Ecosystem Thinking: Next Level Transformation

By: Emanuel Brown, Point B

In previous posts, we discussed how a focus on brand experience is critical to creating a more sustainable strategic connection with customers and how design thinking methods are a solid bet for unlocking innovation inside any team. In both posts we touched on the notion that digital transformation is actually cultural transformation in disguise.

The hidden quotient lurking in our earlier thought pieces is that in order to drive growth, inspire innovation and guide transformation, the delta between play and work needs to get significantly reduced. Tapping into the creative power of your fully engaged culture is critical in getting to the next level of transformation which is ecosystem thinking.

Much like design thinking, “ecosystem thinking” is not a particularly new mental model for business leaders to adopt. What is compelling about ecosystem thinking is the way in which it evolves the collaborative power of inclusive solution practices to better handle complexity at scale while simultaneously upending the model most businesses exist on for growth by shifting to an abundance mindset.

Think about the biggest businesses on the planet right now. Most, if not all of them are benefitting from ecosystem thinking which is rooted in the idea that a business strategically and organizationally optimized to co-create shared value within their markets will grow disproportionally to the competition.

To pull this off, business leaders have to trade up from a strategic focus on near term gains to one that's better balanced between short- and long-term growth. This requires a more nuanced understanding of where the value drivers are in the market, whether they be stakeholders or contributors, direct or adjacent.

Refactoring the strategic playbook is never easy, however there are some core tenets of ecosystem thinking can serve as foundational guidelines for managing this shift.

Lead with empathy

Take every stakeholder relationship (customers, employees and their families, partners, civic leaders, alumni, etc.) and run them through experience design processes (such as a journey map) and design thinking exercises (such as a service blueprint). Start seeing both the forest and the trees then rally your team to ideate collaboratively.

Embrace complexity

The total service a business provides is both multi-dimensional and multi-tenant. As noted above, once a more textured portrait of the business's relationships with people emerges, it becomes important to view how its process and technological choices support or undermine those relationships.

Everything matters

Getting things right at just the right time is the price of admission in many markets now that those markets operate in near-real time and customer expectations are increasing. A look into broader socioeconomic landscape reveals a host of emerging models: the collaborative economy, the gig economy, the sharing economy and the virtual economy. Cultural overlays like these add new perspectives on internal business operations from talent recruitment to supply chain management, R&D to customer engagement. An organization's ability to articulate its value clearly and deliver on it effectively means understanding these nuances in the market.

One clear example of this is Apple's progressive introduction of a whole range of services that enrich its already robust ecosystem. Apple already built a whole new engine for co-created economic growth with the App Store, increased ease of access to a range of content by extending the success of Apple Music's subscription model, as well as driving adoption of bankless digital payments beyond Apple Pay.

The company's investments in these areas certainly complement their physical product offerings and unlock greater revenue potential while simultaneously create an infrastructure upon which others have a chance to build their own success. Their commitment to ecosystem thinking is ingrained to the point where it is strategically normalized. The areas where Apple succeeds are precisely the areas where its customers gain as much value as they do.

A shift to ecosystem thinking — accomplished through a rich jambalaya of design thinking, holistic business strategy, systems design, anti-fragility and biomimicry principles, and more — is essential for those companies who are, or aspire to be, market leaders at scale. At the same time, even smaller businesses can benefit from adopting an ecosystem mindset, which is essentially a return to proven methods of creating and sustaining trusted relationships across the entire value chain.