Saturday, April 17, 2010

Social Media and the Big Shift to a 21st Century "Pull" Economy

During a morning jog, I listened to a talk from John Seely Brown where he discussed what he calls the "big shift" from the 20th century "push" economy to the 21st century "pull" economy. In summary, the "push" paradigm is largely the traditional command and control model while the "pull" based structure is a more dynamic interaction with what Brown calls "knowledge flows." Upon further investigation, I found an excerpt from a new book, of which Brown is one of the authors, entitled The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion at Here is what I see as the essential elements pulled directly from the text:
At the most basic level, pull helps us to find and access people and resources when we need them. At a second level, pull is the ability to attract people and resources to us that are relevant and valuable, even if we were not even aware before that they existed. Think here of serendipity rather than search. Finally, in a world of mounting pressure and unforeseen opportunities, we need to cultivate a third level of pull the ability to pull from within ourselves the insight and performance required to more effectively achieve our potential.

The first level of pull, access, is very powerful. But in a world of near-constant disruption, its value is finite. Many of us are increasingly finding that we no longer even know what to seek, even with the growing power of search. While it’s great that all sorts of information is indexed and sorted on the web, even a daily tour through ones Facebook newsfeed reveals many new people and resources that could be relevant.

How do we find out which ones? How do we specify, when we go to, Bing, or Google, the areas of knowledge and expertise that would be most valuable? Show me the stuff that I really need that I don't even know exists, isn’t much of a search string. Access only truly works when we know what were looking for. At times like these, the cursor blinks in the search engines textbox, mocking us, asking the existential question: Do you even know what you are looking for? And even if we think we do, it’s guaranteed that unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld memorably called them, are waiting for us, both as opportunities and as barriers.

We must supplement search engines and their equivalents by exploring additional ways of pulling people and their knowledge to us. To address this challenge, we will need to master the techniques of attraction in both our personal and professional lives and learn to harness the power of serendipity, which is the faculty of finding people and things that we did not know we were looking for.

We need serendipitous encounters with people because of the importance of the ideas that these people carry with them and the connections they have. People carry tacit knowledge. You can’t learn brain surgery just from a text. You've got to stand next to someone who already knows and learn by doing. Tacit knowledge exists only in people’s heads. That means we must not only find the people who carry this new knowledge but get to know them well enough (and provide them with sufficient reciprocal value) that they’re comfortable trying to share it with us.

All of this might make attraction an effective form of discovering the things we didn't know we didn't know, but it also brings up a problem: How can we possibly have enough time to put this into practice? There are only twenty-four hours in the day.

To master attraction, we need two elements to come together in a powerful and reinforcing way. First, we need amplifiers that can help us reach and connect to large groups of people around the globe that we do not yet know (and may not even be aware exist). These amplifiers relate to our choice of where to live, what gatherings we attend, how we conduct ourselves online, and what we do to draw the attention of others. Second, we need filters that can help us to increase the quality as well as the number of unexpected encounters and ensuing relationships that are truly the most relevant and valuable. These filtering techniques help separate the wheat from the chaff in our interactions with others and become ever more crucial as we begin serendipitously drawing more people toward us. By simultaneously amplifying (to increase the sheer number of unexpected encounters) while filtering (to spend time only on those interactions that yield value to us and to others), we can shape serendipity in order to attract from the edges of our fast-moving world the people and knowledge we need in order to thrive.

The third level of pull: Achieve. Accessing and attracting in fact have diminished value unless they are coupled with a third set of practices that focus on driving performance rapidly to new levels. These practices involve participation in, and sometimes orchestration of, something we call creation spaces--environments that effectively integrate teams within a broader learning ecology so that performance improvement accelerates as more participants join.

Creation spaces differ in at least two ways from the learning organization approaches pioneered a couple of decades ago. First, they emerge as ecosystems across institutions rather than within a single institution, so they reach a much more diverse set of participants. Second, they are not primarily focused on learning their goal is to drive more rapid performance improvement, and learning occurs as a byproduct of these efforts.

The moral of the story? To get better faster at whatever it is you do, you've got to be supported by a broad array of complementary people and resources from which you can pull what you need to raise your rate of performance improvement.
This, in my view, is the goal of each of us. What I found of most interest was the concept of amplifiers and filters in the "attraction" step. Your social media tool(s) of choice can function as the tool to see these concepts become a reality. In the midst of your busy days of family, work, and various interactions please remember that social media tools enable us to both scale and sift our knowledge base to make us more informed and productive.

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