rather than waiting for opportunities to be pushed down from above. We can pull by gaining access to people and resources in ways we never could before, attracting people and resources through our own participation and personal and project branding, and then using these resources to contribute by achieving new outcomes from our own potential. How we do this is where I see the value of systems savvy management.  How do we decide what pieces of the technology infrastructure to use for our access?  How do we decide how to best build systems that help us attract the right people and resources?  How do we design organizational systems that will help us achieve our goals (working with the people we've attracted, the technology systems we have at our disposal, the organizational policies and procedures that distribute benefits to all involved, all with and understanding of our specific context). Systems savvy can help us weave these componentstogether into something that can surf these waves of transformation. John suggests five steps to start with (my weaving suggestions in italics):

  1. Master the strength of weak ties. Use technology tools like LinkedIn or Facebook to access people outside of your usual circle.  Then find or create opportunities to meet face-to-face in ways that support your passion -- just sharing coffee is not enough, you need to focus on work-related issues to understand each others' relative strengths and who else you might want to bring into the network.
  2. Grow your personal ecosystem. Use technology tools both inside and outside your organization to find activities that can support your tasks (perhaps a community of practice).  If you don't find any, build one.  Use technology and organizational practice to strengthen the infrastructure in terms of its focus on learning, building a common language, being a repository of good ideas). Have a system in place for finding new members over time.
  3. Choose wisely where you live and spend time to be in the right place at the right time. Use your technology tools to track the right times and places.  Start relationships before you get there and use your tools to maintain the relationships over time.
  4. Find environments where people share your passions. For me the critical term is "share."  Find the environment and then share.  This may be face to face, over the Internet, or a hybrid approach where you meet occasionally.  The conference behaviors John describes are great for keeping your (and others') enthusiasm high.
  5. Join a creation space. My favorite. Be it face to face or virtual, engage with people to create along the lines of your passion.  For me this is finding the opportunity to engage with others who use systems savvy on the job.  By working together we can tackle the bigger problems or use our diversity of background to solve the tricky small ones.

My summary: Use available (or acquirable) technology tools and organizational practices to build your ecosystem and then do something with it.  Play fair -- be a producer as well as an acquirer from the social network.  Appreciate that small twists and turns made at the right time result in strong, beautiful, work.