Ecosystem concepts need attention

Know your community's ecosystem.

A sound way to look at your community

Think about the human immune system. It incredibly complex and incredibly smart and compare it to your community’s ecosystem. Your immune system knows when you are getting sick. Sometimes days, months or even years go by, long before the disease is eventually diagnosed.

Think what you could do if we were able to read the tiny, microscopic signs of our immune systems. We could catch and treat diseases like ovarian or pancreatic cancer before they become deadly. An early screening tool like that could save millions of lives a year. Microsoft is now working to make it a reality.

So it is with a community ecosystem. It too is incredibly complex and incredibly smart. Your community immune system also shows the signs when it is getting sick. It can be days, months or even years before the problems are recognised and any action is taken. In the meantime, the community struggles to keep pace with the wants and needs of the community

The word ecosystem was coined in the 1930s by British botanist Arthur Tansley. He referred to a localised community of living organisms interacting with each other and their particular environment of air, water, mineral soil, and other elements.

These organisms influence each other and their terrain. They compete and collaborate, share and create resources, and co-evolve. They are inevitably subject to external disruptions, to which they adapt together.

What makes up your ecosystems

Approaches to defining and measuring ecosystems vary widely however, there are existing resources and frameworks which are key:

  • Entrepreneurship. It is the number one influence and impact on any ecosystem, to solve problems, visualise the future and join up the dots.
  • Finance. Includes access to capital; access to grants; access to angels; banks; microfinance institutions; public capital markets; development finance institutions; government finance.
  • Business support. Includes networks, clusters incubators, accelerators, legal and accounting services, business advisors and mentors and technical assistance.
  • Markets. Includes population mix, domestic, international, consumers, distribution networks, retail networks, marketing networks and access to raw materials.
  • Infrastructure. Includes water resources, electricity providers, transport providers, communications (mobile, internet) and other utility providers.
  • Human capital. Includes schools, TAFE colleges, universities, technical skills available, hospitals and health services, community engagement.
  • Research and Development. Includes public research centres and laboratories as well as private research centres and laboratories, local information and knowledge bases and hubs.
  • Culture. Includes media, government, schools, professional associations, social organisations which support the culture of the community
  • Policy. Includes tax rates, tax incentives, costs to start and run enterprises, level of government interference, quality of local politicians and bureaucrats.

Ecosystems are always changing, parts dying and parts being reborn

The concept of a business ecosystem first appeared in James Moore’s May/June 1993 Harvard Business Review article, titled “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition”. It won the Mckinsey Award for the ‘article of the year’.

Noticing growing parallels, business strategist James Moore imported the concept to the increasingly dynamic and interconnected world of commerce. As he wrote in a 1993 Harvard Business Review article:

“A business ecosystem is an economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organisations and individuals, the organisms of the business world. The economic community produces goods and services of value to customers, who are themselves members of the ecosystem. The member organisms also include suppliers, lead producers, competitors, and other stakeholders”.

“Over time, they coevolve their capabilities and roles and tend to align themselves with the directions set by one or more central companies. Those companies holding leadership roles may change over time. The function of an ecosystem leader is valued by the community. It is because it enables members to move toward shared visions and find supportive roles.

“Successful businesses are those which evolve rapidly and effectively. Innovative businesses cannot evolve in a vacuum. They must attract resources of all sorts, drawing in the capital, partners, suppliers, and customers to create supportive networks. I suggest a company be viewed not as a member of a single industry but as part of a business ecosystem crossing a variety of industries. In a business ecosystem, companies co-evolve capabilities around an innovation. They work cooperatively and competitively to support new products, satisfy customer needs, and eventually incorporate the next round of innovations”.

The community’s enterprises

The enterprises are embedded into a business environment, it needs to co-evolve with other businesses. The particular niche a business occupies will be challenged by newly arriving species.

Businesses and non-profit organisations need to become proactive in developing mutually beneficial relationships with customers, suppliers, and even competitors.

Studying the community’s ecosystem is a more productive way of developing and commercialising new products and services. Some view the rise of ecosystem thinking as an opportunity for creating a compelling, unique competitive advantage.

Understanding of the ecosystem helps to put all the parts of the community in alignment.

Using biological concepts to understand your community

The term ecosystem is part of a recent trend toward using biological concepts to understand better ways to succeed in business. Advances in technology and increasing globalisation have changed ideas about the best ways to do business. How to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. The concept of a business ecosystem can help in this regard

The rules for business success are changing as we transition from an industrial-era to a knowledge-era and beyond. There are both negative and positive consequences, as old rules do not work so well anymore. If change is suddenly thrust into communities and businesses and they find it hard. They are finding it difficult to respond and survive. The good news is there are new tools to help address the challenges in improving a community’s ecosystem.

Making Breakthroughs and improvements to the ecosystem puts into action new ways of thinking about the future. Including the future of small businesses, non-profits and their communities.  They can deliver on the rhetoric needed in a more timely and affordable way to create:

  • Better communities, which create
  • Better businesses and better community organisations

Dealing with changes in the ecosystem

The rapid rate of change requires communities and their businesses to innovate faster than ever before. Technology innovation alone is no longer sufficient to achieve success or growth. The ecosystem needs innovation in business models and information sources. It is a bit like having the right fertilisers for your garden’s ecosystem.

Think for a minute, what happens to your vegetable garden when the very beneficial worms disappear. When the nutrients and moisture dry up, the worms leave the garden and go looking for what they need to survive. Then you have to go to the expense of adding fertilisers and water systems to get them back.

Traditional business models focused on competitive advantage based on product excellence. Today they need more focus one in-house technology, innovation, knowledge management and careful management of scarce resources and supply chains. Businesses need to extend to information management and into the virtual, digital domain and the era of mobility and the flexible working environments.

Business and non-profit organisations must not only understand the broad environment in which they work. But also they must shape those situations if they want a thriving ecosystem. This will support their goals and the aspirations of the community if they want long-lasting, sustainable growth and prosperity.

Quotable Quotes

“A community should work as hard to retain good businesses for their ecosystem as they do to find new ones”. Peter Sergeant

“People need to know that they have all the tools within themselves. Self-awareness, which means awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships. Not only with each other but with life and the ecosystem”. Deepak Chopra

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