Esko Kilpi on Interactive Value Creation

The art of interaction, the design of digital and the science of social complexity

Tag: Supercell

Why companies don’t grow – The idea of the platform company

The effects of Moore’s law on the growth of the ICT industry and computing are well known. A lesser-known but potentially more weighty law is starting to replace Moore’s law in strategic influence. Metcalfe’s law is named after Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet. The law states that the cost of a network expands linearly with increases in the size of the network, but the value of the network increases exponentially. When this is combined with Moore’s law, we are in a world where at the same time as the value of the network goes up with its size, the average costs of technology are falling. This is one of the most important business drivers today. The implication is that there is an ever-widening gap between network-economy companies and those driven by traditional asset leverage models. Traditional business economics focus on economies of scale derived from the capital base of the company, which tends to scale linearly

In practice this means that digital services can attain the level of customer reach and network size, required to capture almost any market, even as the size of the company stays relatively small. This is why network-economy based start-ups have such a huge advantage over asset leverage based incumbents.

The principles behind this are not totally new.

It used to be argued that goods for which the marginal costs, the cost of producing one more unit of customer value, were close to zero were inherently public goods and should be made publicly available. Before the digital era, roads and bridges were commonly used as examples. Maximum benefit from the initial investment is gained only if the use is as unrestricted as possible. People should have free, or almost free access.  Once the capital costs have been incurred, the more people there are sharing the benefits, the better it is for the whole value system in the future. This was the economic explanation for why roads were, and still are, under public ownership. The same logic applied to public libraries: a book can be read repeatedly at almost no extra cost.

What used to be called “public goods” is today called “platforms”. A new form of a company is being born!

Once the up-front costs have been incurred and the platform is established, the more people there are who are sharing the benefits, the greater the net present value of the whole value system becomes.  A platform company should therefore be as open, as accessible and as supportive as possible, to as many users as possible.  This is unequivocally the route to optimum value creation.  Moreover, the higher the value of the system, the costlier it becomes to all its members to replace it – creating a major barrier to entry.

Restructuring a firm for the new world would require concurrent relative downsizing of legacy systems and upsizing of the new open platforms.  As both are explicitly costly things to do and the financial rewards of the latter are typically deferred, the exercise becomes challenging for incumbents to implement within the constraints of the existing financial frameworks. But it is happening!

Internet scale economies can create almost boundless returns without the company growing at all. The goal of Supercell is to be “as small as possible” as Ilkka Paananen has said. At the beginning of 2013 Tumblr had only 145 employees and 100 million visitors. That meant it had 700.000 visitors per employee. The sheer size of an enterprise will tend to mean less in the digital network business than in the world of physical goods. Companies don’t grow any more in the way they used to! It is the networks that grow!

But something else needs to change too: customer focus has been the dominant mantra in business. Everybody knows that everything should focus on the customer. However this is not enough any more. Up to now, business has focused on the customer as an audience for products, services and marketing communications. In the world of digital networks, the customer will be transformed from being an audience to an actor. The activity of the customer focuses corporate effort.

The central aggregator of enterprise value will no longer be a value chain, but a network space, where these platform companies are fully market-facing and the customer experience is defined by applications connecting to the platform.

The basis of executive power is shifting from being in charge to being connected. New leaders understand that power with people is much more effective than power over people. It is about integrating the best of networked thinking and leveraging the new platforms for value creation.

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Thank you Sasu Ristimäki for the iterations and thank you for developing my thinking.

More on the subject: Jeremy Rifkin.

The importance of SLUSH

The creative era we live in is an age of unprecedented possibility compared with the industrial age. Totally new opportunities are systematically being created. One of the best examples of this is the SLUSH event that took place in Helsinki on November 13th and 14th. SLUSH is a two-day startup conference, a meeting point and a coming together of roughly 6000 people belonging to the international startup ecosystem. There are entrepreneurs, investors, startup founders, employees and students taking part.

The democratization of technology that is taking place at the moment does not determine social and organizational change, but does create new opportunity spaces for new social practices. Some things are becoming much easier than before and some things are becoming possible, perhaps for the first time. The vibrant startup culture proves this point.

There are very few isolated geniuses. But there are many bright people who have continued and improved the work of others. Capable people always have capable peers, people who act as filters connecting them with people and connecting them with high quality information. The goal of SLUSH is to “gather the connections that startups need to thrive on the global stage.”

In a sense, creative people are more remixers of other peoples’ ideas than inventors. Technology and development are not isolated acts by independent thinkers, but a complex storyline, where the storytellers and curators, are more important than the heroic inventors, if there ever were any.

Creative, connected learning is at the core of the startup business. SLUSH is a huge learning festival and the biggest concentration of positive energy I have seen in a long time. Businesses and non-profits like SLUSH, more than government, seem to be driving the changes in education that are required for the knowledge-based economy. The government-run education systems are lagging behind the transformation of learning that is evolving.

Learners are teachers and teachers are learners during the two hectic days of SLUSH. Creating learning connections is more valuable today than creating learning content. Information is becoming a process of continuous iteration and networked negotiation. Information networks are the architecture of work and a valuable, shared resource. These networks are the new commons. In the new commons people with many ties are better informed and have more signalling power, while those outside the commons and with few ties may be left behind.

The real forte of SLUSH is that as we engage in new relationships, we are creating new potentials for action. Every human relationship, every connection, serves as a model for what is possible. The Internet era has proven that we are capable of working together competitively/cooperatively and building social communities that some time ago many would have dismissed as impossible dreams.

Thus we don’t yet have a good idea of what cannot be done by connected people working together in new ways. Perhaps “We can walk on water” as @pvesterbacka from Rovio says in a very compelling way.

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Thank you Miki Kuusi, Ilkka Kivimäki, Peter Vesterbacka, Inka Mero and the whole team! And yes, Supercell! It was a great party!

More on commons.

What Supercell can teach us about the future of work

The new landscape of work is alien territory for most of today’s business leaders and business schools, but things are already moving towards a new world.

The new landscape consists of the network as the architecture of work and work as coordinated action between non-co-located but interdependent people. The astonishing thing is that we can find an existing, efficient, working model for this kind of digital work. It is games.

The game environment may be the next productivity suite available for digital work. Adopting the best qualities of games could help firms to meet the pressing challenge of highly mobile and distributed work.

What, then, can be learned from these games?

The pace of games is normally very fast and requires fast decision-making. Decisions are typically based on incomplete information and are always iterated as more data become available later. You can’t take a lengthy pause to strategize and to weigh up the options. The culture needs to embrace changing decisions, learning and adopting constant corrections to the course that was initially chosen.

Acting is always based on uncertainty. You can’t succeed in an uncertain environment without trial and error, without taking risks. You can’t embrace risk taking without accepting failures. Here the game environment is fundamentally different from most corporate cultures. Frequent risk taking and confronting risks routinely help players to learn to keep paradoxes alive calmly and to live efficiently with continuous change.

Management in games is often temporary. People switch roles. They direct others one minute and take orders the next. Management is a task. It is not a position, or part of the identity of an individual. Companies often identify people as leaders because of the high level of potential they show early in their careers. That model may not work in the future. The growing complexity of business means that no single leader can handle all the different challenges any more. Treating management as a temporary state and a task can be the new model of the future. The whole assumption that leadership resides within an individual may not be correct at all.

Getting the network environment right for cooperation is imperative. Efficient digital environments make information open to all of the players, all of the time. This information includes quantified-self type statistics and trend information for reflexive work. Real-time status updates on operations make planning the next move easy.

The mainstream corporate approach to knowledge management has assumed that thinking and doing are separated. In the game environment a player is expected to act on information, without waiting for instructions from a boss. The most interesting thing in the game environment is that it allows people to take responsibility, to assume leadership as and when needed.

The widespread adoption of game mechanics for coordination and taking responsibility would require a dramatic change in mainstream organizational culture. However, the games are here today and the generation that has grown up playing the games is growing up and joining corporations.

They are going to be the drivers of the change towards a more creative, productive and more fun work environment.

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