What makes one business flourish while others flail?
The common dynamic underlying many success stories is what we call “pull.” It’s the ability to draw out people and resources as needed to address opportunities and challenges. Pull can provide you unprecedented access to what you need, when you need it, even if you’re not quite sure that “it” is. My co-authors, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, and I explore these ideas more fully in their new book, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.
You can use pull to learn faster and translate that learning into rapidly improving performance, not just for yourself, but for the people you connect with. Here are five steps to start with:
1. Master the strength of weak ties. Social networks encompass both strong ties and weak ties. The strong ties—the deepest and richest relationships you have—provide the most day-to-day support. But it is the weak ties in your network—the relationships that seem peripheral in your daily life—that most often offer opportunities to connect with people who are active in the areas most relevant to your passion and profession. In times of growing pressure, leaders have a natural tendency to focus even more on the safety and comfort of strong ties. Uncertain times are a sign, however, that our strong ties are no longer sufficient to support us. Get outside your comfort zone and shift the focus of your social networks from strong to weak ties. Take the initiative and reach out to these people, communicate the areas of overlapping interest, and invite them to help you meet others who share these interests.
2. Grow your personal ecosystem. Your local communities, extended networks of friends and associates, and, increasingly, virtual networks and communities can dramatically amplify your reach. You can do a lot to shape these ecosystems to make them better able to help you develop professionally. Start by identifying the ten smartest or most accomplished people in your industry, market, or area of professional passion, regardless of where they live. How many of these people do you know? Mobilize them in a new initiative related to your shared passions and interests. Use social technologies to increase your mutual awareness of each other’s activities.
3. Choose wisely where you live and spend time. In a world of intensifying competition, people are moving to “geographic spikes”—places like Silicon Valley, Bangalore, and Tel Aviv in software development, for example. These locations offer a wealth of options for ambitious and passionate employees to quickly change jobs and find employers more willing than the previous one to develop their talent. They are also rich environments for increasing the probability of encountering the people and resources you need. You can further increase your odds of being in the right place at the right time by identifying complementary geographic spikes around the world and consciously seeking to spend more time there.
4. Find environments where people share your passions. By simply attending a conference in your area of interest, you are increasing the odds of a serendipitous encounter that will prove both relevant and valuable to you. Often, the greatest value of these conferences does not occur in the meeting rooms. When high-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi arrives at a conference, he walks the halls to try to create opportunities to interact with people. “I don’t sit in the lecture hall,” he says. “I just hang around in the lobby, where everybody is saying, ‘Serendipity should be somewhere here, let’s dig for it.’”
5. Join a creation space. Such connection platforms exist for everyone from software developers and scientific researchers to videogame enthusiasts and competitive surfers. Individuals come together in teams, not only to solve challenging problems but also to connect across teams and push the boundaries of innovation. In the process, participants learn rapidly through the creation of new knowledge. What are the most promising emerging creation spaces related to your passions or interests? Become as active as you can be there. If no creation space exists for your passion or interest, help catalyze one.
Smart business people are using these strategies, and others, to harness the power of pull. Adopt them, and you too can get better, faster.
John Hagel III is the director of Deloitte Consulting LLP and co-chairman of the Center for the Edge. He is also the co-author of The Power of Pull, The Only Sustainable Edge, Out of the Box, Net Worth, and Net Gain. You can follow him on Twitter at @JHagel and read his blog at Edge Perspectives.