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(This is part two of an article on ecosystems - read the first part here)

Thinking about ecosystems certainly allows us to go out of our normal scope. The ability to tackle societal problems within an ecosystem can allow you to enter new markets that would have been impossible as an individual organization, as you did not have the collaborative ability to extend beyond more traditional channels of delivery or utilize the infrastructure, building on others specialization.

We are all making greater connections within ourselves as we find and connect to our own “tribes” that all the different social platforms are providing. Crowdsourcing is another example that is offering huge potential to exploit as it can encourage much to forge, serve and grow whole new communities from ‘simple’ beginning, building on real-time knowledge.

The future of collaborations can increasingly share previously idle or under-utilized assets. We are seeing the most valuable companies that are emerging today are largely based on sophisticated platform business models where ecosystems are vital to their health and global ambitions (Apple, Amazon, Car Manufacturers are all examples).

But be aware - the challenges are difficult to work through

Often this involves designing the architecture, platforms, construct new standards and be equipped to integrate and adapt different members of a community, who have something relevant to contribute. Managing this growing form of complexity is challenging old theories, boundaries, organizations and how they exist going forward.

Ecosystem innovation today is more about managing beyond the immediate known’s found within one organization's limited focus of the world. The race is to gain advantage and often try to dominate and influence the future direction a market will take. This requires a broader perspective, a greater diversity of thinking by tapping into varying levels of specialised expertise.

Regretfully we are not yet fully equipped to manage these new innovation ecosystems. We need to think through a better emerging theory of leading or good practice. We need to advance the measurement and impact that ecosystems will have within advancing our innovation activity.

Measuring innovation in ecosystems has real differences

To start we need to measure innovation more on the following aspects:

Linkages - content and productivity of relationships, alliances, collaborations, interactions, networks, clusters and all the complementary aspects and assets deployed to do this

Knowledge engagement - the ability to attract knowledge into the organization, through greater content and value, through the people involved and the way we anchor and diffuse this new knowledge.

Intangible assets - increasingly people and the combination of their intellectual capital in knowledge, relationships and how they structure work will be the central focal point of innovation success.

Conditions for innovation - we need to develop the ability to ‘sense and respond’ to shifts in markets, from the competition and evaluating these changes in ‘real time’ and we will become far more reliant on data and analytics for this.

Connecting these four critical aspects becomes vital. As we learn to collect all this incoming knowledge (data driven) this will then impact our own innovation programmes and require them to be more adaptive, dynamic and fluid. We need to recognize changing patterns, and then build in these reaction points to keep our own innovation activity staying ahead of the game.

Organising within Networks of Firms within multiple Ecosystems

The organization that envisages a changing world needs to organize around ecosystems to deliver on that vision to gain the leading influencers position.

Ecosystems require increased interactions within the community and need more tightly controlled activities to gain the synergies and effects from working within an ecosystem. Relationship management needs to keep focusing on enhancing, driving innovation and knowing how to adapt this within the whole concept. No easy task.

Ecosystems that ultimately produce new business models rest on a large capacity for agility within the participating organizations. Internal capabilities and competencies get highly stretched by the new dynamics taking place, you need a strong orchestrator of the ecosystem to manage these challenges and many cultural biases that can blind a ‘line of sight’.

Aligning partners on a platform needs-basis is very different from aligning them to just one organization’s needs. In the past we adapted to meet that specific requirement of that one dominant organization as they controlled the process. Today you can argue differently, why what you see as needed is not the best and maybe different than first envisaged, and it is better and evolutionary but demands more change and disruption internally. It allows for more breakthrough innovation, greater challenging of the existing status quo and often taking organizations out of their existing comfort zones.

As we think ecosystems, we need to think differently

Think carefully through any move to join innovation ecosystems, they do have a high, immensely attractive return, if managed well; they are nearly always disruptive to the existing markets and highly valuable to the participants. There also is a big ‘but’ here, since the pathway to get to that ‘success point’ is full of potential risk and immense ‘spent’ energy.

Watch out for those “burning platforms”

Burning platforms will be all around us, as we continue into the age of disruption. To counter this we must welcome the new era of global collaborative innovation where we will be learning the abilities of moving between different ecosystems, collaborating at different levels of participation, to extract completely different forms of innovation value that advance our growth prospective.

A suggested way we need to think about building ecosystems

One recent report I was reading from Deloitte, based on some of its recent analysis, suggests that we need to consider and recognize where ecosystems and the platforms will help us. They suggest we begin by answering these initial questions that I have adapted and extended:

  1. What makes up the critical capabilities for minimum viable transformation to participate and learn about this shift taking place to understand and participate?
  2. What needs to evolve in the enterprise strategy and especially where platform thinking comes in to play, to radically alter the innovation offerings that are not available as a stand-alone organization?
  3. How can we liberate the internal potential of resources, stored knowledge and latent assets so as to tackle harder challenges that can transform an industry and who can help in this?
  4. Finally living in a changing world of blurring boundaries, uncharted frontiers, how can we participate in different ecosystems of learning and value that can transform our competitive position and provide us with a substantial leap?

In Summary

The ecosystem, through the use of technology, the cloud and a diverse set of collaborations will increasingly become the mainstream for innovation inputs, accelerants and delivery value. We need to prepare for it, experiment, become involved in different offerings. Platforms, strategic partnerships, new business models all will be on the agenda of any serious global organization and learning to deliver through this requires a radically different innovation system of management built around adapting and changing ecosystems.

Innovation will move from being based on incremental innovation, all designed in-house, into bold, collaborative offerings, cutting across today’s established industry boundaries, pushing out across different innovation frontiers, participating on a variety of platforms and extracting in different ways across multiple ecosystems. This will open up the whole need to re-evaluate the governance, the risk management and the resources needed to operate in this new innovating world. It is going to demand a very different set of disciplines, processes and design.

Are you exploring this new innovation dynamic of platforms and ecosystems yet? You do need to get into a position to experiment, test, exploit and explore in limited ways to learn and adapt. It is even more dramatic in change than moving from closed to open innovation, it will challenge much that was only recently established to be radically redesigned and altered again.

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Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft researches and works across innovation, looking to develop novel innovation solutions and frameworks where appropriate. He provides possible answers to many issues associated with innov