#DevLearn Keynote #1: The Power of Pull #DL10


The book: The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion

Yesterday’s opening keynote for DevLearn was John Seely Brown (USC).

“A new culture of learning in a world of constant change.”

We need learning on demand. It’s not longer push learning, it’s pull. Traditional, old school thinking is not working. Something has to give.

Referencing Alfred Chandler (Push Economy):

  • scalable efficiency became the goal
  • push-based education
  • predictable curriculum
  • standards-based
  • authority-focused

This worked, more or less…

Then the game changed. We have had exponential advances in computation, storage, and bandwidth…

  • no stability in sight
  • half life of a skill is now shrinking
  • ability to predict the future is getting worse
  • uncertainty is now the norm
  • how do we move from forecasting to a world that is different?
  • how do you participate on the edge of the flows?
  • how do you learn differently, and create new knowledge?
  • no longer protecting knowledge assets, or sharing core knowledge
    I’m not sure I agree with this last point. I think there is still a need for managing knowledge and core assets.

If you get stuck, find out what you need, collaborate, pull assets in to resolve problem. Find out what worked and what didn’t work, reflect, fix, learn.

The crisis of imagination: “what could I do now?” Embrace change. Don’t fear it!

Second shift is the explosion of data. Eric Schmidt (Google): “We create as much info in 2 days as we did from dawn of man through 2003.”

Ahh, but this is a loaded statistic…

“What is ‘information’? Don’t think we’re creating that much knowledge or poetry or art every 2 days.”

(via @moehlert)

What do we need to do?

  • Prepare your students, your workforce for constant change.
  • Create a resilient mindset, the ability to change, adapt, re-conceptualize and engage.
  • Embrace change! Thrive on it. Have fun with it. Do not run away!

The Maui Surfing Kids Story

Maui had never produced a champion surfer. Dusty Payne told his dad he wanted to be a champion surfer. He and his friends teamed up, competed, built a competition no had ever seen. They learned from each other and created a new version of surfing – aerial surfing. Dusty became the first junior champion to come out of Maui.

How’d they do it?

They were never discouraged by failure. They collected videos of other surfers. They analyzed, deconstructed, and figured out what moves were going on. They did the same with each other. They videoed and analyzed. They also pulled ideas from other adjacencies – wind surfing, skateboarding, etc. They leveraged networks of practice in an ecosystem. They brought in others (attracted them) to help them.

They were in constant, deep, collaborative learning with each other.

They were also Willing to fail, fail, fail until they did the “impossible.”

World of Warcraft

WoW has over 12 million players, online, around the world. Most commit a minimum of 20 hours per week to the game.

This is the first domain where we’ve been able to research exponential learning. Is it the only place where there is not diminishing returns?

It is a joint, collective agency or activity.

When I was playing Battlefield 2, I would get together (virtually) with some friends, form a squad, and we would set goals and plan attacks. We’d split up the duties. One of us would be the medic, one an engineer, one special ops, etc. We learned from each other, helped each other achieve goals, and collectively learned from our mistakes (and our successes).

The key: people are self-organizing, creating teams to accomplish goals and learn together.

In WoW, players have customizable dashboards:

  • The game is too complicated to play at a high level without analysis tools/dashboards
  • Players build their own dashboards to measure their own performance
    In the business world, managers create the dashboard for us to look at us. It should be the other way – give us the tools to look at our own performance!
  • The game has after-action reviews – immediate feedback.

There is also a knowledge economy around WoW.

  • blogs, videos, wikis, databases, economies
  • interactions on the edge

How do you process 10-20K new ideas per night?

  • guilds form – self-organized and extracting the best stuff.
    This is a lot like lrnchat
  • curation and delivery – everyone has their place

The New Curve: Access – Attract – Achieve

Access: find, learn, connect – do this to address UNANTICIPATED needs.
It’s curation and on-demand access to resources.

Attract: “how do you find something you don’t know you need to know?”

  • reveal something about yourself, people are attracted to you to help
  • create beacons, others are coming to you with the missing pieces
  • how do you do this? get OUT of your comfort zone
  • example: new people at your company – we want them to teach us, rather than they other way around

Achieve: “how do you build networks that feed themselves”
– bigger picture: more people that participate, the greater the potential return


In the 20th century, the goal was to minimize transaction cost and achieve scalable efficiency.

In the 21st century, the goal is to achieve scalable capability building (build talent).


Expose your organization to edge thinking – fail, try, fail, try – it’s a necessary cycle. Try things that are unimaginable – happens daily at Google.

Create contexts. Create mashable, re-mixable dashboards, done for us, not management. Build social communities where employees learn rapidly from each other.

3 thoughts on “#DevLearn Keynote #1: The Power of Pull #DL10

  1. two comments:

    1. About dashboards: now in the UK they are removing the audit commission, is there a need for developing WoW type dashboards for individuals to monitor effectively the complexity of government?

    2. trial and error (fail/try) is one method that was mentioned in game playing. Interestingly however, there was no explicit mention of the scientific method: PDCA or PDSA, which includes Check (Study) and Plan. But which must be there if we believe that the WoW study groups of new strategies do their job well? has anybody come across this explicitly?

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