Back to Articles

The chance to think differently about Ecosystems for Innovation

Paul Hobcraft , Agility Innovation Specialists
13 Aug, 2018
Share this Article

Thinking about ecosystems certainly allows us to go out of our normal scope of invention, innovation and being creative.

The ability to tackle those larger societal problems within an ecosystem, or combine unique resources to overcome a complex challenge you are incapable of solving alone, does have greater potential in a collaborative adaptive system.

Ecosystem co-operations can allow you to align with others, totally outside your existing relationships, so you can enter new markets, explore new concepts and design, that would have been impossible as an individual organization.

Applying ecosystem thinking offers you the collaborative ability to extend beyond more traditional channels of delivery, or restricted to only utilizing your existing infrastructure. It allows you to search and build on others specialization that “greater” innovation.

We are all making greater connections within ourselves, as we find and connect, not just into our own “tribes” that all the different social platforms are providing, so as to establish our own personal identity. Crowdsourcing is another example that is offering huge potential to exploit new frontiers, as it can encourage us to forge, and connect, so as to serve and grow whole new communities from ‘simple’ beginning, building on real-time knowledge, collaborations and resolving challenges and problems we know are “out there” but we, alone, did not have the means to solve.

The future of collaborations can increasingly share previously idle or under-utilized assets, it can extend the life, it can extract that ideal knowledge, often locked in one organization. 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).

Ecosystems built around specific platform designs are the future of innovation that takes designs and solutions into a new realm of opportunity, built on collaborative engagement and common missions. As we learn we adapt, as we share we grow.

But be aware – the challenges are difficult to work through

Often designing an Ecosystem 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. It takes a lot of hard work and a sense of identity from all involved. Managing this growing form of complexity is challenging old theories, boundaries, organizations and how they exist going forward. So much of the work involved is exploring the possible not ‘blindly’ taking other examples. Ecosystems are unique in design, relationships and the environment that surrounds them, they are personal too your design and need to solve . They survive and thrive due to that uniqueness and attraction.

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 specialized expertise. For innovation, you need to extend your view, push the boundaries and make sure you can connect up all the parts for it to grow and develop.

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. This is the exciting part, building, and learning, evolving a design of an ecosystem has a real potential to ‘create’ something different that has the potential to transform a germ of an idea into something living, breathing and valued, a set of tangible innovative outcomes.

Measuring innovation in ecosystems has real differences

To start we need to measure innovation more in the following aspects as our starting point:

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 of working within any networked system. 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 agile thinking 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 to move between different ecosystems, collaborating at different levels of participation, to extract completely different forms of innovation value that advance our growth prospects.

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 out in a different way:

  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 innovative 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 the delivery of value. We need to prepare for it, experiment, become involved in different offerings to learn and build our understanding of how these can work (for us and others). Platforms, strategic partnerships, new business models will all be on the agenda of any serious global organization. To learn to deliver valuable innovation through this requires a radically different innovation system of management built around adapting and changing our thinking towards ecosystems by design.

Innovation will move from being based on incremental innovation, all designed in-house, single entity outcomes, into bold, collaborative offerings, cutting across today’s established industry boundaries, pushing out across different innovation frontiers. To achieve this new level of innovation capability requires participating on a variety of platforms and extracting in different ways across multiple ecosystems to meet your aims and align these with others. It calls for more deliberate design and thinking through, in collaborative open ways. 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.

There is so much to explore and build around innovation ecosystem design. It is exciting to explore, learn and attempt to translate into the future innovation designs we need, built on highly collaborative concepts.

***I have taken a post first published on the Hype Innovation Blog site and added to it in specific areas of additional thinking and understanding.

Comments ({{count}})
Replies: {{comment.comments_count}}
There are currently no comments. Be the first to comment on this article
Load more +

Want to leave a Comment? Register now.

Are you sure you wish to delete this comment?