Unless your intent is to conceive your own products or services, build and deliver it by yourself and then buy it and consume it alone, you must play to win within an ecosystem. You must also choose the characteristics and limits of your ecosystem — choices that are fundamental to your entrepreneurial philosophy.
As a leader, a builder, an innovator and an entrepreneur, you can be dynamic, fluid and flexible — find ways around execution obstacles and competitive forces. Be filled with energy and generate power and movement — innovate constantly, move people to excel, and energize customers and markets to grow with you. You can choose to exert your power by being calm and gentle or forceful and deadly — building an organization that creates value on every front seamlessly and is feared by competitors for its ability to innovate, execute and compete. You can choose to be an inclusive provider — the builder of a giving ecosystem that is a desirable place for employees, buyers, investors and partners to live and thrive. You can be an ocean.
Life Began in the Ocean
The ocean is a self-sustaining ecosystem with a balanced food chain; an environment where energy and nutrients are passed from one organism to another. It is a place where all participants can feed, procreate and grow. An environment where balance is not translated to equal distribution but efficient, appropriate and timely allocation. The ocean is an ecosystem where constant exchange of value and life between its inhabitants and the continuous give and take with all that surrounds it is the daily norm.
To be an ocean is to be a provider to all that come in contact. To be an ocean is to embrace the unknown and appreciate the undiscovered. To be an ocean is to give life, to sustain life and to shape life. It is to be resilient, patient and clam peaceful while holding the power to unleash anger at will and destroy everything that opposes.
Be a Provider: Connections to Build
An ecosystem is all about connections and reciprocity. Often the survival and growth of one species is directly connected to that of another. Being a provider is more than selling a product to your customers, giving a paycheck to your employees or placing an order to your suppliers. A provider is a connector, a builder, a promoter and a trusted friend. The provider facilitates the creation of a network of value to all involved. The provider can lead and motivate others in the ecosystem to continually look to the depth of the unknown and discover new value. In other words, innovate. Beyond people and activities, a provider helps connect ideas and opportunities.
To be a provider you have to be a connector. To be a connector you have to be aware of the connection points and the moments of interaction. A provider is in tune with the needs of the ecosystem and aims to create the connections and circumstances for the needs to be satisfied. It is important to note, that the provider does not satisfy all needs but creates the environment where the needs can be satisfied. For an entrepreneur provider, every connection must matter. Warning: feeble links weaken the entire ecosystem.
Exert Energy: Forces to Leverage
If you choose to adopt ocean-like characteristics, you have three type of forces at your disposal — energy generated through wave-like motions.
i) The slow and steady waves that ensure incremental progress and help you build your organization’s culture.
ii) The magnifier waves which are often caused by external market and major customer movements. Waves that generate massive energies. Forces that, if captured in time and effectively directed, can help you evolve in an orderly fashion and, if avoided, can be detrimental.
iii) The destructive waves (Tsunamis), generating the maximum force. They are caused by major innovations and market dynamics — the creation of the iPhone, Internet based commerce, AI, etc. These waves are designed for destruction, they cause bankruptcies and most of the time, irreversible demise (e.g. blockbuster, Kodak, and Sears).
Exercise Your Option
You can be the ocean or a part of an ocean — your pick defines your path and upshot. Within an ocean, you can choose to be a surfer and aim to time the breaks (like the investors who intend to time the market and get in and out of stocks), or you can choose to be a shark or a bottom feeder (enjoy the ecosystem but narrow your contributions and your domain of influence).
Being ocean like is not about the size of your reach or the immensity of your aspiration, but the spirit that you embrace. You can be a river that travels to oceans, providing to villages along the way. You can elect to be a lake that serves a community, filling up with rainwater and from local streams. Your choice of your sphere of influence, markets, products or services will most definitely change your priorities but it will not change your fundamental entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs Grow in an Ocean
When I was convincing my parents to let me immigrate to the US at the age of 16, I used the words of my grandfather when he started his journey to a bigger city close to 100 years ago: “Small fish grow in small waters, big fish grow in the ocean.” I used the analogy to compare the United States to Iran (my birthplace). Over the years I have learned that it is neither the vastness of the land that defines your growth nor your placement in the ocean that secures your success, but your ability to place the ocean inside your thoughts and behavior. It is your ability to become a dynamic provider who embraces change and turns movement and friction into waves of energy that fuel your success.
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This is a condensed version of the original article that may appear in Sid’s next book.