John Hagel and John Seely Brown have come out with yet another in their blockbuster best seller series on innovation, that I found quite enlightening. The book (with 3rd author Lang Davison) is titled The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. The text is one of this here is how to safe the world and revolutionize your business genre, that I don’t usually find has much value beyond hyperbole. But I liked this book.

The Power of Pull is the capacity for new social and networking technologies to provide the engines by which whole industries, social movements or governments can envision and implement radically different ways of caring out their business or mission. Given the need for change on many fronts (think climate change, end of oil, access to quality postsecondary education etc. etc.) there is certainly opportunity and need for many ‘game-changing’ activities. Pull (as opposed to push products, ideas, or ideologies) is the capacity to find and access people, attract relevant people and resources and pull from ourselves and these aggregations radically improved solutions to existing challenges.  It all sounds very Utopian, right up there with How to Win Friends and Influence People. But the difference between Norman Vincent Peel, and Hagel and Seely is that these guys have the Net and understand its potential to empower change.

The book is full of American stories of success – from surfing kids, to typical Silicon Valley startups, to the War on Terror success stories – most of which I breezed through very quickly. Where the book got interesting and relevant was the 7th chapter where they describe how to “Use Pull of Change the World”. I love world changing strategies, I just haven’t been a very good implementer (yet!), so I thought this chapter was for me!! And to be honest I wasn’t disappointed – but no I have not yet changed the world (even light bulbs can challenge me) but I have some ideas for postsecondary education!

Changing the world begins with developing a shaping strategy. A shaping stratgey is  clear and compelling, long-term view of where an industry, service or government, needs to move. It is a strategy beyond the strategic plan of a single company or institution, but rather a direction that others can buy into to create and build a better way of doing things. Examples of a shaping strategy might be Bill Gates notion that what was mainframe technology must and could move to the desk top, or Google’s notion of cloud computing. Now in both these examples Microsoft and Google became immensely powerful and very wealthy players in this strategy, but along with them came hundreds of new start-ups and profitable rivals.

A successful shaping strategy needs a shaping platform. The shaping platform is a set of technologies, ideas and practices that are aggregated to provide access to both innovative, early adopters and mainstream players. These platforms must be open (to new players and their contributions), scalable (we are changing the world here!), of course they need to be easily understood, accessed, provide some wins for early adopters and finally be emergent such that the platform can rapidly morph in response to new opportunities and technologies. Naturally I think of networks as platforms and in educational contexts of ways to generate and sustain content development (like WikiEducator), aggregate tens of thousands of users and providers (Social networks like Facebook, only adapted for learning) and means to turn informal learning accomplishments into formal learning credentials (think Prior learning assessment on steroids, without drug tests that betray authenticity).

After a a shaping strategy and a shaping platform comes shaping actions and assets. Unfortunately the actions sections is the weakest part of the model- heck if it wasn’t everyone would be changing the world! But the authors  do talk about actions that capture the interest and energy of others,  ways to garner the resources from within and outside of an organization to build the platform and ways to insure that competitors don’t eat each other up while reshaping the world (Bill Gates just didn’t get this later action right). Fortunately, they authors provide hypothetical examples of workers at CEO, mid management and Lone Rangers – in different industries and how they could go about creating a shaping strategy, platform and actions.

All and all this book is probably worth the $20.69 Canadian at Amazon (plus shipping) that it costs. It is not quite a step by step recipe book for terra-forming, but it does provide ideas and inspiration from authors who get the potential of networking to radically remake business, social and institutional practice.