As we live through these testing times where uncertainty is the only certain thing. As with most of us, I have been observing different governments response to the pandemic. The most effective government have been able to tap into the power of ecosystems to support those in need.
This got me thinking about organisations and specifically financial organisations. Financial organisations for me are defined as banks through to fintechs and everything in-between.
So let’s start with the basics, what is an ecosystem? Ecosystems have been around since the beginning of time, everything and everyone is part of an ecosystem. The term ecosystem was first used in 1935 by Arthur Tansley, an English botanist who was a pioneer in ecology. The ecosystem is defined by the network interaction between organisms and their environment. They are controlled by external and internal factors and are subject to disruption, such as non-native species that can cause substantial shift in the ecosystem.
You can look at this from a financial organisation lens as a network interaction between people, data, organisations, devices and platforms and the environment. They are controlled by external and internal factors and are subject to disruption, such as pandemics, economic downturns, regulation, technology advancements and shifting customer behaviours and needs. We have seen this first hand how a non-native organism – such as the current pandemic – has disrupted every physical, technological and social ecosystem in the world beyond belief.
The ecosystem deeply submerged in the Great Barrier Reef reminds me of Darwin’s quote: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” This is true for financial organisations. The new forming ecology of the ecosystem will force organisations to pivot on products and services and focus on survival, sustainable growth and new unknown strategic directions! The exam question on every CEO’s mind is, “how do we survive this and continuously adapt and grow in this new reality?”. For agility and pivoting to be possible, organisations will need to tend to their internal ecosystems as well as their external ecosystems.
Internal ecosystems can be very complex with micro-culture, silo working and people guarding with fortified processes their own department kingdoms! All this will need to radically shake down where kingdoms will fall, organisations will double down on efforts to remove unnecessary steps, break internal silos work radically different. Building cross-functional teams and reconstructing their organisation design with business value, effective communication and efficiency in mind.
External ecosystems tend to be a web of interconnected organisations where the action of one can affect another. Organisations will need to understand their value changes more clearly and be more interconnected with other entities, forging alliances across multiple industries. Going forward the days of creating products and services all in house will far and few between, mainly due to focus on survival, funding, pivoting and risk aversion.
In the book “Frugal Innovation” by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu there is a concept of constraints that drives real innovation. Constraints of physical distancing, survival, not having the luxury of time and the need to work collaboratively for the betterment of humanity have demonstrated what can be made possible. If you look at the pharmaceutical industry, direct competitors working together opening up their knowledge data and expertise to find a vaccine with human trials started in weeks than years. The rapid pivoting or industries to meet the demand of this pandemic will become case studies in years to come.
For financial organisations to implement this learnings there needs to be an important mindset shift, looking beyond themselves and into how they play in the ecosystem. It’s a symbiotic relationship about how organisations can coexist and grow in the ecosystem.
Here are my five focus points for evolving ecosystems:
1. Adaptable vision
Work in missions! A mission is the execution of your vision. I would argue your mission needs to be no more than three months, better still one month.
You should execute the missions as if your life depending on with the right cross functional team looking at technology, products services you already have and others you don’t which you need to complete your mission.
Key to all missions is feedback, once you have executed your mission you need to feedback its success and learnings to your vision adapting your vision accordingly.
2. Friendly interface
What this means is you are now in an ecosystem, the drawbridge is down and the gates are open. You have to make it as easy as possible for people to connect you to their ecosystem and you connect them into your ecosystem. Developer portal, sandbox, APIs documentation etc. More than this your procurement, legal processes should all be streamlined standardised so you can start using capabilities in days, not months.
3. Be responsible, share and play nice
We have all been doing our bit during the crisis things like social distancing, staying at home, volunteering all for the greater good of the NHS and society, and to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus. Organisations need a similar mindset in an ecosystem, they have do their bit, be transparent with expectations and do things for the greater good of the ecosystem and for the customer.
It takes just one toxic parasitic person or organisation to erode trust and destroy internal and external ecosystems. So its important to be responsible share and play nice.
Experimentation and small bets are key more now more than ever. It’s important to be like the Doc from Back to the Future and use the power of ecosystem to try wild ideas and see what works and what doesn’t.
Use design thinking as a method to ideate, create and validate repeat at pace. It is an experiment at the end of the day and experiments can fail just ask Bruce Banner (an Incredible Hulk reference)!
I was recently watching a masterclass with Sarah Blakely, the creator of Spanx, what an inspirational person, entrepreneur and role model! At a young age her father used to ask her and her brother, “what did you fail at today and what did you learn from it?”. If they had failed and learnt from something then he would celebrate the failure. Organisations need to ready to fail and celebrate the learning to push the boundary of what’s possible. Experimental mindsets help mitigate risk by placing, small bets experimenting, learning adapting and putting things that work into production and things that fail into the hall of fame, google has plenty of examples of this.
5. Invest in human capital
This is the most important point – like a good vegan Bisto Gravy, I have left the best till last! Focus on the people, nothing really happens without the right people. It’s all about skills and attitude not roles and grades.
Organisations need to ensure they nurture the right culture, celebrating rebel forces that challenges the norm and think differently. There is plenty of books on culture and how to cultivate the right culture, the common theme is always the sense of belonging and psychological safety. Teams should feel free to express themselves, provide candid feedback and bring their full self to work without judgement or repercussions. They should feel a sense of belonging, a higher purpose and ownership of the work they are doing and how it supports the vision of the organisation. Once you crack the culture nut and it is the hardest nut to crack everything else becomes easy!
In conclusion, successful ecosystems of the future will be integrated fully and seamlessly into consumers everyday life adapting quickly and rapidly to changes in the environment. Organisations will become accustomed to disassembling and reassembling themselves and their products and services to meet the needs of the customers.
I leave you with my favourite quote so far from the crisis that is easily adaptable to organisations wanting to thrive in the evolving ecosystem:
“Now more than at any time in our history, we will be judged by our capacity for compassion. When this is over, and it will be over, we want to look back on this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness, done by us and to us.”
Bhavesh Vaghela is a senior product owner at Callsign. A digital craftsman at heart who enjoys connecting people and ideas to inspire, innovate and co-create solutions. His passion is the intersection between humanity and technology and doing karmic good with products.
Originally from Manchester he now lives in the Midlands and enjoys blogging, tinkering with his classic Mini and teaching his two kids to code.