10 Traits of a New Enterprise: #1 Every Organization is an Ecosystem

This is a draft article that will be the first in a series on the Firestoker.com blog. I am posting it here first so that I can get feedback and edit it before putting it there. It is also the first rule in my proposed ChangeThis Manifesto. – jevon

Repeat after me Every Organization is an Ecosystem Every Organization is an Ecosystem.

Every Organization is an Ecosystem.

an ecological system is a functional dynamic organization, or steady state. Steady state is understood as the phase of an ecological system’s evolution when the organisms are “balanced” with each other and their environment. This balance would is regulated through various types of interactions, such as predation, parasitism, mutualism, commensalism, competition, and amensalism. Introduction of new elements, whether abiotic or biotic, into an ecosystem tend to have a disruptive effect.

Command and Control. It’s the “gotta have it” of the 21st century business, and baby, those are the top are lovin’ it. For now.

There is a lot of speculation about the impact of the “Myspace Generation” on the corporate organizations of 10-15 years from now, but the good (bad?) news is that the shift is starting to happen more rapidly than we though, and it’s not the Myspace’ers who are pushing it along.

The most powerful and relevant component of the Ecosystem definition is the implication that an ecosystem is a functional dynamic organization that maintains a balance during any particular phase of it’s life.

How can today’s enterprise create and maintain a balanced system through each phase of it’s existence? To find the answer, we must look at the overall structure of the container we are dealing with.

A agricultural ecosystem container looks like the image on the left, inputs come from the outside, and their energy has to be transformed and transferred throughout the system. Internally, the ecosystem maintains the flow of it’s own energy and deals with outside pressures as well as possible.

A corporate structure looks a lot different than this model. We have designed structured and siloed systems that have a hard time dealing with energy. Both outside energy and (fatally) inside energy cannot be handled in a system that does not look like our ecosystem to the left.

Energy inputs in a corporate structure have nowhere to go, and as they bang around, looking for a place to let go, many of the outward facing components of the structure are heavily damaged.

Let’s think about marketing for a minute.

A traditional enterprise structure has a marketing as a department. Each department is reasonably autonomous, and often acts as it’s own independent organization, with power and reporting structures.

When the marketing silo outputs energy and squeezes it out of the organization, it is directed at, in this case, the consumer. That consumer has his/her own ecosystem and must in turn deal with that energy. In some cases the consumer directs that energy into a purchase decision, but that is not the norm. The vast majority of the time the consumer is not ready to use the energy that way and becomes filled with questions. Those questions, curiosities, etc, are then directed back at the company.

A traditional Enterprise 1.0 organization cannot deal with that energy and simply ignores it (our brick wall). That energy then gets reflected back all over the place, and can be highly destructive.

As an Enterprise 2.0 Ecosystem, part of the consumer ecosystem is already inside the enterprise, and pathways (blogs, wikis, intentional and cultural transparency) are provided. When the consumer has energy they need to direct, they can direct it to eachother and to the enterprise.

This is by far not the only example of the Enterprise as Ecosystem and why it works, but as an intentionally simplified example, it provides us some context on the discussion of Organizational Energy.

How do you handle energy, both from the outside, and from within?

The single greatest challenge in becoming Enterprise 2.0 is conquering the external handling of energy, but the hardest test is going to be how you manage your internal energy among employees and partners.

The second diagram on the right shows Enterprise 2.0 as a single box, without Marketing as a separated internal entity. If we were to zoom in on that box, we would see a large network of individuals, all working together. Among those individuals, there are many who’s focus and expertise would be in various flavors of marketing, but they would be closely connected with product development folks, executives, finance and accounting people and anyone else who they need to get their own projects done.

Enterprise 2.0 software is any software that can enable these low cost, low energy but constant relationships to build in a meaningful way.

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