Let’s start from the very basics.
Ecosystem is a tricky word
This word is becoming pretty overused in some areas of the market.
The ironic thing is that many use this phrase to explain sort of the same thing. Yet, when someone else uses this word, we aren’t sure what or who exactly they are referring to this time.
So, in order to speak in the same language, let’s go to the very beginning and bring it back to basics.
Originally, the word ‘ecosystem’ is referred to nature and defined as:
“All the living things in an area and the way they affect each other and the environment.”
But, for the new and advanced meaning of an ‘ecosystem’, which we are referring to in todays digital world, let’s take a look at this:
“A digital ecosystem is a distributed, adaptive, open socio-technical system with properties of self-organisation, scalability and sustainability inspired from natural ecosystems. Digital ecosystem models are informed by knowledge of natural ecosystems, especially for aspects related to competition and collaboration among diverse entities.”
…In my own human friendly words:
A (professional) ecosystem is a complex environment, containing multiple types of roles / organization / individuals, that all have a mutual incentive to come together and learn, grow and collaborate.
These are new organizational structures that put emphasis on flat and diverse teams working together in collaboration, rather then the hierarchy / separated structure that ruled until now in the business world.
The fundamentals of an ecosystem
People are the heart and engine of such professional ecosystems. They are the core of it, the main players, they are the designers of it and the ones generating & consuming value within it.
An ecosystem will contain between 2–6 different players, coming to collaborate and grow together. Examples for two-sided ecosystems can be: mentors-mentees, student-teachers, members-alumni etc. Today, we are starting to see more complex examples of ecosystems such as:
- Innovation ecosystems: startups-investors-mentors-indusrty-goverment..
- A company ecosystem: customers-partners-innovators-employees..
- NGO ecosystem: donors-voluonteers-community-partners-goverment..
In order to build a sufficient ecosystem, it’s managers must truly understand the motivation and interest of each player (later on even each individual) in the ecosystem. Then, strategize to design it in a way that will answer all needs in full harmony.
The ecosystem manager’s job is crucial to the success of the ecosystem — it requires many strong characteristics in one person. I’ll get into this subject more deeply in future posts.
2. Why — Mission
Like any other organization, it makes a huge difference if someone is acting based on a clear WHY, specifically in wide spread ecosystems.
Why is this ecosystem coming together? Why would people care? Why should I play along? Why do I want it to succeed? Why should I invest my precious time or even attention on it?
It’s pretty easy to “launch” a new ecosystem and have a bunch of people together in the same place (offline/online). The hard part, and the one that will differ great managers from the rest, is the ability to create long term engagement that results in actions within the ecosystem’s environment.
Each ecosystem, either from choice, nature or circumstances will have their own vocabulary & jargon for their inner conversations. The ecosystem’s language has actually many responsibilities — internal ones and external ones.
From within, it‘s responsible to easily connect between all of the different players and build a common and clear ground. While externally, it helps divide the ecosystem itself from its surroundings, thus providing them a sense of uniqueness and excitement as they know they belong.
4. How — Channels
One of the important things to build from the early days of an ecosystem, is it’s channel of interaction and work. In an organisation based, driven and operated by people, designing the right infrastructure of communication is key to it’s success.
It’s the more practical layer of how to achieve the ‘why’. How do members meet, learn and collaborate with each other? It can be in any way you want, but make sure to take into consideration the characteristics of your specific ecosystem. Global / local, professionals / beginners, cross / same sector, Employees / entrepreneurs etc.
After articulating all the relevant information about the ecosystem, and the different kinds of personas taking part in it, it’s time to draft the channel map. How do they all meet, when, where, how often?…
5. Interest & Value Equation
OK, this is the genius part. You should create an optimal equation of matching values and interest that will generate the value you aspire between members. This will bring together all the efforts you put in an ecosystem and will assure true value creation and ecosystem long term strength.
While strategizing to maximize this equation, start becoming comfortable with words such as “interests”, “incentive”, “motivation”, “compensation” etc. I know it’s not obvious to focus on selfish thoughts and needs of your ecosystem members, mainly when your mission is to build bridges and partnerships between them. It literally will be uncomfortable at first.
Thing is, if people are the most important asset of your ecosystem, make it your top priority to understand them in the deepest levels. Why are they here? What are they looking for? What will push them to be further engaged? After you map this as well — you’ll need to be creative and find a way to connect all the different opportunities and interest in the channels you found earlier.
Ecosystem manager are actually entrepreneurs
As you can understand, it isn’t a simple job to build a strong and valuable ecosystem. Yet, once you take on yourself the mindset of an entrepreneur, everything will look different.
Opportunities rather than problems.
Innovation rather than using old methods.
Goal oriented work rather than just doing stuff.
Measurable impact and collaboration rather then inefficient planning.
From a business & ecosystem entrepreneurial mindset, I have much more to share and debate with you on. All this and more are soon to come.