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  1. 1. ON ECOSYSTEMS What is an Ecosystem? In general terms, an ecosystem can be understood as a natural set of relationships that exist between projects that makes it possible that they collaborate. Hence projects that are a part of an ecosystem interact with each other, the leaders know each other, and the projects are mutually interdependent in some way. In more specific terms, an ecosystem can consist of projects that share the same larger goals, that share common team members, share common customers or markets, that are a part of the same value chain (partners, suppliers etc.), share a common technology infrastructure etc. There is no theoretical limit to what is constitutive of an ecosystem and, in reality, this will be determined in practice by talking to projects that might form a part of an ecosystem. This is what we are doing as we map out the Open Manufacturing Space. So at its essence, an ecosystem view of the world makes sense is if collaboration across boundaries makes sense in the world that we live in. Characteristics of Ecosystem Projects Balance between Autonomy and Synergy Autonomy • —Are autonomous legal entities • —Have independent brand • —Have independent missions, goals etc. • —Have independent information systems • —Have separate teams (although overlap a possibility) Synergy —Share sub-project(s) • —Shared some goals • —Share some technology infrastructure (project management, collaborative research, simultaneous publishing, etc.) Does Collaboration Across Organizational Boundaries Make Sense? This is a large question that could be understood in two ways: 1. Is collaboration, as a principle of engagement, important in the modern world? 2. Is collaboration due to change in communications mechanisms more relevant today than it was in the past? The answer is a wholehearted yes to both questions! That said, for the purposes of this discussion let’s focus on 2. I will treat 1 on a different occasion. In addressing two I suspect that I am preaching to the choir. This is to say that we all know that the modern world, from the standpoint of communication, has the following features: • Internet connectivity penetration rates are increasing • Bandwith limitations are being reduced • The cost of communication is dropping (thank you Skype!) • Interoperability protocols, applications etc. are evolving • Social networking platforms (Facebook...) are changing the culture of communication
  2. 2. • Processing power is being pushed to the edge of the network (Smartphones etc.) • The real time infrastructure is evolving (Twitter) All of these, and other, socio-technological forces lead to an environment and culture of interaction where : • Information flows freely across organizational boundaries • Geographic constraints are less meaningful • Structural limitations on information management don’t constrain participation (thousands of people can work on projects!) • Meetings can be run virtually • Projects can be managed asynchronously • Projects can be scaled to involve many people with minimal incremental cost • Your communications infrastructure can be scaled to include many people with minimal incremental cost Hence the inhibitors to collaboration and engagement are being reduced. The coordination cost of working together is dropping dramatically. It is simply much easier, and less costly to coordinate the activity of many people around the world than it was in the past. Or, shall we say, it makes economic sense to collaborate! It, therefore, makes sense to seek out collaboration opportunities as this is the most efficient means of organizing resources to satisfy larger mission driven objectives! (Note that, from a theoretical perspective, it remains to be seen if collaboration makes sense for the purely self interested since this is a resources efficiency argument... Since this is an open question, I restrict my arguments to the structure of organizational relationships in the social venture space.) If it makes sense to organize ourselves collaboratively, what is the best way to structure organizational relationships? If it is the case that the best way to achieve objectives is through seeking coordinated activity with others, then one must structure ones relationship with the world in a manner that makes possible coordinated activity of this sort. In short, one must attempt to organize activity in collaboration with others by developing, or participating in, the infrastructure that makes it possible for you to: • Have visibility into the activity of others in a manner that will make it possible to identify collaboration opportunities. • Communicate and explore ways of working with other projects. Again, the reason one wants to do this is that the infrastructure cost of communication and information exchange is nominal. Gains that you make in what you learn from each other, and the opportunities that will evolve, will far outstrip the cost of the infrastructure over the long term. Ecosystems: the model that supports this view of Intra-Organizational Interaction? Given the above, we can understand ecosystems as groups of organizations that: • Are related to each other in such a way that they can support and learn from each other • Are connected by a common communications/collaboration infrastructure • That explore, in an open ended way, ways of working together that are mutually beneficial. It makes sense to do this because there is much to be learned from each other and it costs little to develop the systems that make this possible. Ecosystems, Risk Mitigation and Financing In organizing groups of projects in this manner, the probability of the success of the group of projects is increased, thereby also mitigating risk for investors. In mitigating risk for investors, we will be able to flow capital into projects that sorely lack capital at this time.
  3. 3. This is the aim of the Ecosystem Pooled Fund Initiative. I hope you will collaborate with us as we work towards bringing to fruition these possibilities...