Blog > A few thoughts about what it’s like to be a free agent gleaned from John Hagel’s talk

February 17, 2014

photoWhen John Hagel started speaking about the dark side of technology as mounting performance pressure, the inevitable comparison with others and the pressure to keep up, I found myself nodding in agreement.

John Hagel, co-author of The Power of Pull and co-founder of the deliciously paradoxically-named Deloitte Center for the Edge, is back in Australia for a conference and a whirlwind series of talks in Sydney and Melbourne. John is the current darling of the social entrepreneur set. With good reason. He speaks to the dilemmas that free agents and changemakers face.

The central premise around The Power of Pull is a shift from a push-based model  to a pull-based model. The dominant push-based model assumes you have a question, or a problem, that needs resolving, and that you can meet that demand for answers by allocating resources, tasks, timelines, milestones, key performance indicators (okay those last few is me editorialising). Businesses and organisations are modelled around push because it’s easier to organise within an organisation than across organisations.

The pull-based model draws out people and resources when and where you need them and is often based on not even knowing what questions to ask.

There’s something I can relate to!

Pull is also about our ability to attract others, and particularly, serendipity. John suggests we can shape serendipity and increase the quality and quantity of those encounters. That’s why I joined The Melbourne Hub and try and live by the mantra of Show Up. Let Go. Jump In. (The very reason I was at the event last night where John was speaking) Co-working for me is the epitome of accelerated serendipity.

John started talking about passion and I started to tune out. The word passion has become a victim of its own popularity. I think it’s over-used and a catch all remedy for all sorts of underlying darker stuff we don’t want to talk about. Just find your passion and all will be okay. Sure. Whatever. Meh.

And then he talked about the passion of the explorer and I perked up again. This sounds interesting, I thought, and I also had an inkling that he was talking about me (and the other 30 or so people in the room!) Johnnie and I often talk about exploring, adventure and serendipitous discovery in our Edges of Work projects.

I can’t recall the context to the passion of the explorer (because, as I said, I’d tuned out). He mentioned accelerated learning and surviving and thriving in the increasingly complex and uncertain world. Good so far. And then this – three attributes:

1. Deep, long-term commitment to a domain, to learn, and to make a difference – and not just once, to continue to learn and to make increasing difference over time.


2. A questing disposition, so when presented with an unexpected challenge, what’s your reaction? Excitement. Wow. How would I do that? People with a questing disposition actively seek out new challenges, and get bored easily.


3. A connecting disposition, so when faced with above challenge, doesn’t hunker down in a hovel somewhere to nut out the answer (and knows there isn’t an ‘answer’ per se) but seeks out others who can help, who can work with us on the challenge.


There was other good stuff about the role of narrative in nurturing and catalysing passion. I liked John’s description of narrative: open ended, no resolution (compared with story), the direction depends on the choices I make, and I will shape the outcome of this narrative. People ‘buy in’ to the narrative, e.g. religion, wars, Apple, Nike were the examples he used. Narratives are shared by many people, and are very personal, they are long-term, offer many possibilities and huge challenges. “Every successful social movement is driven by narrative”.

An interesting side note on narrative – it’s not the same as the company story. And it’s not provided by the PR Department!

And finally (if you’re still with me, thanks for reading this far) John talked about extreme sports. I took no notes, yet I have a vivid memory of what he said. Suddenly I was really engaged, not just listening to an engaging and knowledgable speaker, but relating at a different level.

Let me digress for a bit. The Winter Olympics are on at the moment. You may not be interested in the competitive, commercialised, control-freakery nature of the Games, yet there’s lots to admire, to marvel at, to laugh at, and be confused by. Why would anyone do a sport like Skeleton? And what’s with the Double Luge? Watching the competitors in the Women’s Slopestyle and the Women’s Super G, it was great to see how they support and encourage each other and even send information back to the start line to help their competitors. The roll call of injuries, broken bones and even deaths from these sports is staggering. The risks and rewards are great.

John spoke about another extreme sport – big wave riding – surfing huge waves with tons of water behind you just ready to swat you aside. People who do big wave riding function differently – they function with the passion of the explorer. They share information on the water, on the beach, on-line. They seek out greater and greater challenges. The have a deep connection to big wave riding, worldwide.

What distinguishes people involved in these sports is a marathon approach, rather than a sprint mentality. They’re in it for the long haul. Yet a lot of our society is caught up in “dysfunctional threat-based narratives” reinforced by urgency. Our political discourse is an example. Organisational rules, regulations, procedures and competencies are another. Do this, be this, or else. Opportunistic narratives are less common. Maybe this is something for me to explore around my applied improv project.

Those of us working on the edge could do well to support each other in the same way. It’s hard to sustain working at the edge. We need – I need – an antidote to the dark side of technology and the inevitable performance pressure. Abundance instead of scarcity. Vulnerability instead of assuredness. Courage instead of playing it safe. Sharing instead of competing.



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