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 Norah 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.]



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