Overcome The Biggest Challenge in Innovation Ecosystems: Ecosystem Mindset

We are fighting against our societal conditioning that says in order to succeed we have to follow the rules, exert control over our domains and play within pre-determined boundaries. In fact, everything ingrained in us goes against applying ecosystem mindset.

I recently chatted with several people who are actively involved in innovation ecosystems.

The research sample included those from pharma, aviation, entrepreneurship, FMCG, smart city and manufacturing ecosystems.

What struck me was that even though they were from different sectors, different countries and were playing different roles in their varying types of ecosystems, all of them had the same challenge: the individuals and organisations who participate in these ecosystems lack ecosystem mindset.

As a result, their innovation ecosystems are struggling.

An ecosystem mindset requires a move away from ‘we are in it for ourselves’ to ‘we are in it to build value together.’

The reason why most of us lack an ecosystem mindset is because we are fighting against our societal, parental and organisational conditioning that says in order to succeed we have to follow the rules, leverage linear and institutional pathways, exert control over our domains and play within pre-determined boundaries.

In fact, everything that is ingrained in us goes against applying ecosystem mindset.

Here are some of the things we need to encourage our ecosystem role-players to unlearn and then re-learn to address the issue of lack of ecosystem mindset:

Unlearn: Rewards and value are extracted.
Re-learn: Rewards and value are built together. 

When someone extracts rewards, they disregard and can damage the rest of the ecosystem. They see and act for their own short-term financial benefit, ignoring the greater purpose of the ecosystem. They don’t give to the ecosystem; they just take from it.

Contrast this with a scenario where all the role-players give value to the ecosystem and then share in this combined value from their various perspectives.

An innovation ecosystem that successfully solves for access to clean water can have commercial benefits, research benefits and community benefits.

The scope of financial and human impact increases all round for private, not-for profit and public organisations alike.

Unlearn: Trust and transparency leads to everyone stealing our ideas.
Re-learn: Trust and transparency leads to stronger partnerships.  

There are few truly original ideas in our knowledge economy. The successful execution of an idea is far more difficult to achieve and far more valuable when it is actually achieved than any idea alone.

The usually unjustified worry of others stealing our ideas is what leads to lack of trust when collaborating. People hold back unnecessarily. This in turn impacts on the potential of the ecosystem’s outputs.

When ecosystem role-players let go of this worry and simply just trust, it becomes easier to work openly with others and do what it takes to co-develop successful offerings with greater value and abundance for all involved.

Trust is built when those involved contribute what they say they are going to contribute. Trust is broken down when what is promised does not get done.  This simple approach leads to the right role-players remaining in an ecosystem and those who are lacklustre naturally leaving it. 

Legal agreements and ecosystem governance are mechanisms to support this, but the human factor will still play out either way when it comes to trust. 

This does not refer to patentable inventions and technologies, which can still be protected. 

Unlearn: Avoid risks and then lay blame when something goes wrong.
Relearn: Risks can be taken together; we learn faster from our failures.

An ecosystem mindset is underpinned by an entrepreneurial mindset, where risks and failures are par for the course.

With entrepreneurial mindset, individuals shoulder the risk to build a minimum viable product. In ecosystem mindset, all the stakeholders shoulder the risk to build a minimum viable ecosystem that can in turn consistently produce successful offerings and solutions to big problems. There will be scenarios where an ecosystem configuration does not work and needs to be re-attempted by all involved with a different configuration.

It is sad that a large percentage of ecosystems that fail initially will never see the light of day again and sadder still that a large percentage of executives insist upon quick wins rather than being willing to let cross-collaborative teams fail and try again.

Everyone in the ecosystem needs to be conscious that failure is par for the course, and that by trying again together, the ecosystem can succeed.

Unlearn: Our organisation needs to be in top-down control of a product and any partners.
Re-learn: Multiple organisations can play various roles in an orchestrated product development process.

Traditional organisations operate from a place of fear and power. An organisation like this will want higher levels of control and ownership of any products produced. These types of organisations will be open to partnerships to ensure their products succeed, but will still want to be the dominant partner, calling all the shots and accruing the bulk of the rewards.

Progressive organisations are adopting the power of shared value co-creation, where they work with other organisations, academic institutions, entrepreneurs, communities, or entrepreneurs to co-create new offerings that elevate stakeholder value across the board. The parties play various roles in the ecosystem. One party can play the role of ecosystem orchestrator, others can be core-collaborators, others can be support-collaborators. No one role is considered more dominant than the other. 

The heart of a successful ecosystem is an implemented solution to a problem, not one all-powerful organisation.

Unlearn: I am an employee with a pre-defined role to play.
Re-learn: I am a value contributor with multiple sets of value to contribute.

Institutional thinking has taught us to go to college, then get a salaried job, then stick to the role within that job, then play out a career path linked to that role. In fact, it is hard to even get a job if you have gone against convention on your life journey.

Yet the value each of us has to offer is much broader in scope than our limiting roles and job titles.

Ecosystem mindset enables us to unleash the true value of individuals, giving them the opportunity to contribute to areas where their full abilities were precluded before.

To take this a step further, it is my belief that individuals should be rewarded according to the value they bring to life and not by their hierarchical title. This is a big mindset shift for the corporate world, but less so for the entrepreneurial one.


An increasing number of organisations and individuals are playing in innovation ecosystems. Building an ecosystem mindset is a foundational requirement for our ecosystems to succeed. To do this we need to unlearn existing behaviours and then reprogramme ourselves for an ecosystem economy.

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren Fleiser

Lauren is a co-Founder of The Collective Organisation. She is an entrepreneur, educator and innovator, fully immersed in the world of boundary spanning innovation.

Share this post:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share this post
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Related posts