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From Push to Pull
McKinsey Quarterly has just published a new article that JSB and
I wrote - "Push
to Pull - The Next Frontier of Innovation." For those who want
more detail, I posted on my web site a longer working paper that I wrote
with JSB on "From
Push to Pull - Emerging Models for Mobilizing Resources."
The McKinsey Quarterly has just published a new article that JSB and I wrote - "Push to Pull - The Next Frontier of Innovation." For those who want more detail, I posted on my web site a longer working paper that I wrote with JSB on "From Push to Pull - Emerging Models for Mobilizing Resources."
This is a particularly important piece because it represents the opening salvo in our research for a new book. Yes, we've just barely published our previous one and we are already starting to work on a new book. As we were writing The Only Sustainable Edge, we became convinced that there is a much bigger story yet to be told.
"Push to Pull" is only one slice of this bigger story, but it is an important slice. It describes a fundamental shift in models for mobilizing resources. Organizational success depends upon effective mobilization of resources. Getting the right resources to the right place at the right time can make the difference between desired impact and catastrophe - something we learned in graphic detail from Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.
Over the past century,
institutions have been perfecting highly efficient approaches to mobilizing
resources. These approaches may vary in their details, but they share
a common foundation. They are all designed to "push" resources
in advance to areas of highest anticipated need.
In the past decade, we have seen early signs of a new model for mobilizing resources. Rather than "push", this new approach focuses on "pull" - creating platforms that help people to reach out, find and access appropriate resources when the need arises.
Now, when JSB and I talk about pull platforms, many executives immediately assume that we are referring to the lean manufacturing techniques pioneered by companies like Toyota back in the 1950's. As we make clear in our writing, though, lean manufacturing represents a hybrid between push and pull models - it still contains significant elements of push models. We are talking about something even more profoundly rooted in the principles of pull.
Pull approaches differ significantly from push approaches in terms of how they organize and manage resources. Push approaches are typified by "programs" - tightly scripted specifications of activities designed to be invoked by known parties in pre-determined contexts. Of course, we don't mean that all push approaches are software programs - we are using this as a broader metaphor to describe one way of organizing activities and resources. Think of thick process manuals in most enterprises or standardized curricula in most primary and secondary educational institutions, not to mention the programming of network television, and you will see that institutions heavily rely on programs of many types to deliver resources in pre-determined contexts.
Pull approaches, in contrast, tend to be implemented on "platforms" designed to flexibly accommodate diverse providers and consumers of resources. These platforms are much more open-ended and designed to evolve based on the learning and changing needs of the participants. Once again, we do not mean to use platforms in the literal sense of a tangible foundation, but in a broader, metaphorical sense to describe frameworks for orchestrating a set of resources that can be configured quickly and easily to serve a broad range of needs. Think of Expedia's travel service or the emergency ward of a hospital and you will see the contrast with the hard-wired push programs.
Why are pull platforms beginning to emerge? Many organizations are adopting pull platforms as a way to create more flexibility and cope with greater uncertainty. But early adopters are realizing that there is another more compelling value as they gain more experience with these pull platforms. Pull platforms are particularly powerful in fostering innovation, learning and capability building.
These new pull platforms are emerging in very diverse arenas. Pull platforms are helping to transform the production and distribution of digital media in areas like blogging and music remixing. But it would be a mistake to view pull platforms as limited to digital "fringes". Global process networks built upon pull platforms are reshaping the global operations of such different industries as apparel, motorcycles and consumer electronics. Learning institutions as diverse as the University of Phoenix and Brown University are deploying pull platforms. These are not just isolated examples - powerful forces are at work shaping the need for an alternative approach to mobilizing resources. These forces ensure that this new model will spread to all arenas of human activity.
Five broad forces
are shaping the emergence and evolution of pull platforms:
In environments shaped by these forces, push models are breaking under the strain and pull models are beginning to fill in the gaps.
Here's the irony. Push models were originally designed to promote efficiency. Advocates of these models acknowledged that these models might limit flexibility and constrain creativity, but they argued that was a small price to pay for the opportunity to cut costs. Yet, as uncertainty increases and competition intensifies, it turns out that push models are less and less able to deliver efficiency. The fundamental assumption of push models is that demand can be predicted reliably enough to define the procedures required to deliver resources to pre-specified locations before the demand actually materializes. Push models therefore require accurate forecasts to function effectively. Uncertainty undermines the ability to forecast and this in turn undermines the ability to push resources to the right place at the right time. Efficiency becomes harder and harder to achieve.
Pull platforms are highly scalable as well as flexible because they embed specialized capabilities into distinct layers that can evolve independently. The lower layers of pull platforms, including such activities as communication and logistics networks tend to focus on high tech capabilities. Upper layers, concentrating on mobilizing individuals and communities to innovate and create new value, tend to focus on high touch capabilities.
Of course, pull platforms and push programs are not mutually exclusive. In fact, pull platforms often contain push programs that can be accessed through their platforms. For example, Amazon or eBay provide robust pull capability for consumers to access on demand an extraordinary abundance of products like books and CD's. These products were originally made using traditional push manufacturing programs. On the other hand, reflect on the opportunities to further build upon these pull distribution systems by reconfiguring production processes to deliver publishing on demand.
More broadly, however, the forces outlined earlier make it more and more attractive to deploy pull models rather than push models. At the same time, broader deployment of more flexible technologies, tools and infrastructures makes it more viable to design and manage pull models. As a result, pull models will increasingly displace or marginalize push models in broader arenas of human activity.
We are talking about a profound architectural shift. Yes, it is related to technology architecture shifts, but it really requires redefinition of business architectures. The implications are broad:
Like many of the most profound business changes, this architectural shift is beginning at the edge:
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of change ahead. In our article and working paper, we conclude by focusing on the bottom line for business executives, suggesting tangible and pragmatic actions they can take now. These actions will help to ensure that they are well-positioned for the transition ahead.
By mastering the techniques required to make this new model work, companies will be able to create substantial economic value. Those who adhere rigidly to the old model will likely destroy significant economic value.
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The Next Wave of Open Innovation
Does the Experience Curve Matter Today?
How World of Warcraft Promotes Innovation
Harrah's New Twist on Prediction Markets
- Creation Nets: Harnessing the Potential of Open Innovation (co-authored with John Seely Brown) April, 2006
- Connecting Globalization & Innovation: Some Contrarian Perspectives (Prepared for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland January 25 – 30, 2006; co-authored with John Seely Brown)
- "The Benefits of a Long Distance Relationship" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), August 9, 2005
- "Feed R&D - Or Farm It Out?" (HBR Case Study with Commentary co-authored with John Seely Brown), July 2005
- "Productive Friction: How Difficult Business Partnerships Can Accelerate Innovation" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), February 2005
- "From Push to Pull: The Next Frontier of Innovation" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), 2005, No.3
- "Innovation Blowback: Disruptive Management Practices from Asia" (co-authored with John Seely Brown), 2005, No.1