From Push to Pull to Prosumer

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My first real post-college job was with a start-up software company that sold a desktop publishing solution. Of course, these days “desktop publishing” sounds about as fresh and edgy as, say, “pocket pager,” but at the time it was the cutting edge of pre-Web high-tech hipness. We took great pride in the fact that we were bringing true publishing capability to the masses, at least those masses who had a Mac and a laser printer. One of our favorite slogans was the old adage, “the power of the press belongs to those who own one.”

I remembered that adage as I was reading this piece over at ExpertHR. As part of an ongoing series, Kevin Grossman provides his answer to the question, “If I could change one thing about HR.” Grossman’s one thing to change:

If I could change one thing about HR, it would be the how of what we do.

Organizations need a much more flexible and adaptable model for their entire workforce, like on-demand, guided and self-guided methods of on-the-job training.  HR leadership can and should drive this.

These sound like reasonable ideas, but they wouldn’t have sounded particularly reasonable in the recent past.  I mentioned desktop publishing — imagine someone in 1969, 15 years or so before widespread availability of the Macintosh and laser printers, declaring that everyone should have the capability to produce professional typeset copy with high-resolution graphics. Not that long ago, the kinds of on-demand and self-guided training that Grossman is describing would have been prohibitively expensive or simply impossible for most organizations. But thanks to the Internet and the advent of social media tools, that is no longer the case.

Grossman references this CLO review of a book by The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison:

The book describes the ongoing shift in power from institutions to individuals through what the authors call “pull,” a mechanism that allows people to find and access relevant resources at the point of need. Hagel said the dominant model for institutions today is one that pushes, rather than pulls.

I noted yesterday how the shift from push to pull has made us all into our own gas station attendants and travel agents. But it has done much more than that. We pull the content that is interesting or useful for us, whether personally or professionally, when we want it, in the form we want it. Social media is the power of the press on steroids, and it now belongs to all of us — all the time –in a way that  the desktop publishing pioneers of a 25 years couldn’t begin to imagine.

The power of the press belongs to those who own one.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

And it isn’t just the press — anyone who wants to can be a radio talk show host or a TV star. The same technology that allows us to pull content has made it easy for us to be producers of content. This is the age of the prosumer.

The new “how” that Grossman is looking for in organizations is enabled precisely by this shift from push to pull, from consumer to prosumer. The organizations that will thrive in the coming years will be those that enable their people to learn what they need to knwo when they need it. That enablement must go hand in hand with the realization that the workforce itself is one of the best sources of knowledge, and that the interactive social media tools that allow employees to learn on-demand are the same tools that turn employees into teachers.

And the shift to a prosumer model will not end there. The next step will involve tools that empower employees to take control of the career management process – identifying a career path, defining skills gaps, and working to close those gaps.

6 Comments

  1. 2011-02-25 12:14:39

    This is the future. Texas is now offering a $10,000 Bachelor's Degree: http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/texas-has-a-10000-degree--but-for-how-long/ Actually, it ought to be even cheaper. You cut costs by eliminating paper texts and live lectures. You ask questions by email (the professor would probably develop a FAQ page that you'd read first). You turn in papers online. You come in occasionally to a monitored testing center and take a test, probably primarily scantron (or whatever scantron has become since I left school). The guy sitting next to you is not, necessarily, even taking the same test. This could be - should be - dirt cheap. So cheap that people continue their education throughout their lives as part of their career. People should not spend half their lives paying off a student loan. It's ridiculous. The education bubble needs to pop.

  2. 2011-02-24 12:53:31

    Yeah, piffle is kind of a boomerang, isn't it? Once there was risk associated with introducing computers, then email, then web browsers into the workplace. All of these managed to find their way in in a few early adopting environments because some individuals saw the advantages (in addition to the risk.) There are already companies using pull technology for training that enables employees to become a major learning source -- I've participated in some of that. As social media makes its way deeper into the organization, you can expect some of the other changes I described to occur, too.

  3. 2011-02-24 12:08:04

    Piffle! :) (You had to know it was coming back at you someday Phil) It belatedly occurs to me that what the concept lacks as written is an explicit - and intrinsic - motivation to undertake some (likely perceived more than actual) risk during the introduction period. Not to go all strategic on you, but Change creates the circumstance for Opportunity which is, of course, equivalent to Risk. It's this last factor that influences my admittedly jaundiced earlier expression of viewpoint. A goodly percentage of people simply aren't willing to accept any additional risk in their employment, and change to established methods and processes increases their level of discomfort whenever it occurs (and I suspect is much to blame for resistive attitudes in response) due to that perceived increase of potential exposure. Not to mention the (however short term) increase in effort required to do the same job differently. And I'm not talking just the HR people who don't want to do it the way the shop floor Production Clerks have shown to actually work better (the occupational equivalent of the NIH Syndrome if you will). The attitude exists at all levels of employment amongst the experienced people who's "expertise" is substantially a by-product of their having mastered the established process. These are the people who will require some measure of inducement to accept the added effort of making something new and different work without disrupting the fundamental business objective (which is an underappreciated factor of "risk", additional expense of labor for potential future benefit - not all risk is physical or direct). At the level I work, we're pretty mercenary about it too - pretty much the only reason we walk through the gate each day is because somebody on the inside is willing to give us more money than anybody else is to go through some other gate instead. That said, once we are inside basic human competetive nature urges us to be "better" than everyone else. It isn't all cold, hard cash. I don't really have a good suggestion as to how such an inducement might best be structured, but the self-evident potential for additional cold, hard cash needs to be part of it.

  4. 2011-02-24 10:22:03

    Sorry, Will, but I know people who know people who have actually seen the bucket! ;-) The only jobs arguably put at risk by the ideas suggested above would be formal trainers, although an alternative for some of them would be to have their jobs morph into more of a social learning coordinator role. Anyone whose full-time job is trying to motivate people to participate in career development is also at risk if people start managing this on their own, but 1. I don't think many people have that as a full-time job 2. If a large share of the workforce starts taking the process seriously, there will still be plenty of (value-adding) work to do around career management that doesn't involve pleading with people to take it seriously. Some middle managers might be threatened by these ideas, or by transparency generally, but many other will jump at the chance to have an active role in managing their own careers -- if given the opportunity to do so.

  5. 2011-02-24 10:00:41

    You know, it's not like I spend my days carrying around a bucket of cold water with a tag that says "Phil" tied to the bail ... really, it's not! :) And it's such a lovely idea, too. Sadly, 40+ years in some job capacity leaves me convinced that there's simply too many "management" types (both within HR and throughout virtually any business environment you care to name - and not all of them are actually employed as such, you understand) who's interests are directly threatened by any such business process change as that entertained in this post. Suggest a novel process change in my own name? Heavens no, much to risky. What if it doesn't go as well as [insert title of the individual next most senior possessing termination authority here] thinks it ought to have? I could lose my job! Allow some [insert job title of less senior employee here] flunky to have actual control over a job process? Heavens no, much to risky. What if [insert title of more senior individual referenced above] holds me responsible? I could lose my job! So who exactly impliments this de-volutionary concept, the muddling herd waiting to clock out ... errr, sorry, that should read "my peers within American Industry", or the middle management types most put at potential occupational risk by said process change? I think I detect a cart-and-horse quandry for any established business. A start-up now, that could offer an opportunity, if the financing will permit such a non-traditional process to be developed. Venture Capitalists have always struck me as being pretty stuffy about issues like that though (or so I've read anyway). I think this may prove to be another of those "too much trouble to make it work" ideas. Pity.

  6. 2011-02-24 09:51:36

    Interesting article from June Barber in HBR today - http://tinyurl.com/4wj8p48 - which says that "Managing talent is now top of the CEO's agenda, according to a survey of 1,200 CEOs globally by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)" with 83% of the CEOs surveyed saying that they're planning to change the strategy for talent management over the next year. The article talks about the shift of focus to the people and the skills they have, and attracting millennials to help fill the skills gaps. These are the people who have grown up with and are comfortable using technology, so are likely to be more open to Grossman's "flexible and adaptable" model for talent management. Barber quotes Michael Rendell, head of HR consulting at PwC, as saying "CEOs often speak of the importance of talent, but there’s not enough evidence of action being taken... HR professionals need to help CEOs see what can and should be done." In reality, though, it's not just the HR pros that need to help the CEOs, it's everyone in the company. Limiting the responsibility for innovation to HR is going to mean many organizations miss a trick. Some of the best ideas come from the most unlikely sources, so transparency is the key to driving talent management and innovation.

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