Archive for category Ecosystem Thinking

Ecosystem Thinkers, BRACE Yourself!

Brace Yourself!
Beginning with the end in mind, let me put this insight into context for you. BRACE Yourself, in the lead role of Ecosystem Thinking’s Change Agent Mantra is hiding an acronym which I will share with you in this post, where the last letter E stands for Empathy. I contend it is the single most important value for us to align our mutual interest upon in order to maximize our society’s productivity, prosperity and well being – for as many people as possible, while still enabling capitalism. A more conscious capitalism to be sure, but an economic basis for which those who innovate, who build, who create more value, who work harder, will enjoy rewards greater than those who don’t.

Someone told me recently that I had empathy in spades and that this was one of the first things she noticed about me. In that I do consider myself an empath, I may be more attuned to this societal need then most, and I admit such a bias – but that bias is based on evidence, the evidence of how it has served me and how I have benefited and seen others benefit through efforts like Social Media Club.

Switching gears here a little, most of us have an understanding of the concept that we get/create what we focus on. I.E., our mind sets about creating a vision of something we want to do or accomplish and then we make plans, decisions and actions to make that manifest. It’s actually quite magical, but more on the alchemy later. In Ecosystem Thinking we focus on helping all of the stakeholders, especially employees who we want to BRACE themselves, to be successful in achieving their objectives on their journey. We care about them and want to help them.

For now, I’m raising this point relative to my deeply held belief that starting from a place of empathy for others drastically changes the outcomes in both the short and the long term. As a mariner will tell you, change the course just a small amount in the beginning of a journey, and it will put you 100’s of miles away from your original destination. When you start with empathy, you get surprisingly different results, and not in a good way, in a GREAT way.

Starting this piece thinking about this it occurred to me to start with my focus on being in your shoes as the listener, instead of the storyteller. I hit upon these somewhat familiar questions that will be guiding me going forward in this writing:

  • Who is it for, who is it about?
  • WIIFM? (What’s In it For Me?)
  • What the heck is he really trying to say? What’s his main point simplified?
  • Why does this matter?
  • How does it help me?
  • What does it help me accomplish?
  • What should I do about it?
  • What else do I need to know?

So I wanted to establish a connection to my deeper purpose here in a more relatable way, before actually diving into BRACE Yourself as a key mindset to embrace. BRACE yourself arose out of some advisory work I am doing with a new company focused on Resilience, and my realization that when looking at transformation and innovation, this key trait was essential, but so were others. Eventually we hit on these key character traits required of our people to be successful in our modern economy, and more so with Ecosystem Thinking.

BRACE Yourself

  • Boldness
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy


As I seek a way to express the vast collection of character traits I’m seeking to encompass here I find myself starting with one of my favorite reasons WHY this is important.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” Goethe

But from there, it’s a simple collection of words and concepts in no particular order of importance that reflects what I am trying to convey here is essential to cultivate in your people.

  • Creativity
  • Courage
  • Risk management (taking, not avoiding)
  • Degree of confidence
  • Willingness
  • Outspokenness
  • Inspirational
  • Passionate

At the end of the day, it’s about leaning in, standing up to fears, managing through uncertainty and embracing what can be. It’s about a new perspective one is willing to bring that is perhaps unexpected by those who would prefer to hang back and not watch from the sidelines rather than risk it all on the field.


The ability to bounce back in the face of failure, defeat, acts of god or simple disappointment has long been known as a key trait in successful entrepreneurs. One of the most prominent things that comes to mind here though is Batman.

Thomas Wayne in Batman Begins, “Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”

This one is deeply personal for me on many levels. I’ve been through some tough depressions over the years, mostly resulting from my failures to accomplish a world changing dream or business pursuit – like, you know, fixing what’s fundamentally broken with businesses all over the world. Little things like that.

Turns out, resilience as a trait in employees, particularly those charged with innovation is of paramount importance as my friend Jon reminds me with his new company RallyBright. To truly innovate, we must embrace failure. We must embrace the test and learn mindset. We must set difficult to reach goals and firmly expect to reach them, and yet be flexible and bounce back when the reality doesn’t meet our expectations. In that instance we must turn failure into learning.

This gets more interesting, once you dig deeper, especially into the discussion of the difference between grit and resilience. Lots more to discuss here, but we can dive in more later.


Part of resilience is learning and doing something new. A never ending process of constant improvement (if you are a TQM or Tony Robbins nerd like I used to be this rings deep for you perhaps). But it is also about a willingness to dynamically change your approach to each situation. To not be so fixed in our expectations that we are unable to seize victory from victory let alone victory from defeat.

Yes, adaptable is also represented by all the current work around AGILE, in development, marketing and all operations, to be flexible in the accomplishment of our objectives. This is where we get into understanding the purpose, function and execution realities of commanders intent, where skill meets uncertainty on the way to success through improvisation and real time problem solving.

Some people just require certainty in order to be calm, more so in order to be able to focus. They have a more fixed view on why things are and are resistant to change. Meanwhile, the one thing we have seen to be true over and over again is that change is certain, and the pace of it is certainly speeding up, not slowing down.


I think you probably know by now why curiosity is important given what you have read above, but I want to turn it up a notch to get this underway. I would rather not use this word, but it is general enough to encompass my broad intent while still forming a great acronym that fits the big picture. I prefer to refer to this the way I learned it from John Hagel while working with him at Deloitte – to seek those who have a “Questing Disposition”.

Curiosity is close enough, but this idea of having a natural disposition to go on a quest, to be a questing type of person – willing and desirous of going on an adventure, to the ends of the earth if need be, in order to find an answer, a solution, a reference point, a new opportunity or whatever is required to accomplish a given objective. Now this is one you haven’t been properly including in your hiring criteria enough and you need to start doing today.

Curiosity works because we don’t want people who accepts things as they are, we want someone who wants to understand why something is the way it is, how it might be better, how it used to be and what others things it should be. They ask questions. And asking questions is one of the greatest powers in the world. If you want a better outcome or solution, ask a better question. Bringing this mindset and character trait into your organization is increasingly a necessity.

Once again, I am brought back to one of my most favorite quotes in the world. The one with which I resonate the most

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

I am an unreasonable man. I believe that things could be better, so why aren’t they better? Because we don’t believe in being able to change it -but we change everyday, in ways small and large. So let’s make some progress, let’s move Ecosystem Thinking forward together.


Well, it looks like we are nearing the end, so we can get back to the beginning again. Empathy is key to design thinking. It is a prerequisite of customer centricity, and the centerpiece of what I have called Radical Customer Centricity. It is just as paramount when moving from customer centricity to stakeholder centricity in Ecosystem Thinking. In short, we need to care above everyone – not necessarily more then we care for ourselves, but a lot. A lot more then most business leaders do today.

Recently there was a great article making the rounds. “I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care about other people.” In a world where sociopaths and narcissists get ahead while nice guys (and girls) get stepped on, empathy is marginalized a great deal. It’s up to us to put this back at the center of our society, as a key value that we all embrace and celebrate.

For Ecosystem Thinking, as you may have guessed, this belief that “If you are better off, I am better off” is a fundamental principle that drives the theory to success. If it is absent from your market, your industry, your ecosystem, it won’t work. Look to the empathy that is at the heart of the work of Google’s Launchpad Accelerator I wrote about last week. None of that would happen if the leaders didn’t understand how powerful empathy and concern are to their mutual success.

Looking more closely at empathy, you see it’s direct correlation to love. Perhaps this is why I fell in love with Lovemarks so quickly after meeting Kevin at Fast Company’s Real Time conference. Or the deep connection to Tim Sanders stemming from his work on “Love is the Killer App“, a modern take on some of the same principles Dale Carnegie surfaced in “How to Win Friends and Influence People“. Today we might adjust that to How to Win Win Win by Helping People (h/t Rob La Gesse from his social media strategy work at Rackspace).

While many may be thinking about the pain of love perhaps due to a recent life event, remember it is not something to be judged in its absence, but rather in its experience. Who among us can’t describe the feeling of being in love as remarkable, joyous, lifting or some other positive emotional energy. Indeed, the radical version of empathy is love.

In Conclusion

If you can go there with your organization and your people, Ecosystem Thinking will create exponentially more value then merely getting to entry level empathy. This is however, only a matter of where are you on the journey, is it already underway with your organization, or are still looking to light the fire and chart your course?

While this journey has been long for me, going back before I even learned about the triple bottom line, much of the BRACE Yourself mindset has its origins in the work we did to evangelize social media back in 2007, like in this presentation I did on Social Media Principles.

Be Human.

Be Aware.

Be Honest.

Be Respectful.

Be a Participant.

Be Open.

Be Courageous.

Still true today as we look at what’s next. But now once again, I am getting ahead of myself though. I haven’t even answered all of the empathetic questions I was seeking to answer in the beginning, but I hope most of that is readily apparent in the prose. Still, some of this needs to be saved till next week. If you read my earlier post Introducing Ecosystem Thinking, you are probably already wondering what is after BRACE Yourself. What does HELP Others, and EACH Moment Matters mean? Turn in next weekend to find out…

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Introducing Ecosystem Thinking

 Ecosystem Thinking = Systems Design + Design Thinking + Holistic Strategy
It seems everywhere I go, everyone is talking about the importance, value and nature of the ecosystem.  It’s especially poignant as I am once again in the middle of one of the most active technology ecosystems in the world, working as a mentor again this week in Google’s Launchpad Accelerator program. In fact, the broader purpose of the program is to cultivate a startup ecosystem globally that engages all key stakeholders in this important sector of the economy.

While I won’t be getting too deep into the Google Launchpad case study today, it is relevant as I sit here in the midst of it, how perfectly it epitomizes what I have been talking about for a very long time. In the room around me right now are many representative stakeholders of the startup ecosystem. Several early stage and growth stage startups, numerous mentors like myself donating there time to help others, Google employees who run the program, Google employees who are here to contribute their domain expertise, a couple of VC partners, several academics and several AI experts.

There are a few foundational aspects to Ecosystem Thinking in my view, but none more paramount then the concept of convening participants for cultivating mutual benefit. The fact that Google does this without any strings attached to the startups, mentors and others beyond that important lesson from philosophers Bill & Ted, “Be Excellent to Each Other”, is literally the icing on the cake.

It is a strategy that many traditional business leaders would consider folly. But this level of openness, of good will and positive intent is the magic that  magnifies the value. No one needs to be here. Even the Googlers are here by choice. Everyone is getting what they need and contributing what they have. We are in it together.

This is another foundational tenet that will be harder for old school companies to support, despite its necessity. The program is designed for the interactions/relationships between participants to provide reciprocity for everyone. As Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable often reminds me, the most important ROI of a community is for people to feel as if they got more out then they put in.

Of course, this is what we learned from bringing Social Media Club to the world. It was also key to my work at Deloitte Digital in the development of the Engagement Curve. A realization that the proverbial lever for creating value and finding market success was the depth and breath of REAL Relationships the company formed with key stakeholders while serving the market. REAL being an acronym for Reciprocal Empathetic Authentic and Long lasting. This is indeed what I feel uniquely here as a part of this Google Launchpad ecosystem, and part of the inspiration for finally writing this today. That sense of belonging, the feeling of being in the right place, with the right people and being valued by the people here as much as I value them. My hope in writing this book on Ecosystem Thinking is to convince hundreds of world leaders from Global 2000 C-Suites to embrace this mindset, but I know that reading about it is no substitute for feeling what I am experiencing right now.

OK, so that is a practical introduction to what I mean by Ecosystem Thinking and some key aspects of it, but what is the key theory? what does it mean?

The Heart of Ecosystem Thinking

Ecosystem Thinking is based on the hypothesis that leaders who optimize their organization’s strategy and operations around the co-creation of shared value will be the biggest winners in their respective markets. This requires leaders to transcend their short term thinking for a more balanced approach to long and short term, with an expanded understanding of who the key stakeholders are. It’s no longer just the investors and shareholders, companies today need to serve the market, not just the stock market. So we accomplish our goals by thinking differently, a mix of systems design, design thinking and holistic strategy, supported by a natural sciences approach to growth and vitality.

Tactically speaking, we have a lot more to share on this, but first and foremost, the work supporting Ecosystem Thinking as I have come to regard it is based on applying experience design and journey mapping to all stakeholder relationships, not merely customers. This means employees, partners, local community leaders, families of employees, alumni and countless others. In our complex world, the only way to engender and earn the trust of so many people simultaneously is to do this intentionally, to come from a position of openness and empathy. A strong ecosystem won’t happen accidentally as it is not human nature to deal with the complexity that this entails.

You see, another foundational belief of ecosystem thinking is that everything matters. So in a world where we strive for simplicity, we often run from this level of complexity, but it is what is required to succesfully compete in today’s world. There are not many people who can contextualize such a wide set of data and disciplines thoroughly to strategically understand and lead an ecosystem, but this is indeed the sort of person that is needed in a role of Ecosystem Architect. I believe they share many character/personality traits in common with community managers, such as genuine concern and the sort of expert relationship management of connecting the right people, and proverbial dots. They also, like myself, typically will have an inter-disciplinary background and as a result, are likely to have a ‘non-traditional’ resume. But I am getting ahead of myself here, so lets wrap this up for now instead.

So What?

In today’s connected society, marked by a near real time market and increasingly higher customer expectations, getting things right is the price of admission in many markets. While we need to understand the sharing economy, the gig economy, the collaborative economy and the virtual economy and how all these evolving aspects of our broader socioeconomic framework impacts our organization, I believe it is the inter-connectedness of all people, information and resources that is truly paramount.

This is why I believe that Ecosystem Thinking will be essential for all organizations, or at least for those companies who are or aspire to be market leaders at scale. In order to enjoy the trust and support of a large market, adopting an ecosystem mindset, and cultivating as many REAL Relationships as possible is a necessity. This is across all aspects of the business – from talent recruitment, to supply chain management, to investments and of course to customer engagement.

To lead an organization that leads a given market is to lead an ecosystem. So studying how this is done well and constantly working to improve is the ultimate key to success. It is also, as we will discuss in the book and over the months ahead, how we reduce costs, increase quality and optimize profitability over the long term.

Are you ready to join this journey? Are you ready to lead an ecosystem?

BRACE Yourself.

HELP Others.

EACH Moment Matters.

This is the mantra of Ecosystem Architects and the change agents who will lead this emerging set of strategies and tactics. Are you ready? Let’s get to work.

Side Note: I’ve been working on this for so long but have been waiting to write and share this introduction till I managed to mold the thoughts into a more linear narrative. After receiving some great validation this week talking to other mentors here at the Google Launchpad AI/Machine Learning event in NYC, I realized I just need to write and refne it all later.

I’ve done a lot of work on this from my early startups to building the platform for the Palm Economy to building a global community of industry professionals. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve spoken to hundreds of experts and practitioners. I was even reminded by my former counselor and mentor Matt Law that Deloitte has a partner focused on Ecosystems now – their report on Ecosystems is here. What’s written above isn’t the full story, it’s not complete, it’s not neat and it’s not ready for prime time. It is ready for constructive criticism, your insights, and your stories.

So this is the official beginning of the book which I’ve been developing across my whole life. To help more people see the world of business, and society more broadly, through the holistic lens with which I have been blessed/cursed. To share models, strategies and tactics that will provide valuable sense making. And ultimately, as the book is currently framed, to provide global business leaders with an understanding of the new mindsets, methods and measures required for optimizing business results in the modern economy.

Thank you for joining us on this journey.

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