Transcript: IT Conversations | Tech Nation | ‘John Hagel: Small Moves Equal Big Changes’

Transcript: IT Conversations | Tech Nation | 'John Hagel: Small Moves Equal Big Changes'

I was intrigued by this interview with John Hagel about his co-authored book, 'The Power of Pull'. A lot of the things he talks about link in with Cluetail's value proposition, including some of his observations about the importance of serendipity, the notion that we don't know what to search for anymore, and some of his ideas about the use of social media.

The other day I was looking for a transcript or a way to generate a transcript. Didn't buy any speech-to-text software, nor used any "Mechanical Turk"-like services. Decided instead to transcribe the podcast show myself.

Should I have posted this on a wiki instead? That way, others could edit and enhance, e.g. adding time codes…

So here comes:

G = Dr. Moira Gunn
H = John Hagel III


G: Today on Tech Nation, I speak with Deloitte's John Hagel, about 'The Power of Pull – How Small Moves Smartly Made Can Set Big Things In Motion'.

The global economy is in disarray. And it's not just because the banks and financial institutions have made a mess of it. We keep hearing that we all have to go back to how we used to do business. I asked John Hagel, who heads Deloitte's Center for the Edge, how wrong is that?

H: It's very wrong. In fact, that was one of the key motivators for writing this book. The Power of Pull was the notion that so many of these executives we deal with are clearly under great stress right now but they have this still a sense of complacency that somehow, sometime, we're gonna come out of this downturn and things will go back to normal. And we hope this book is a bit of a clarion call to say: Not so fast. There are some longer term trends that have been playing out and we don't see them abading at all, so.

G: Now you call the old way of doing things "push". I mean, that's so last millennium. Let's remind everybody: what is push and how can people recognize institutions and the world this way?

H: It's a basic set of assumptions that have kind of guided all our institutions and all our practices and it basically starts with the notion that we can predict or forecast demand. And having done that, we can then make sure that all the right people and resources are in the right places at the right time to meet that demand.

And if you look at our large corporations today, our educational institutions, even our governmental institutions, that is a key assumption. And that's one of the issues: you've got more and more of what have become known as these black swans, these extreme events that nobody anticipated. But even beyond the black swam phenomenon, on a day-to-day basis, predictability of demand is becoming harder and harder. Consumers are getting more power, they're much more fickle, they're moving from one vendor to another in much more rapid ways. And there is just an increasing difficulty in guiding yourself based on forecast and prediction.

So it raises the option of what if we could structure our institutions and our practices so that we could make resources and people available as needed and when needed, rather than trying to predict demand. And that's really the power of pull as we described it. It's a fundamentally different set of assumptions as to how you need to mobilize people and resources.

G: Well, let's go to "pull". You have three basic things here: access, attract and achieve. Let's start with access. What do we wanna do there?

H: Sure. You know, when you talk to people about pull, often you get kind of preconceptions of what's there. So, particularly in the media business, as we've become very familiar with the notion of movement from push to pull media; in lean manufacturing you talk about pull supply chains.

What we're focused on are three level of pull that are becoming more and more central and more and more scalable. One of the key issues here is how do you reach out to a broader and broader range of participants and engage them in these pull platforms?

G: And you're talking about education, you're talking about corporations. You've been talking about grassroots advocacy.

H: Yes. Any time you create an institution to bring people together to deliver some kind of value to society or the market place, we believe this technique is becoming more and more central. So it starts with this notion of, the first level of pull is what we call access. And it's probably the one we're most familiar with. Certainly in our personal lives. We've all become totally dependent on tools like Google, which basically allow us to search. We have a question, we pose the question and within second we've got really interesting and useful pointers to people and information sources around the world. Really helpful when you're dealing with unexpected challenges or opportunities, to quickly access that resource.

The challenge is, and it leads to the second level of pull, which we call attract, which is, in a world that's changing more and more rapidly, we don't even know what question to ask anymore. What to look for. There are so many new things going on that could be useful to us, but we just don't know about them, so we can't even ask the question.

So we're addressing here the need to create a set of mechanisms so that we attract people and resources in ways that are totally unexpected. It's that serendipity encounter, you know, where we run into somebody we start a conversation, we say, my God, I wish I had known about that person. They are pursuing exactly the kind of thing that I'm interested in, it would have been very helpful.

So it's a notion of how do you create more attraction. And in that context, we focus a lot on this notion of serendipity. And what's interesting to us is, we find that people are… treat serendipity… we all know serendipity but we treat it as luck. It just happens and the best you can do, as Louis Pasteur said, is to be prepared when it happens.

G: Well, my grandmother used to say, make your own luck.

H: Exactly. There is a lot in that conventional folk wisdom that we're trying to resurrect. So there is a notion of how do you shape serendipity. We believe that there clearly is inevitably an element of luck here. But there are ways you can, on the margin, increase the number of unexpected encounters and the quality of those unexpected encounters.

And then we get to the third level of pull which for us is actually the most powerful and interesting one. And it has to do with the notion of an increasingly challenging world. We are more and more called upon to pull out of each of us the full potential. How do we achieve our full potential much more effectively than in the past? It gets to the notion of how can you use those first two levels of pull to accellerate learning and performance improvement. And we think there is a lot of untapped opportunity at that level.

G: Now, when we're talking access – and part of the habit of Googling everything in the world is that we have this expectation that we can find what's latest and greatest, we can find what's going on. With attract it's like how do we use all kind of ways to attract people. But to put those together into this achieve notion, and you say: once we establish that access and attraction, we need to be supported by a broad array of complementary people and resources. Now, you don't mean they're gonna come to your house and start working for you for free, do you? What do we mean by support from people and resources?

H: Well, it gets to a set of experiences that we talk about in the book, that we drew on to get insight about what's really necessary for this kind of achievement to occur in a much more scalable way. Again, more and more people, that's the key. So we looked at a whole array of examples like extreme sports, big wave surfing, on-line video gaming, World of Warcraft of all places.

G: Did they let you at your age?

H: I had to lie about my age. I'm only 21…[unclear]

But you know, often these areas are kind of dismissed or marginalized and viewed as, yeah you know, that's interesting but not really business. But when you look at what these people are doing in these areas, first of all they're growing very rapidly. More and more people are joining in to these activities. And they're learning faster. Their performance is improving at a more and more rapid rate. The scale is awesome. I mean, if you look at World of Warcraft, there are millions of players in that arena. And if you look at the time it takes to get to each level of performance, it's shrinking rapidly. So people are learning faster in those environments.

So what we tried to do is pull out of that and say, okay, what are the basic themes and techniques here? And at the simplest level it has to do with creative environments which encourage the formation of teams. People who come together and really spend a lot of time together, often in one person's living room. Like, they aggregate and they just address challenges over a period of time and become closer and closer and more and more passionate about what they're doing.

But then you create a broader environment where those teams can reach out and connect to people on other teams and learn from them. And so that's really the magic here, combining these teams with a broader environment where you can reach out, get questions answered, get insights that you weren't aware of within your team and drive your own team faster as a result.

G: Now, access, attract, achieve interconnect with three other elements: t
rajectory, leverage and pace. How do they interconnect?

H: What we're trying to do in the book is not just outline what's gonna be required to be successful in this world. Because one of the reactions we get when we talk about all these techniques of pull and the [unclear] institutions that are gonna be required to harness that potential and those practices… People get overwhelmed. I mean, that is so different from what we do today on a day-to-day basis and what our institutions look like today. That it just becomes an additional source of stress. We're already stress because pressure is mounting on us in our professional and personal lives. And then to be told that we have to do this dramatic transformation to get to the solution, to get to the answer, is just one more source of stress. I can't do that. How can I possibly make that transition?

And so what we tried to do in half of the book is actually what we'd describe as a pragmatic migration path. To say, look, we understand. You're over here. You gotta get over here, but there's a difficult path along the way. And what we need to do is find ways to make it more achievable, more pragmatic, so you're not having to invest an incredible amount of time and effort and money up-front with the hope that five, ten years from now you'll get value from it.

And so we came up with these three basic elements of a pragmatic migration path. They apply at the level of an individual. All of us as we wrestle with the growing pressure we're facing as individuals. Also as institutions. And more broadly, if we're trying to transform an arena like a market, an industry, a social arena, these three elements really help us to move in a very pragmatic way.

So we start with direction, and it's the notion that in times of high uncertainty, if you don't know where you're headed, at least at a very high level, of have some sense of what the opportunity is, you're gonna get consumed by distractions. There are more and more things competing for your attention, you're gonna get spread too thin across too many different things and you're just gonna drown in all the effort.

So having a direction that helps focus you, whether you are an individual, an institution, that's critical.

Then there is a piece which says: because there is so much risk and uncertainty here, as much as possible you should try to draw in other people's resources. Not just do it all yourself but find people who have a common destination and can help with complementary kinds of resources to help you get there.

And then finally there is a notion of pace, which has to do with, in a more and more rapidly changing world, you can't take forever to get along this path.  You've gotta move quicker and quicker and quicker. And so a lot of that has to do with the notion of how do you really maintain a rapid learning and performance improvement along the way.

G: I think one thing that's important in today's world is to understand that where you're going may not yet have been imagined. With that I'm a little worried that you could be in a big hurry to get nowhere. So its direction, not goal.

H: That's a key distinction. It's a broad sense of destination, a high-level one that you're constantly re-assessing as you move forward. As you start to take action and make investments around a particular direction, you're gonna learn a lot. And that's gonna refine that sense of where you're headed. And so you have to constantly pull back and just reflect and say: is that direction still the one that really is gonna help me, or is there a slightly different direction? In some cases, you may have to completely rethink it. But again, it's at least on a day-to-day basis having a sense of direction and constantly challenging and re-assessing it.

G: And seeing how fast things change, ten years ago you wouldn't have a job at Google. And now 15 thousand people have jobs at Google. And all the [unclear] play around that. So if you're stuck on where you're going and how it's gonna be, you have to be able to have that ability to adjust. And as long as your moving… This is just like physics, you know, as long as you've overcome inertia, and are moving, you can make a change. But if you've stopped, there's nothing to do.

H: And that's a huge issue because our institutions actually were set up to build inertia. Stability was viewed as they key value. If you wanted to create scalable efficiency, you had to maintain predictability, you had to maintain course. And so you tried to eliminate as much of the distractions as you could. But it basically forced you into a very stable institution that had a very hard time changing. And that's the challenge we face today is, how do we take these very stable institutions and make them much more dynamic?

G: iTunes, iPod, iPad… Darn iPhone. Wauw, things have changed.

In terms of finding the right people to hang out with, you talk about spikes. What are spikes?

H: Spikes are an interesting phenomenon. And there is a big debate going on in some circles. On the one side you have Tom Friedman with his very articulate book on "The World is Flat". Because of technology that we're all familiar with, location no longer matters. You can be anywhere you want, whether it's on a mountain top or on a tropical beach, and connect in to this incredible infrastructure and do your thing and be as effective as you need to be.

On the other side, if the world is becoming flat, and certainly there are elements of that – we don't at all question that trend – there is a paradoxical trend at the same time, which is: we're moving with increasing speed into geographical concentrations of talent. So, Silicon Valley is not falling apart. More and more people are moving into Silicon Valley.

If you look at China or India, these emerging economies, the economic development there is driven by these spikes. People coming together in places like Bangalore, or Shen-Zen, and basically connecting with other people who have their similar kinds of talents and passions. And there are a lot of reasons why we believe this is happening, but one of the key ones is a notion that in these spikes, when you have these dense aggregations of people, you're much more likely to have those serendipitous encounters that we talked about, which is the unexpected encounter with somebody.

You know, it's the classic story of Silicon Valley, with two parents at a soccer game and they start talking to each other and they're both software engineers and it turns out that one is working on exactly the same problem as the other but the didn't know each other. That happens in spikes much more frequently than if you're on a tropical beach somewhere. And so location still does matter if you're really focused on building serendipity.

G: Location, location and location.

H: [unclear]

G: So where talking geographic, that was your example. But what about talking conferences? There is a reason to be face-to-face.

H: Absolutely. We profiled a guy in the book who's really one of our heroes. He is an Israeli by the name of Josi Vardi. And he was the original investor in the first instant-messaging platform, ICQ, that later became part of AOL. But one of the things he's a fascination guy because, if you're in the tech industry and you go to any conference you're very likely to run into Josi. He's at almost every conference there is.

But one of the interesting things is, he doesn't go into the sessions. I don't think he's ever attended a session unless he was speaking at it. He sits in the hallway. He just finds a comfortable sofa, and he sits there, and as people pass by, he kinda calls out, introduces himself and starts a conversat
ion and you know, before you know it, he's connecting with all kinds of people that are extremely helpful to him in terms of what he is trying to accomplish.

So he's become a master of how do you take these conferences and really use them to maximize serendipity again. It's again also an interesting phenomenon that when you have new emerging technologies or areas, domains of learning, you can see a florishing of conferences. There's just this incredible outburst of conferences. Look at cloud computing today, or Twitter. There are all kinds of conferences coming around, organized around those new technologies and platforms. And they do it, in part at least, because they're anxious to connect with other people that they don't know are out there.

G: People connect with people. That's why we do all our interviews in person. It's just not the same.

H: It's not the same and in many respects we call it the gift that keeps on giving because if you connect with a person, you know, you'll get in an initial conversation you may get some really interesting insights and knowledge that that person has, that is hugely valuable. But if you build a relationship with that person, over time – especially if they share your passion and area of interest – you're gonna continue to learn in a growing way as you develop deeper relationships, more trust with each other, it yields more and more new knowledge.

G: And this does not say, don't go to social media. This says: overlay it or integrate it with social media as we know it.


H: Yeah, social media certainly is a very powerful new set of technologies. What I would like to say is that technology is both the problem and the solution in this long-term shift that we're going through. It's at one level increasing pressure because it's intensifying competition, and on another level provides us with powerful tools to actually connect and create new knowledge and learn faster.

One of the things I'm most intrigued by in that context is the increasing integration of these virtual spaces and the physical spaces. So there is new applications available on the iPad in San Francisco, where basically you can connect… You can sign on for it and it will track you movements over time in San Francisco.

Based on that, it will decide that you are a member of a certain tribe of other people who have roughly similar kinds of movements. The tend to frequent the same kinds of stores, restaurants, night clubs. And so it'll start to be more and more helpful to you in suggesting places to go that other people in your tribe have gone to.

G: You always go there at 4 o'clock, but you know, they're all there at 3.

H: Exactly! So it increases…

G: That's sort of a very interesting way of giving up control of you life.

H: Well, you know, you still have the choice not to go to these places. But, you know, if you're looking for serendipity, this increases the opportunity for serendipity. So it's connecting you with people that have similar kinds of interests as you do.

G: You gave three general directives and I'm interested in where you're coming from on this. First: make your passion your profession. Then: harness your ecosystems, and: maximize your return on attention. Let's go through those three.

H: Sure. Those are, if you talk about a pragmatic migration path for the individual, we think those are key elements that are gonna be required for us as individuals to really take advantage of the power of pull and create more opportunity.

So that first level of making passion your profession has to do with the notion that, in a world of more and more pressure and stress, if you're not really passionate about the work you do, you're gonna burn out very quickly. Or you're just gonna get marginalized. You may stay but you're… [gonna] fall farther and farther behind.

So we believe very strongly that in a world of increasing pressure, you need to find a passion and connect that passion to your profession. Now it could be that it's a completely different job, something that you haven't been doing.

We've been trained to believe that you go to work for a pay check and you pursue your passion after hours, right? That's the means to pursue your passion, whether it's sports or art. You do that after hours.

In this world we think you have to find ways to connect those two and it may be redefining your job. You're still staying in the same job but there are certain parts of it that you are really passionate about, other parts you're not. Are there ways over time that you can restructure the work so that you are really focussing on the passionate parts?

In any event, what that does for you is it turns now these unexpected challenges and pressures from something that you try to avoid or ignore into something you actually reach out and seek. Because if you're really passionate about your work, those unexpected challenges are really great opportunities to test your self, to push and see where you can take your performance level and connect with other people who also have passion to problem-solve, to say, wait a minute, this is really interesting. I never ran into this before.

So that's passion into profession. I think the other piece is the increasing role of social networks in providing leverage. How do you connect more broadly with other people who share your passion?

So I'm really big on Facebook and Twitter and I've found so many unexpected encounters on those platforms because of the passion that I have around certain areas. And word gets out and that pulls and attracts certain people towards me that I didn't even know were out there but, say, hey, wow, this is interesting, I have a similar kind of passion; here's what I'm working on.

So that gives you a lot of leverage to connect with more people. And then there is this notion of return on attention. From our view this is becoming more and more of a challenge is this question of: with more and more options competing for your attention, how do you make sure that where you are placing your attention really is the areas that are gonna give you the most value in return?

A lot of that has to do for example with using your social network. Find people who share your passions. If they refer you to something, you have a pretty good idea that's something worth paying attention to versus just this random piece of news or item that comes across your desk.

G: Well, one chapter is clearly for everyone: The individuals have to pull. Let's go there.

H: Yeah, it's an interesting difference between the 20th century and this century in the sense that, when you look back at the 20th century and the kinds of companies and businesses that were built around the new infrastructures – transportation and communication infrastructures of the early 20th century – those were built around scalable efficiency.

You basically had real visionaries like Henry Ford, who came in and said there's a different way to organize a company. It's top-down, and here is the blueprint of the company. And, by the wat, we do need people in the company but they have to fit into these kinds of very well-defined roles, because we need predictability and efficiency.

So change depended on these visionaries coming in and saying, here's what we need in terms of an institution. Let's make the people, individuals fit into that.

This go-around, with these new infrastructures around the Internet and digital technology more generally, they're much more focussed on how do you help people to achieve their full potential? And that starts with us as individuals. If we don't have the passion and the desire to achieve our full potential, we're never goin
g to encounter institutions or help shape institutions that can serve that need.

So what we think is particularly exciting in this go-around is, it's up to each of us to connect with our passion, to really get centered around what is it that is gonna be most valuable to us and then figure out what are the institutional environments, and if there aren't any institutions today, help make them. But it's starting with each of us as individuals. And the power of pull is again this notion of, if you make small moves smartly, you can achieve really great things as an individual. So there is much more leverage as an individual.

G: And the only problem I really had with this chapter is the girl you used as the opening example had degrees from both MIT and Stanford. You really were talking about everybody, right?

H: No. And I think that's part of the issue is, we use stories of people who have kind of gone to the extreme of this and can give us a sense of what's possible and feasible. But, yes, these are exceptional people in many ways. Yosi Vardi who created ICQ, another exceptional person, he is not every person. But on the other hand it can be inspiring to us to step back and say, what could we do within whatever confines we exist to actually take small moves and have really big things happen?

G: And most of the technology affecting our lives came from one or two people. At the source were always one or two people. It started the seed and then started to move.

And even with all these social media, with the ability to […] to thousands as if it were, you know, a badge of honor. How many people are following me. I mean, could they really be following me? You write: Who are the five people you can identify who would have the best visibility into the knowledge flow most relevant to your passion?

H: Well, I wouldn't say we're limiting it to five people, but we're saying that you can get caught up in this "quantity is everything", so go out as many friends and followers as you can. At one level that may be helpful depending on what you are trying to accomplish. In many cases, again, it's just a distraction. You get so many people that connecting with them is a real challenge.

So just as a focusing device, we want to ask, who are those five people that are most relevant to us? Have we connected to them? Do we have relationships with them that really are sustaining relationships, not just an email that we sent when we asked to be friended or whatever?

And if you can answer that question in the positive, great: you've really got the people who are gonna be most helpful to you. And then, yes, add-on other people as you need them but…

G: Keep five in mind.

H: Make sure those five are firmly in mind, know who they are and have made an effort to build relationships with them.

G: You also ask: How often do you deliberately move outside your comfort zone? At what point does discovery give way to familiarity and ease?

H: Right. It's a great of kind of again framing a challenge. We inevitably for all of us we have a natural psychological tendency to stay in the comfort zone. Doing things that's we're comfortable with, relating to people that we know and have become familiar with. Increasingly in a rapidly changing world where the new knowledge is being created and new insights and innovations are being driven are out on the edge.

And it's those areas that are kind of on the periphery for us is our personal lives we have people kind of on the edge on our network, that we maybe met at a conference somewhere just in a social setting, and they're in a very different profession or set of activities and interests. But in many cases they may actually have similar kinds of passions. And we just haven't engaged them and they are from such a different social background or cultural background that we are kind of intimidated. It's hard to really connect with those people, but in fact they can often be the most valuable because they challenge us in terms of those assumptions that we haven't even tried to articulate but turn out to be blocking us from kind of discovering new things.

And so, the notion of stepping out of your comfort zone. Another guy we talked about in the book, Jack [Hiddery], who is an amazing entrepreneur – again, not your average person, but an inspiration. And one of the things he does when he goes to conferences is, he tries to sign up for the sessions that he knows least about. Because he finds that those are often the ones that spark the greatest insight, that he makes a connection that he hadn't realized from a totally different kind of domain.

And so it's constantly finding ways to challenge ourselves and saying, what is it that we are taking for granted today, that probably shouldn't be taken for granted and could move us to a new level? And that's this notion of moving out of the comfort zone.

G: When we talk about the individual we are not just talking about an individual effort here. Most individuals exist within organizations with leadership trying to manage all these people. Don't forget, at Google one day a week everybody is working on some other project of choice. And so that gives you some kind of idea of where its going. But aren't passionate individuals harder to manage?

H: They are indeed. I'm struck by how many executives say that they want more passion among their employees. But when you probe at what they mean by passion, they mean people who are gonna work harder on the tasks that have been assigned to them. And, you know, that's not what passion is really about. Passion is about an urgent desire to explore and discover within a particular domain. And often it's highly unpredictable. You find something over there that is really interesting relative to your passion. You go over there even though the script says you should be going in another direction.

And so most companies, if you're built around predictability and scalable efficiency, squeeze passionate people out. One of the things we found in the [shift index], when we did the research last year, was that if you look at passionate employees, the level of passion in the workforce decreases as you get to larger and larger companies. And the most passionate workers are the ones who are on their own, who are independent contractors, independent entrepreneurs, and who have the freedom to pursue their passion wherever it leads.

And so one of the things that we think is a challenge for larger institutions is how to attract the people who are passionate. No matter how bureaucratic an institution is, I guarantee there are passionate people still down somewhere in the ranks and they're enormously frustrated. For the leader of an institution I think the challenge is, how do you identify those people, get them to declare themselves – because often they're hiding – and connect them with each other and then point them to areas in what we described as the edge of the enterprise: new areas of growth, new kinds of technology arenas, where passion is most helpful in terms of exploration and discovery and there aren't really well-defined routines that have to be followed on a daily basis.

That starts to build the germ of a change agent within the company. And then the role of the institutional leader is to celebrate when these passionate people start to make a difference on these edges, start to really celebrate that.

G: Well, if I got anything out of your book, I think that you've turned us to focussing on how we operate as a journey as opposed to the processes that will lead us to a goal.

H: Right. I think that's an absolutely kind of critical theme throughout the book is taking a dynamic view of the world. Again, one of the challenges with the 20th century institutions that we have is that it's a very static v
iew of the world. I have certain knowledge today. The question is, how do I protect it first of all, and extract as much value as I can? But this notion of the world is rapidly changing around us. That is hugely scary if you're trying to build in predictability and forecast the demand.

So it really does force us to kind of abandon that notion of there is a prescribed programme and that can be written out, that we all just follow blindly on a day-to-day basis ; versus a path that we're gonna start on, we have a rough sense of the direction, but we're gonna learn a lot along the way and we're probably gonna change course as we move down that path. But at the end of the day we'll have really achieved our potential  in ways that we couldn't imagine.

G: Well, John, thanks so much for joining me. Come back to see me any time.

H: Absolutely. Appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

G: My guest today is John Hagel. The book is: 'The Power of Pull – How Small Moves Smartly Made Can Set Big Things In Motion'. It's published by Perseus.

More information about this interview is available at: For Tech Nation, I'm Moira Gunn.