Two VFLR bloggers who work in school leadership roles have been reading the 2010 book by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. The opportunity for some conversation about their take-aways was irresistible. It begins here in M.E. Steele-Pierce’s space and continues in the blog of her colleague Lyn Hilt.

Dear Lyn,

I do a lot of highlighting while I read. This is one of my recent highlights:

“If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it.”  (The Power of Pull)

I’ve stopped reading most books about education these days.

It’s not that I don’t still have a lot to learn. It’s just that I fear the echo chamber —the attraction of authors and ideas that tend to validate my personal biases.

So I’m working to extend my “surface area,” as the authors of The Power of Pull call it, and seeking resources outside of K-12 education.

Last summer I joined a digital book chat about “learning in practice” for L&D (learning & development) professionals.  Hanging around folks (mostly lurking actually) who are instructional designers, trainers, and HR professionals, I was the outsider and learned a lot about what I don’t know. That’s where I discovered Hagel, Brown, and Davison’s The Power of Pull.

For those who are more interested in a learning revolution than in ed reform, this book provides fuel for thought.  Education will change, and must change, because of concepts like:

– Moving from push to pull – that is, from extrinsic to intrinsic motivations.
– Positioning ourselves for serendipity – opportunities to assess and attract resources.
– Learning and leading from the edge – the discomfort zone where creation spaces can emerge.

The authors say that real change, big change, must start with individuals, not institutions. And I think that’s what our “voices” here are all about.

What attracted you to this book? Do you agree that the revolution is individual, not organizational? Are ideas like pull, serendipity, and edge meaningful in your work and your own learning?

Looking forward to sharing here with you,


Dear M.E.,

I am really looking forward to our conversation about The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion. Will Richardson recommended this book during one of our PLP Elluminate sessions, and I purchased the Kindle version shortly thereafter. One of the benefits of reading in this format is the ease with which I can highlight relevant snippets from the text and use those ideas to make connections with my work as a school administrator.

I’ve actually crafted a post at my personal blog to reflect upon the book’s content before finishing the book in its entirety, because I found so much to be relevant to my leadership role. 

This quote really “pulled” me in:

“It’s about figuring out how to be systematic in how we combine work and life to pursue our passions, how to find others who share our passion but bring different experiences and perspectives to challenging performance needs, and how to create conditions where we’re more likely to happen upon interesting people, resources, and opportunities—even as we contribute the same chances to others.”  (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 123)

Recently in my educational networks, passion-driven learning has been a topic of much discussion. I think educators are attempting to infuse more self-directed, passion-driven learning experiences for their students, but it’s a struggle when mandates require us to abide by curriculum plans and deliver prescribed sets of standards to our students. How do we find that delicate balance? 

Your questions above reminded me of this quote from the book:

“Institutions will themselves become powerful pull platforms, helping individuals gain leverage they could never achieve on their own and, as a result, develop their talents more rapidly than they could as independent agents. Rather than individuals serving the needs of institutions, our institutions will be recrafted to serve the needs of individuals.” (The Power of Pull, Kindle location 150)

In my work as a school principal I wonder, Are my teachers engaged in passionate work? If not, how can I, as the leader, help my teachers develop as individuals along a passion-driven path? How can I create an organization that supports and respects all learners as individuals? I agree that the revolution is going to result from the strengths and passions of individuals.

Edge is another one of the book’s great concepts and was the focus of my first reflective post. I find it quite beneficial to “live on the edge” and surround myself with talented people and resources that will help benefit my practice. There’s something so meaningful about our gatherings at conferences and in online venues to share our experiences with one another. Many of my connections have indeed been serendipitous, but I also agree with Brown that due to the mechanisms through which I’ve chosen to share my ideas, powerful connections have been established.

How can we encourage and help foster these connections for more individuals to experience the power of collective learning? I want my teachers and students to be able to benefit from, and contribute to, the shared flows of knowledge that I’ve found to be so meaningful. Where can we start?


Dear Lyn,

We start by modeling for our colleagues our own connected learning.  Remember the line in When Harry Met Sally: “I want what she’s having”?  We start by exemplifying what connected learning is, allowing others to see our passion as well as our practical outcomes. People (not everybody, but enough) will want what we’re having.

I’ve been thinking about your question about how we help colleagues experience collective learning.  Here are two things I think the authors would tell us.

Flee the Faculty Lounge – By design (and this is a century-old design), most of us work in isolation. It’s safe and handy to close our doors and do our own thing.  When we do come out of the classroom or office, we spend way too much time hanging around, well, other educators. That’s natural. But costly. Isolation leads to professional atrophy.

Pull is about creating our own conditions. It’s about moving from victimhood (and I hear that victim language a lot from colleagues, especially in the US political climate right now). Pull helps us be “more likely to happen upon interesting people, resources, and opportunities—even as we contribute the same chances to others” (page 6).

Hagel, Brown and Davison write about accessing knowledge and attracting resources via physical and virtual networks.  The authors say, we “need to master new forms of communication, ranging from blogs and twittering to visual presentation and mobile presence” (p 171).

How do we do that? Choose an online platform that invites us to interact.  For some that’s a Ning (like The Educator’s PLN or The English Companion) or a social media site like Twitter (and yes, I am the umpteenth person to say that Twitter for educators is a must-have tool). Vet the people who sound appealing. Check out their bios, scan what they have to say, look for professional generosity (I first learned this term from you, Lyn).

Lurk for a while, but not too long.  Here’s where some people stop. To get to the next step, we have to extend ourselves.  We must answer questions and comment on others’ thinking. Share our  knowledge. Share our stuff.

Stop Being the Expert – Share our knowledge, yes. But beware of being the expert, the authors suggest. Expertise can lead to complacency, not growth.

Not too long along I complained to my husband about some change at work.  “I know what I’m doing,” I wailed. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

“That sounds like resistance to me,” he said. Ouch. Even change agents resist change. I had fallen prey to my own sense of expertise.

Hagel, Brown, and Davison remind us to move to the “edge,” where alternative ideas, different perspectives, and new ways of doing occur. Pull is about creating new surface areas, extending ourselves into areas of interest and curiosity but not necessarily areas of comfort.

How to?  Seek people outside our pipeline. Seek people outside of our profession.  While this can feel awkward in “real life,” online it is absolutely normal.  Listen.  Learn new vocabulary. Ask questions. Ask for help.

When I joined the online book group, I was the only K-12 educator there. What was I going to learn about ed leadership by reading Atul Gawande, a surgeon? Turns out, a lot.  When I participated in the Ohio Writing Project, high school, intermediate, and primary teachers worked together. What was I going to learn from the preschool gang? Turns out, a lot.

21st century learning is about recognizing patterns and connecting the dots. Hagel, Brown, and Davison know that Pull leaders take ideas from one place and cross-pollinate with others.

By connecting with urban merchants, restaurateurs, design specialists, complexity theorists and artists, and by friending people outside my district, my city, and my country, my personal and professional learning keeps expanding.

That’s the power of pull.



Watch for the second part of our conversation about The Power of Pull here.

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