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Business - Written by on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 10:44 - 0 Comments

Haydn Shaughnessy
Open management and the business ecosystem

Quoting the Financial Times is not something I do every day but here goes. The Pink ‘Un yesterday had one of those pivotal articles that it carries on a regular basis – business is shifting in seismic ways, oh and by the way there’s another 46 pages to fill. So much of its gold dust gets overlooked I fear in all the newsprint.  Stefan Stern however was yesterday pointing out something of great significance – that more and more companies are acknowledging they have to be open. We know all about open innovation but this is a different kind of openness, one that commits the enterprise to a much wider role and a more highly variegated strategic base.

The significance of it is something like this: You used to organize around a supply chain and marketing. In future you will have to organize around an ecosystem that is diverse and somewhat out of the company’s control.

Stern points out that companies face a growing spectrum of stakeholders. We think of stakeholders as shareholders coupled to a little deference to employees and customers. NGOs meanwhile argue they too are stakeholders, but nobody quite buys that one. Stern says in fact the stakeholder community is much much wider. I’m inclined to believe he is right and yet think he is also not far reaching enough in this conclusions.

For the July nGenera members meeting I’ve been putting together a map of the ecosystem of one large global company and its initiatives to engender innovation in ways that look like CSR policy but which really come to light when you start to measure the ecosystem as a strategic platform for long term corporate growth.

The stakeholder community is in fact vast, though to date it has been treated as a PR issue. That means potential ecosystems have been marginalized and contained. And their value under-explored.

“In a survey of 660 senior executives around the world carried out by the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit), almost half felt that leaving PR to handle contact with these new stakeholders would be a mistake. Greater engagement from top management supported by more open mindedness in the C suite would be preferable.” The article is here.

My argument is that these 660 executives are clearly waking up but haven’t yet drawn back the curtains. The stakeholder community – what we might now call the widest possible ecosystem – is a strategic asset. As the global economy fractures and as we learn to deal with multiple economic systems (from $5 a day African programmers to $2000 autos, to our own perhaps bloated production systems and product expectations), the ecosystem will become a dominant management mode precisely because this fractured global economy is not controllable.

Going back a decade we thought of ecosystems as “glocal” partner networks. Today we have to think of them as multifaceted and large, susceptible to management disciplines but able also to create the unexpected.

In short they are ways to plan the unplannable – a little like Apple have done with its Apps environment. Ecosystems bring the unpredictable into the planning zone. My advice to companies who think of stakeholders narrowly is to wake up to the new randomness of economic expansion. Casting the net over the stakeholder community is good strategy if you can bring yourself to live with this new reality.

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