The chance to think differently about Ecosystems for Innovation

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

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Thinking about scalable engagement

I wrote a piece sometime back on “people don’t buy product they buy meaning” and was prompted on this again fairly recently. See for this. It is funny how this triggered a series of different thoughts which I’m going to try to explain here as I struggle with some disconnects on where we are going on engagement.

I first start out with engagement

There is an awful lot of disruption occurring all around us. Old behaviours, many well established ones that we were somehow seemingly comfortable with, are being suddenly replaced. We are being pushed far more today to search for achieving a greater personal meaning through a different set of connections, more remote, arguably more empowering and get offered in this deal the technology to make this happen, with ease and convenience in its place. What are we losing in this grand deal?

These shifts are changing our behaviours, they  are seriously challenging many of our (past) accepted practices, because as we suddenly feel more in charge, to do the things we want to do, simply when we want to do them, we depend less on others. We suddenly adopt new habits because they are better for us as individuals; they fit within our changing lifestyle. They “enable us to do”- they actually transform the way we work, think and interact. Old habits don’t die hard any more, they seem are replaced fairly quickly once you see the change in the value, and technology simply keeps prodding us down this changing road faster and faster.

Clearly it is technology that has given us this ability but understanding what is needed in scaling these engagements in sociable ways has not been as well thought-through, we are still experimenting and exploring the alternatives. We are becoming far less sociable yet more social in how we communicate. We need to bring the art of face to face conversation back into our lives, not one way monologs.

We don’t travel down to the bank branch any more, we don’t go and browse for books in a library or book shop like we used too, and we stay rooted in front of our screen for more hours than ideal, be this on a mobile, tablet or screen to complete the tasks that seem to grow not decrease. We reach out remotely when we need to, by simply asking a question or searching the data base. We stop making phone calls as these are often non-productive and we get really steamed up waiting in some queue only to find you are talking to someone in the Philippines or India waiting to go through countless security questions or simply not understanding the simplicity behind your question. Often as they have not shared in “what makes up your experiences.” We are making less time for physical interactions.

Then we go to scalable

Scalable has been rather painted into a corner in recent years. It is the way we can scale a business is dangled out in front of us like a carrot, it is implied it is material to success, as with scalability comes profit, as the tantalizing reason to buy into those projects that scale . I wish it was that simple. Does scalability alone mean achieving success?

No, scalability allows for greater engagement that has growing (social) impact and for countless millions that is important. Scale in the more developed world, through greater technology reliance and increased complexity required to deliver this into our lives is carrying higher risks associated with this. We are less dependent on people around us, more dependent on the technology and structures.

As we benefit from scale, there is this risk we are becoming more self-sufficient, more disconnected, opposite to what you might expect. We are missing the value of different avenues of possible productive engagement as we increasingly scale reliant only on technology. We need more depth in connecting into others, to regain real association and identification, not more of the ‘superficial’ stuff we undertake today stilting conversations, cutting off deeper evaluation or contribution.

So I come to the question are we improving our lives?

Technology is certainly changing our behaviours. It is offering us greater “utility and convenience” but it is shifting us from being sociable (the face-to-face part) to just using ‘social’ as our media, as our source and outlet. It is not lightly that those that are embracing technology or simply growing up with it, who know nothing else, are being called the “digital natives”.  A native indicates where or what we were born into, being part of a ‘certain’ race or tribe but is the digital world such a good place to reside, to inhabit? Will it really provide richer engagements? Eventually it can alter us all and how we interact.

We are at a sort of cross roads to what we mean by engagement.

If we stay ‘remote’ and increasingly hid behind our screens we loss the art of engagement as we have known it; in all our human existence – humans are or should be sociable animals. If we withdraw from the physical communities increasingly into virtual ones, we are radically altering our behaviours and until our heads get completely rewired we are in for more inexplicable moments of sudden confrontation, we are witnessing more and more. Hostile reactions increase, unreasonable behaviours surface but increasingly as the new norm, society begins to accept this as a price to pay,  should we?

We see this in small ways. For example you see this increasingly in sending over an email to the person sitting in the next cubical, or the student texting someone sitting yards away with a question instead of walking up to them and engaging.

I saw one recent comment: “It’s sad to know that we can’t have a decent conversation with each other anymore.” Or another one: “I went to text you just now and decided against it. Probably a better thing if we didn’t talk ever again unless we’re in a social situation where we need to. No big deal, really. I’m not going to make a big deal out of this”. A social situation where we need to? Are these the new norm, if so, we are seriously changing our social behaviours.

This is simply because it is deemed as becoming inefficient, to time consuming, not necessary but is this really the case? We are cutting of huge chunks of experience, of interactions, of humour, fun, and serendipity. We are actually becoming increasingly anti-social. Can technology and its entire array of amazing “apps” make up for this? I’m not laying blame at technologies door but we are being pushed in a direction of a very different social engagement. We need to concern ourselves on this and its longer term consequences.

Living in increasingly complex times

Our lives are certainly more complex, we seem to have increasing “friction” points, we can multitask better than the past generations or so we (mistakenly) believe. The issue is technology is ‘fragmenting’ more and more before our eyes, the more it offers new solutions, the more we get deeper into complexity and using all of our ‘spare’ time in learning anew and managing this.

We are actually becoming more ‘ubiquitous’ in ourselves not just “living in the cloud,” where all our information is increasingly sitting, but we are seemingly needing to be everywhere at once. This is a different form of engagement and one we are all learning to understand and scale too. We are constantly being challenged, to be engaged but in radically different ways than the past. Innovation is struggling to catch up with this in new helpful ways to keep us all sociable, not just social.

The issue for innovation is how to scale engagement?

As we engage in different ways, far more remotely, far more instantaneously for “all” to see, to prompt reaction, to gain instant feedback, we are shifting the way we engage with the world and others on an personal level. We are working hard at personalizing the message, the experience, the connection but it often is leaving a very hollow place, a space that engagement of the face-to-face type can fill.

I believe we need to have greater affinity, a great sense of kinship in our daily relationships otherwise our ‘interactions’ will be utterly dependent on technology and that alone is not sociable engagement. It still needs to be sociable, full of relationships that give that deeper, lasting meaning.

We need to learn to scale engagement that gives us “meaning not just products and apps”. We do need to buy more meaning that enriches.

Authentic, distributed, involved and scalable

Professor Katie Truss, at the Kent Business School, University of Kent has spent an awful lot of her time on engagement in her research. Check out some of what she has focused upon, it is important. She has mostly focused on engagement within organizations bit I do feel much of what she has researched also applies to all our lives and how we need to treat engagement.

Engagement should be a feeling, a mindset and a way of behaving where there is connection between the tasks we undertake, our role, our interactions but where we value the opinions of people and communities.

We do need to be insightful, to be better informed and raise our engagement not just in activity in the new ways we are all working and engaging today. It is not just for the sake of it, to be seen and active, but it is to be more being affective in gaining both our personal satisfaction of jobs being done better (and faster) but having as well that feeling we are being valued far more. We need to achieve far more positive emotional outcomes and deeper connections, we need to seek out being sociable.

As Professor Truss suggests it is in valuing performance, valuing opinions, valuing people and valuing (our) communities and we do need to scale these up in how we are engaging today. Innovation needs to work on this part of the engagement process before we lose the art of socializing. Engaging insights allow us to share and build more.