Don’t ecosystems belong in nature? Isn’t orchestration to do with music? Yes and yes, but also, no 😊 as you will (hopefully) find out, these metaphors effectively provide meaning to practical and theoretical management concepts.

You might realize that academics like to use big words because of the need to convey complicated things in simple ways. Likewise, businesses like to use buzzwords to stay up-to-date with the latest talk and trends. Often, this results in terms being adopted and interpreted in many different ways where they risk losing meaning and understanding. While it is not necessarily wrong for terms to be applied in different ways, and there is beauty in this creativity, it is useful if there is an agreed consensus on what is meant.

Almost a year into my PhD on innovation ecosystem orchestration mechanisms, I still wonder myself what exactly that means. So, let’s go back to basics and unpack this. Please note: this is my perspective and developed understanding so far – subject to change and interpretation!

Starting with innovation, this essentially refers to the creation of change. The scale of this change can vary from incremental improvements to completely disrupting markets, as well as radical breakthrough change or more architectural improvements to a product/service. But, creating change for what? Innovation and innovative thinking span many contexts and provide tools suited to address challenges across the board including business, social, and environmental.

For innovation to materialise, there are clever strategies that bring together diverse set of actors (private companies, startups, government, etc.) to work together towards an aligned goal in which they can co-create shared value. This is what we call an ecosystem. This can be challenging as it relies on interdependencies – the dependence of two or more entities on each other – among these actors to make this happen.

A way to approach this is for a ‘hub firm’ to take the lead and orchestrate these activities. The role of an orchestrator is multifaceted whereby they can attract new actors to the ecosystem, facilitate resources and interactions between actors, resolve any tensions that may arise, find alignments across the ecosystem, and so on. What is unique about this management style is that it is intended to be non-hierarchical and instead focused on fostering cultures that create innovative thinking. I like to think of orchestrators as positive encouragers, empowering supporters, and uplifting influencers.

As for mechanisms to do this, I will leave you on a cliffhanger for a future blog post where I can share some results from my findings!

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