Homa Taj In Conversation with John Hagel III (part II)

Homa Taj – Speaking of collaborations (& guild work), tell us how on earth does participating in the World of Warcraft help individuals with their managerial skills? …This, by the way, reminds me that the day after the release of The Power of Pull, a new Museum of Video Games (Musée du Jeu Vidéo) opened in Paris, on April 14th.

John Hagel – World of Warcraft is an environment with significant uncertainty and growing performance challenges – you never know when a quest will lead in an unexpected – and often very threatening – direction. The 12 million players in this online game come from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds across the world and yet somehow they must be forged into high performing teams – called “guilds” that take on ever-increasing challenges. Sound familiar? This describes many aspects of our daily lives.

I have a friend whom I met ten years ago when he was just out of college and basically providing computer help desk support for a very small startup in Silicon Valley. Eight years later he was named the CIO of Starbucks – the youngest CIO ever of a Fortune 500 company. When asked how he accounts for such a rapid rise, he responds that as a guild leader in World of Warcraft he learned how to mobilize and motivate very diverse participants to take on increasing performance challenges and, in the process, generating productive friction that spawned highly creative new approaches to business.

HT – Your most successful books discuss ways in which the Internet can be used to connect to the world beyond & that “virtual communities are the marketplaces of the future.” Yet, now, you are echoing Richard Florida’s idea of geographical ‘spikes’…

JH – A consistent theme throughout all of my books has been the way that the Internet and information technology can help to transform and scale social relationships. It amplifies and enriches, but does not replace, more conventional face to face relationships. In fact, almost inevitably when a group of people meet online, they end up seeking ways to meet “in real life”.

One key paradox is that in the flat world so eloquently described by Tom Friedman, the world is also becoming increasingly spiky – people are moving at an ever more rapid rate into geographic concentrations of talent like Silicon Valley, Bangalore and Shanghai. Richard Florida continues to explore this trend in his latest book The Great Reset. It is a powerful testimony to the need we all have to connect and learn from each other more rapidly in physical space as well as virtual space. Geographic spikes become even more attractive as we discover that we can learn even faster by connecting with others in geographic spikes around the world.

HT – At the heart of The Power of Pull lies the challenge to the old model of ‘push’ economy which was about innovation through predictability. This, you claim, is no longer a valid paradigm in our rapidly changing world. What does a ‘pull’ economy ‘do’ that is different?

JH – The great institutions of the twentieth century all emerged and evolved around push models – accurately predicting demand and then organizing people and resources to be in the right place and the right time to meet that demand. Because the push model depended critically on predictability, it actually discouraged creativity – our mission was to adopt and pursue routines defined well in advance for us.

As the world becomes more unpredictable and uncertainty increases, this push model creates increasing stress. We need to move from a world of push programs to a world of scalable pull platforms where we can draw out people and resources when we need them and where we need them.

In the art world, we created great art and then relied on push institutions – established art galleries and media – to reach out and target collectors who might be interested in our work. These art galleries and media were push silos that rarely interacted with each other to leverage each other’s efforts. In a world of pull platforms, as you have so frequently emphasized, we are likely to see the art world become much more connected, forming rich networks of relationships among collectors as well as art institutions to help all participants become more effective in their quest to support art while reaping rewards from their contributions. Increasingly, the opportunity will be not just connecting participants globally and more efficiently, but creating environments where they can learn more rapidly by collaborating with each other.

Ht – Your concept of ‘flow’ has a Zen-like quality to it which may make some executives resistant to its potentially or seemingly blithe spirit. What type of assurance can you offer them that they won’t be dealing with emotional chaos when they are supposed to be focusing on production? This, by the way is equally challenging for those of us who work in creative fields. More often than not, our focus is to introduce some degree of discipline to our already highly passionate work force… This could be something as seemingly straight forward as training museum volunteers whose contributions provide invaluable financial support for cultural institutions.

JH – The key is to focus on significant and sustained performance improvement. This requires developing the talent of all participants. While training programs can help in this effort, they pale into insignificance relative to the ability to inspire passion in people to develop their full potential by pursuing increasingly challenging performance goals. If you look at any organization or group of people delivering extreme performance improvement, you will find deep passion and a strong desire to connect with others who share their passion, both inside and outside their organization, to help them get to new levels of performance faster. You may be able to get extreme performance improvement out of people through other means, for example squeezing them to work harder for longer hours, but that will not be sustainable.

HN – Serendipity! How did you come up with the idea of shaping (or shape-shifting?) serendipity?

There were two catalysts for this idea. First, I live in Silicon Valley and stories of serendipitous encounters abound among techies here. Two parents attending their children’s soccer game will start up a conversation on the side lines and discover they are working on similar software problems and help each other out while their children play. At one level, these are totally unexpected encounters but, if you are a software engineer, you are much more likely to have them here in Silicon Valley than if you lived in Dubuque, Iowa. People are shaping serendipity by moving to geographic spikes that increase the quality and quantity of unexpected encounters.

Second, I got to know a successful Israeli entrepreneur, ‘Yossi Vardi, who goes to many, many tech conferences every year but he almost never goes into a formal session. Instead, he finds a comfortable sofa in a hallway near the conference meeting room and just randomly intercepts people walking by and starts up a conversation. He has forged many valuable relationships with this technique. As he told me, serendipity doesn’t just happen in a serendipitous way,” says ‘Yossi Vardi. “You have to work for it.”

These experiences led me to believe that there are in fact techniques that we can all master to shape serendipity – the choices we make about where we spend our time in both physical and virtual environments as well as how we spend our time can significantly increase the quality and quantity of unexpected encounters. Our book systematically explores these techniques.

• Make you passion your profession
• Harness your ecosystem
• Maximize return on attention

Ht – I have read a great number of books, case studies and articles on the ways collectors pursue their passions for acquisition. I have also met numerous scholars who cross continents to gain access to that single sheet of document at, for example, The National Library of the Czech Republic. These are all extremely disciplined and successful individuals who are committed to acquiring and ultimately producing a collection of Ming Dynasty Pottery or a critical scholarly text on Rudolf II’s Kunstkammer. However, I have never read a business book that deals with the concept of ‘passion. …

JH – Actually there are quite a few business books that talk about passion in passing, but they rarely explore what it really means. In most cases, it means that the employer wants employees to passionately pursue their assigned tasks and work longer hours without question. We have something quite different in mind. We discuss the passion of the explorer – someone who is dedicated to more fully achieving their potential by exploring a domain and rapidly improving their performance in that domain over a long period of time. We found that very few people in companies are really passionate about their work in this sense. Those who are passionate are often deeply frustrated because they see all the possibilities and potential but are upset about all the institutional barriers that have been put in their way. From an employer’s perspective, these people are often a big headache because they challenge the routines of the company and are constantly bending the policies to test out new approaches. Passionate people are unpredictable – they seek out challenges and improvise to find ways to address these challenges more effectively. For companies organized around push programs with set routines, these people can be highly disruptive.

Yet, we found that a key determinant of extreme performance improvement is the presence of passion. If the participants are not passionate about their work, they will experience growing pressure in the world around us as stress and ultimately burn out or risk marginalization in an ever more competitive world. If and when they connect with their passion, they actively seek out new challenges to test themselves and develop faster. They also reach out much more actively to connect with others who can help them develop even faster.

HT – For more than two decades, different business prototypes(s) have infiltrated the world of educational and cultural institutions to varying degrees of success, and failure. I believe that it is time for businesses to employ the arts & their institutions as the most powerful tools and resources for creativity, cultural connectivity and, yes, economic productivity. If this theme were the sequel to The Power of Pull… how would you go about tackling it?

JH – Ah, a sequel? Not sure I am ready for that quite yet. Having said that, I can see many ways that businesses might find productive ways to collaborate with the arts and their institutions. If we take to heart the message that diverse knowledge flows will increasingly become essential to create new knowledge at ever faster rates, we must break down traditional institutional boundaries and connect with highly creative and talented people wherever they reside. Businesses will increasingly need to learn from, and tap into, the creative processes that drive artists and their institutions. On a more substantive level, the desire to attract attention, rather than intercepting attention (the dominant mode of the push economy with advertising messages even placed above men’s urinals and on the sides of cows) will drive businesses to become far more creative and engaging in terms of their presence – everything from story-telling to emotionally engage audiences to the design of products and services. Art and business will become far more integrated.

The key in all of this, though, is not to talk about it in the abstract, but to identify very specific business performance challenges where more effective collaboration might be desirable. Teams then need to be assembled from across these traditional boundaries to demonstrate the kind of impact that can be achieved when diverse perspectives and skill bases are mobilized to come up with creative solutions to performance issues. At first, this will likely be on the edge of larger corporations, helping them to address new growth opportunities. As impact becomes apparent here, we will see these new forms of knowledge flows embraced in the core of organizations as well.

WHO’s saying WHAT about The Power of Pull :

The Power of Pull highlights “fascinating new ways in which passionate thinking, creative solutions, and committed action can—and will—make it possible for us to seize opportunities and remain in step with change.”
William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America

The Power of Pull “begins to create a body of learnable principles that will revolutionize our ability to access and work with knowledge flows.”
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

“If you want to meet the challenges of working and living in the 21st century, this book should be your guide.”
Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google

“Connecting many important threads through beautiful metaphors and wonderful narratives, the authors provide both a mind-expanding view of how the world is changing and a solid framework and context to approach the future for anyone interested in surviving and enjoying it.”
Joichi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons and Internet venture investor

“In times of unprecedented change, we as individuals and institutions can have extraordinary leverage and influence if we marshal the passion, knowledge and resources necessary to achieve great things.”
John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends

“This brilliant and exciting book shows how to pursue your passions by harnessing the power of networks. Success no longer comes from possessing knowledge; instead, you have to participate with others in creating a flow of knowledge. The power of ‘pull’—the ability to draw out people and resources for each endeavor—can transform both individuals and institutions.”
Walter Isaacson, President and CEO, the Aspen Institute, and author of Einstein: His Life and Universe