The Value of Ecosystems


Brian Eno on Scenius
“Genius is the talent of an individual. Scenius is the talent of a whole community.”

[Brian Eno]

It’s the connections that make the business.

Disconnects at a network about connections

The current news cycle about Twitter picking Dorsey as CEO reminded me of something I wrote four years ago when Noah Glass, the forgotten co-founder of Twitter, made the news.

This interview with Norah Glass is the kind of story that shows you where the connections got lost, how different interests by the groups involved — investors, the Board, the management team — kept the original organization from truly coming together and succeeding in collaboration. 

As I said in that post:

  • we buy again from people we like, thus going from buyers to customers
  • in a community, people exchange services, give referrals, and do business together
  • partnerships are formed on the basis of connections to a product, channel, distribution, etc.
  • internal teams that collaborate deliver superior service and better products

Twitter is my favorite social tool, I’ve been on it for eight years. I’ve published extensively on the benefits of participating on Twitter (the 7-year anniversary post,) facilitated one of the first full on public business chats on Twitter, published Twitter Tales much before Twitter itself “came up” with the concept and overlooked the opportunity to connect its moments with ours. All the more fascinating that recently the company rolled out a new feature called Moments.

The “not invented here” syndrome keeps many companies from connecting with the community. Let the algorithm take care of keeping the distance — tracking to bypass the complexity of listening.


Connecting theory to practice

We put much emphasis on talking about the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century and skim the surface on how we get there from here. Go be curious, be more creative, hire people who take the initiative… do not take into account the finer details of how we get make those determinations and decisions.

We talk about how technology is transforming the career market and obsess over the algorithm without putting enough thought into the people part of it. The hiring process is still grossly underwhelming.

Follow through and good communication are uneven experiences. Organizations don’t even realize the full potential of their technology investments. What good is an online repository of resumes when an organization does not mine it to understand its history? What can we learn from the people who have taken the time to read and respond to our needs? Are we attracting people with diverse enough skills? How do we select our team?

Why do we still keep a huge distance between a business and its ecosystems? Candidates are also customers — yes, even for agencies because they work for brands and a bad experience here influences decisions. We may not have personal APIs to plug into commercial data with our preferences, but we have personal experiences from coming into contact with a business and we make decisions that are strongly biased based on those impressions. 

When organizations design processes optimized for keeping people out they realize both intended and unintended consequences. It’s not enough to build an open floor space at company headquarters to tap into the power of an ecosystem of connected minds.


Connecting people is a magnet for ideas

We look at what young technologists and emerging management consulting firms are doing as novel. In fact, they are iterations of forms of work that existed and in many cases thrived before — Guilds and artists during the Renaissance have done this; thriving communities and cities encourage and take advantage of physical proximity.

Connecting people is something we do when the culture favors the mindset that relationships are important. But we confuse the mindset with the form — like getting rid of an org chart or eliminating managers. That is not the point. In the John Peel Lecture at the BBC Brian Eno says:

We’re used to thinking of things that are arranged in levels like that (of a hierarchy), with the important things at the top and the less important things at the bottom. Ecosystems aren’t like that. They’re richly interconnected and they’re co-dependent in many, many ways. And if you take one thing out of an ecosystem, you can get a collapse in quite a different place. they’re constantly rebalancing. And I feel that culture is like that.


So my thought the other night when I was walking home was new ideas are articulated by individuals, but generated by communities. What we tend to do is — perhaps quite naturally — celebrate the individuals. We’re very keen on the names. But what we don’t do is looking at the whole community we are drawing from.


We are now in a new era. We come from an era of scarcity, basically. Economic scarcity. And when all of economics is based on the idea of scarcity and the idea of competition for resources. 

[…] What we’re moving into is an era of abundance, and co-operation. 

According to Eno, building on shared ideas is based on our resynchronizing with each other to be able to have a shared understanding of how things connect and work.


Ecosystems of practice

When an organizations sees its internal and external relationships as important it realizes the value of ecosystems — systems and environment. The energy and impetus for these kinds of networks comes from ideas that spread and reinforce connections.

Before the year 2000 I was working in a risk consulting firm with is own dream team as colleagues. Pros with advanced degrees and experience in practices as diverse as mathematics, operational risk, law, engineering, finance, corporate governance, research and analysis, and more.

One of the things we used to say, something we believed in and was part of our practice was our mission:

[Company] is an enterprise committed to the belief that there is a place in the market for a highly focused risk management firm, which can provide its clients a distinct range of services in a thoughtful, professional and personal way. This is particularly true in a consolidating industry segment, a byproduct of which is a reduction in meaningful alternatives for the buyer.

Our product is a relationship, not simply a transaction or process delivery. Our goal is the fulfillment of client needs by whoever is best qualified to accomplish the task at hand. If that proves to be us, we are delighted; if not, we will help you make the connection with whoever is best.

True service is in service of the customer. Culture is the lens we use to see the world, culture, says Eno, “is the central thing that we do.”


The whole Eno John Peel Lecture is worth listening to [h/t Austin Kleon.]



Conversation Agent – Valeria Maltoni


Social Powers Business Ecosystems


ImageThe complexity of a collaboration task is in part a function of the number and variety of people required to complete the task. For this reason some of the greatest value from using social technology comes when a company connects its employees to a network of partners — suppliers, distributors, service providers and an emerging category of co-creation partners. This installment in my series on the connected enterprise will address some of the opportunities and challenges companies face when they extend collaboration platforms outside the enterprise.

In the first article of this series I discussed how social is a critical part of the digital transformation process that every company must go through today in order to stay competitive and profitable in their industries. The three areas of application for social are first with employees (which I discussed in more detail in part 2 of this series), partners, and ultimately building social collaboration platforms to engage with customers. In examining the importance of social for partner interactions one should start with the four categories of partners and explore how each has different benefits and challenges. Companies can identify the most valuable use cases for social collaboration using the same “business impact vs. feasibility” analysis tool that I discussed in the last article.

Organizations already tackle complex coordination and collaboration challenges with their business partners. Transforming these interactions through the use of social can take a number of forms but depends upon how companies undertake the same core tasks I talked about when implementing social with employees. First, understand which use cases have the highest value for the organization, second redesign business processes to be optimized for the use of social technology, third provide the support and training needed to drive adoption. Here are four examples, corresponding to the different kinds of partners.


Every company has suppliers — the companies from whom they purchase items needed to run their business. But manufacturing companies have a set of special relationships with suppliers that provide the components or ingredients or raw materials needed to make the products that they sell. Price, availability, quality, and fitness for an intended purpose are the basic elements a procurement organization must take into consideration when contracting with a supplier. But even after the contract has been entered into, managing ongoing supply consistency and quality issues, and taking remedial action when problems arise, is a full time job for a large group of professionals in any large manufacturing company. These employees have to coordinate with quite a few parties – individuals from the business unit that will use the materials, people in the logistics organization, and of course representatives of the supplier as well. 

One of the most complicated coordination activities comes when a supplier of a critical input to production has a disruption in their own supply chain, creating a cascade of problems for their customers. In a case like this a social collaboration can be a real life saver for procurement. Coordination can occur between many internal stake holders on the shortage and how to manage alternate supplies in order to avoid disruption in production. In addition, coordination can occur with multiple outside suppliers where another supplier might be able to make up the shortage. Having a central social collaboration platform can speed up these multiparty interactions and also create an audit trail for what happened and why it happened.


One of the most exciting opportunities for companies in utilizing social collaboration is in improving market engagement. Despite the growth of direct marketing and sales, for most companies there will be a lot of reasons to continue to use intermediaries to reach markets. Geographic expertise, specialized niche market knowledge, breadth of distribution, and the value of having your products available in the same places that other products can be purchased are a few of the reasons companies will continue to invest in distributors and channel relationships.

But there is always a range of performance and success levels across different distribution partners. Using social collaboration companies can work with their distribution partners to improve best practices and collaboratively develop new marketing and sales approaches. In situations where different partners are not competitive with one another (non overlapping geographies or market segments) a multi-party collaboration environment can even foster best practice interactions between partners.

Service Providers

Increasingly companies are examining the set of activities they engage in and determining that some of those activities truly provide competitive advantage but others, while necessary, provide no competitive advantage.  Geoffrey Moore does a terrific job of outlining this difference between core and context in his book “Dealing with Darwin.”  In order to really focus on and invest in innovation (and stay relevant to markets) companies should shed some of these tasks that don’t provide competitive advantage — but it is still critical to manage and connect with service providers who take up these tasks.

A great example of service provider collaboration is in how a company works with the staff that manages and maintains the company’s office buildings. Reception, security, maintenance, and janitorial staff are not creating competitive advantage and this is a common place that companies elect to use an outside service provider. But creating connections between employees and this external staff can have an enormous positive impact on workspace safety, cleanliness, and operations. Simply letting staff engage with maintenance contractors for example can simplify and accelerate dealing with minor and major annoyances — from the bathroom fixture that has stopped working to a dangerous situation in a stairwell.

Co-Creation Partners

In some businesses, such as publishing, external partners have long been a part of the value creation process. But technology is rapidly expanding the role of co-creation partners — software on mobile phones is an example in the past decade that has radically transformed a product category — many of us buy a particular phone because of the value we get from the combination of the phone and the partners who have created apps we want to use. Many other business categories will be transformed in the coming years by creating new opportunities for partners to extend the value of a company’s products or services.

Here the role of social collaboration is enormous due to the close working relationship necessary between a company and its co-creation partners. Staying with the example of publishing, companies could be engaging authors in much more depth — sharing ways that the author can collaborate with the publisher on promotions, sharing details of what is working and not working for other similar books, and facilitating marketing opportunities that require the author’s participation to be successful. Books sell in large part based on what the author does to promote the book — so a collaboration platform can have an enormous impact on the publisher’s bottom line if it helps the authors be more productive — and the authors benefit as well.

These are just a few of the use cases that successful companies are already using to build the connected enterprise — utilize social collaboration to improve the way they work with partners. In the next article I’ll talk about how this can be extended to working with customers as well.

Authored by:

Ted Shelton

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Cognizant’s positions, strategies or opinions.

In February my book, published by John Wiley & Sons was released – “Business Models for the Social Mobile Cloud.” More information about the book, including a free download of the first chapter is available here:

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