My previous post announced The Living Enterprise, [TLE] a book I'm writing with Mark Yolton and Zia Yusuf about how SAP has created an ecosystem valued at about $80 billion and why what they've learned can help your business as well.
I talked mostly about SAP regards their enterprise ecosystem as a living, moving shapeless entity, more like a biologic ecosystem than the traditional customer networks that other companies call ecosystems.
Near the bottom of the piece, I briefly mentioned that SAP has adopted a new position for itself in its own ecosystem, one modeled after a symphony orchestra conductor. This was intended to be a teaser, something that made readers hungry for this next installment.
It seemed to work. Rebecca Krause-Hardie left a comment saying, "I'm looking forward to hearing more. But putting on my orchestral musician hat I can't quite get the conductor metaphor."
That comment turned out to be one of those Marshall McLuhan moments you may recall from the movie Annie Hall. Rebecca it seems, know all about orchestra conductors.
A graduate of Juilliard, she played second horn in the Phoenix Symphony for a while then went on to serve as orchestra manager for the Detroit symphony. She has emerged as a pioneer in integrating new media into orchestras. Among her achievements was creating Playmusic.org, the first interactive music website for kids and an extremely interesting project.
While I was learning this, my co-author Zia Yusuf jumped in with a comment for Rebecca, which made sense. As head of the SAP's Ecosystem group at the time, he was the guy who brought the orchestra metaphor into SAP to begin with.
I thought he gave a pretty good answer. In part this is what he said:
"The success of an orchestra rests on various instruments working in harmony, under the direction of the conductor, making beautiful music.In a similar way the ecosystem consists of a variety of players: customers, software vendors, service providers, individuals etc."
If you think about it, the symphony conductor is almost always the most prominent person in the hall and very often the lionshare recipient of recognition and revenue. But the conductor depends upon each of the 80 or so musicians as much as the musicians depend upon him--and if you think about it--each other.
A conductor by himself is some guy with a baton. He's as capable of making memorable music as is a teenager with an air guitar. Conversely, if the talented, creative, passionate musicians assembled together on stage without a conductor, you'd end up with a jam session at best and a headache at worse.
The conductor and these individuals interdepend on each other. The musicians count on him to bring the group together, to set tempo and mood; to spotlight individuals when it makes sense, and entire sections when the moment calls for it. Everyone assembled gets to contribute and benefit.
This is a very far cry from so many of the military analogies that so many large companies use to describe their positions and strategies. And this is how SAP is approaching it's ecosystems. You cannot make an ecosystem work by trying to organize it in battalions, divisions and squadrons. The best you can get is a marching band which lacks the elegance, diversity, subtlety and talent of most symphony orchestras.
I just noticed that Erin Liman,SAP's director of social business innovation has just added a comment in reply to Rebecca as well. Erin is playing a highly contributive role in this project. Among the most valuable was her indepth interview with Dorcas McCall, a career orchestra viola player who we will talk about in TLE.
In my view, the Orchestra Conductor metaphor is worth all these words. I think the book will hinge, in part, on our explaining it properly. If I were to boil the entire 80,000 words down to three bullets on a PowerPoint slide, they would be:
- Think of an enterprise ecosystem as something that is really alive and not an org chart thingee with a bunch of dotted lines attached to various boxes.
- The role of the founding community is more like that of a conductor and a general.
- If you do the first two right, your enterprise is going to create a wealth-filled marketplace. Your company, customers and partners will all share the wealth.