Last month I had the good fortune at the BIF6 conference to hear John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for Edge Innovation, talk about his research on passion and sustained personal performance, and the need to change our institutions to encourage and leverage this passion. (Here’s the video.)
It was one of those 15-minute talks that felt important, especially the 2009 Shift Index research that found only 20 percent of people feel passionate about their work, and self-employed people are twice as likely to be passionate about their work than people who work for institutions. What does this say about big businesses, hospitals and government agencies?!
To learn more, I read John’s new book, The Power of Pull, which puts swirling ideas around open collaboration, passion, social business, innovation and organizational culture into one compelling context. The book also gives a giant, well-researched kick in the ass to those who are clinging to “business and leadership as usual.”
John and his co-authors John Seely Brown and Lang Davison believe that businesses must change in order to more quickly and continuously pull new ideas into a company from passionate people inside and outside the company.
In the traditional push business model we forecast demand and push resources to the right place at the right time. Profits come from controlling intellectual property, getting bigger to achieve economies of scale, and creating processes and specialized jobs to ensure those processes are executed as efficiently as possible.
But with today’s greater access to resources, people and capital, that model is starting to break down. There’s more competition from around the globe. Shorter product life cycles. Price wars due to over supply and commoditization. The push model with its focus on control and incremental improvement is breaking down. People are miserable at work, and leaders manage in fear, not having the competencies for this new unpredictable, changing world.
Three concepts: passion, collaboration, vision
This book explores several big concepts, each deserving a book of its own and certainly deserving much more discussion than this post. But here are three that were especially compelling to me. (Note: the bold highlights are mine.)
1. Passion: When we tap into the work we were meant to do – our passion – work becomes meaningful. It’s not easy to uncover our individual passions, and it’s even more challenging for organizations to change their mindset and internal systems to harness passion in a way that attracts talent and puts it to work in new collaborative ways. The book puts passion into a business context that is rarely articulated in the business world.
- “When we pursue our passions we tend to exhibit questing dispositions. We are constantly scanning the horizon for new challenges to pursue and seek out problems to solve as a way to deepen our skills in our area of passion. In contrast when we are simply putting in time for a paycheck, we tend to fall back on a more defensive disposition, regarding any unexpected developments as unwelcome and avoiding risk wherever possible.”
- “As passions become our professions, we begin to see how social networks can provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to achieve our potential by allowing us to access resources and attract people who can help us while we help them.” Of course, it’s hard to decide what course of action to take it you haven’t first identified your passion, what fascinates you and that you feel compelled to explore.
- “When institutional leaders celebrate the most passionate workers and their contributions, employee attitudes and dispositions will begin to evolve, with more and more individuals embracing change and seeking out new challenges to test and expand their performance horizons.”
- “Institutional leaders should be aware that it’s not enough for passionate people to simply be able to identify and connect with other passionate people. All of them must also being interacting around some difficult problem within the institution…talent thrives when there are new challenges and opportunities to pursue. Institutions that are on the defensive with low-growth strategies simply cannot offer the same level of talent development to their participants.”
Collaboration — sharing “know how” not just “know what”
2. Get better faster, together. Creating new ways for people to work together and share tacit knowledge will help employees get better faster and improve overall performance of the organization. Tacit knowledge is the “know-how” kind of knowledge, but most company information we share is the “know what” kind.
To me this emphasis on tacit learning is big. I’ve been advising some major companies on how to get value from the community platforms they are investing in. I’m finding that employees do NOT want to use these platforms for simple “know what “ information; they can get that from the company Intranet or email.
What they do want is a way to work with team members across silos and geographies to get work done in better and faster ways. They want more meaningful, trusted relationships. They want to read and ask question of colleagues about how they’re doing things, and ask for help, offer help, and see new ways that things could be done altogether. The opportunity to use new digital platforms to support this is significant, but it does mean providing goals for clear outcomes, and not creating so many rules and processes that it sucks the life out of the opportunity. More World of Warcraft, less Lotus Notes.
- “Tacit knowledge is held by individuals, so if firms want to enhance their participation in tacit knowledge flows, they must find a way to enrich the social networks of their employees, helping them to connect with other individuals on relevant edges (of the business.)”
- “One key dimension of the “Big Shift” is the movement from a world where value is concentrated in transactions to one where it resides in large networks of long term relationships.”
- “The more people join a creation space and the more contributions they make once they’re there, the more successful the space becomes. To help the process along, start by keeping barriers to entry low. Next, give participants the real time feedback and clear performance measures they need to advance quickly within the community.”
- “As participants get to know each other and find that they share similar ways of looking at their endeavors, they start to trust one another, which prompts even deeper levels of collaboration (and tacit knowledge creation) around the difficult challenges they share.)”
- “Rather than trying to specify the activities in the processes in great detail, the orchestrators of the pull platform specify what they want to come out of the process, providing more space or individual participants to experiment, improvise and innovate.”
Defining the mission that will matter to many
3. A meaningful mission or shaping view: Having a clear, win-win mission is essential to attract and focus talent, resources and ideas – especially the most passionate, self-motivated people. The authors define a “shaping view” as a “galvanizing statement about the future of a market, an industry, or a broad social arena and how tomorrow will be different from today and how everybody will be better off” because of it.
This isn’t the first book to emphasize how critical a meaningful mission is to attract and motivate people. Built to Last, Tribal Leadership, Firms of Endearment, Tribes and many others have found that people want to work for companies with a compelling mission and purpose beyond growth and profitability. Yet few organizations have this articulation of where the industry is going and how you’re going to be part of that bigger movement.
- “Corporate visions tend to be both too narrow and broad. They are too narrow in the sense hat they focus on describing the direction of the company. In contrast shaping views start with a clear view of the direction of the relevant market or industry and then move to implications for all companies in terms of creating value.”
- “The creative act in a shaping view is to imagine what an industry or market could look like and to challenge conventional assumptions about what is required for success.”
- “Corporate visions also tend to be too broad in the sense that they describe the future in such vague terms that they can accommodate virtually any choice or action
Can companies catch up to what people want from work?
It will be fascinating to see whether big, push companies will evolve fast enough to retain the talents of those passionate people on a quest to do meaningful work within the confines of today’s corporate cultures, cultures that often value process and politics more than outcomes and new ideas. Or whether passionate people and the Gen Y generation will simply flee these organizations and create new types of organizations that fit how people love to work.
The book notes that there are more billionaires under 40 than any other time in our history. People who make history, whether it’s Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, don’t have the patience or time to wait for companies to catch up.
They value their passion more than organizational politics.
Maybe this is the year to uncover your passion and begin to let it guide you, as an individual contributor or as a leader. In my next post I’ll share some books and workshops that might help on your quest.
As Joseph Campbell told Bill Moyers in an interview: “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you…. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Talk about pull.