Ecosystemic Evolutions

Organizing Beyond Boundaries. An essay that is included in the book “Ecosystems Inc. — Understanding, harnessing and developing organizational ecosystems”.

Boundaryless Team

May 21, 2020

This article is part of “Ecosystems Inc. — Understanding, harnessing and developing organizational ecosystems” published by Thinkers 50, ECSI Consulting and Haier Model Institute. Download the ebook here. Among the contributors Julian Birkinshaw, Rita Gunther McGrath, Bill Fischer and many great management thinkers of our time.

Premise

As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, organizations face stunning challenges. New risk factors are arising and unpredictability in our societies and economy is en route to becoming a constant background: as the Word Economic Forum anticipated in its Global Risk Report 2020, “turbulence is the new normal”.

Adopting a Conway’s Law lens to chronicling the evolution of organizing

I’ve often referred to Conway’s law when describing the evolution of platforms and organizations in the past as: “organizations that design systems mirror their communication structure”. For example, I normally make it clear with the organizations I work with that to be able to thrive in a truly a post-industrial, networked ecosystems’ world, an organization needs to mould into one.

Intermediate artifacts

Despite fragmenting an organization into small nodes, moulding it with its broader ecosystem and facilitating the creation of means of communication through software interfaces — in substitution of a bureaucratic process — is certainly the core part of the role of organizational leaders in an ecosystemic organization (as Bezos and Zhang), the implementation of such software powered, interface mediated, organizational marketplaces also unveil all sort of data about how the parties in the network interact and the patterns that are affirming. Ecosystems become effectively future sensing engines” as in the words of Simon Wardley[8]. As Wardley explains, not only the organization needs to enable coordination between the nodes of the ecosystem but also create tools to allow the players in the ecosystem to innovate with a lower risk of failure. These tools — in the form of enabling blocks and enabling services — will be used to create the new value propositions, sitting on top of the enabling ones in the value chain. As a key and complementary responsibility, eventually, the ecosystem enabling organization must act to standardize the novel value propositions emerging from the periphery, institutionalizing innovations for broader adoption, pushing the ecosystem entities to develop new propositions, on top of the newly standardized ones. The organization’s reference ecosystem appears to be the most effective mean for an organization to move — as in Lisa Gansky’s words — from the “no more” to the “not yet”.

What’s next?

The impacts of such a transition towards divisional organizations and more modular products (and services) may be far-reaching. The covid19 outbreak seems to have exacerbated the speed of change but needs to be framed as a harbinger of times to come with unpredictability becoming a structural aspect of our economies. This growing unpredictability seems increasingly hard to manage by a traditionally functional organisation.

Decentralization and the emergence of cooperative coordination layers

Despite more research and experimentation is due, some questions that arise in this context are the following: where are the structures that can ensure both coherence and learning going to emerge from if suddenly the space between small organizations becomes a non-organizational one? And how’s this inter-organizational space going to be characterized? Is this space public or private? Is it agent- or data-centric? How are those “coherence ensuring” systems going to be created, evolved and governed? At what scale? How are these new emerging systems going to confront with existing incumbent organizations that today seem to monopolize the infrastructures of the information age?

Conclusions?

More than thinking about the evolution of a single organization in an ecosystem, it appears that — accelerated by the pandemic, and more generally by the resurgence of unpredictability in our economies — we may be witnessing the dawn of a new age of organising. The developments of this new wave will happen within a firm but also in the space between them, from individuals to communities to bioregional playgrounds, states, and civilization and in the realm of fluid cooperation for a world in constant flux more than at the scale of single market opportunities and in the groove of competition.

References

Boundaryless Team

May 21, 2020

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