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Theory X versus Theory Y and Push- versus Pull cultures

Theory X versus Theory Y and Push- versus Pull cultures

by Alistair CockburnAugust 14, 2017

Theory X versus Theory Y and Push- versus Pull cultures

I have become told that I have redefined “pull” a bit to make it fit the metaphor/rhyme, and it will cause misinterpretation. I need to think about the consequences of that.

“Pull” in my sense is not the same as “pull” in Toyota, lean or kanban or any of the other ones. I am not at all talking about pulling work, I don’t care about that for this purpose.

Theory X is a pessimistic view of humans leading to applying psychological pressure to achieve results. The “push” is the push of psychological pressure. If I say, “Work harder, work faster, work overtime” I am applying psychological pressure without yet saying what to work on. There could be a kanban-type work chain with the push culture, still.

Theory Y is an optimistic view of humans leading to replacing with psychological pressure with a quest to achieving self-improving performance. The hazard here is that I used the word “pull” as the token opposite to “push”, and for many people it clashes with their knowledge of kanban systems. I’m wondering if there is another word/image I should try out.

In my use, X/Y or push/pull, there is no discussion of the selection of work.

I can imagine the boss selecting a due date (a conference or critical calendar event (Christmas, the olympics, etc)). That is fixed. The sequence of items to be done might be fixed. …. but, the question is the mental anxiety or tranquility of the people doing the work.

In a pull culture (as opposed to a pull-based work chain ), the people have the peace of mind to use their mental peripheral vision to discover useful things, which add value is ways beyond the simple assignment at hand.

I see the potential confusion, there is indeed overlap, but one is a work system and one is a culture.

If you (or I) find a word other than “pull” for this latter one, I’m comfortable with trying out that other word. Please let me know.

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Alistair Cockburn

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