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An ecosystem approach to problem solving

Your business exists as part of a value chain – transforming raw materials into the products and services that customers need. You aren’t alone in this value chain – there are other ecosystems with you. Suppliers, partners, customers, competitors and regulators all play a role in your company’s success. Why then, do most companies approach problem-solving is an isolated activity constrained to their immediate sphere of influence rather than involving ecosystem partners? In many cases, the answer is, they don’t know where to begin.

Here are seven tips that your company can use to successfully utilize an ecosystem approach to solving problems:

1. Focus on the shared goal – creating value for customers. Regardless of their role, each party in the value-chain is there to meet the customer’s needs. By focusing on this shared goal, you will have a foundation for solving the immediate problems and identifying the opportunities to work better together in the future.

2. Understand the objective of each party, what success looks like and what motivates them. Companies are made up of humans who are (by their nature) “selfish-beings”. Each person (or organization) will make the choices that they believe will best suit their immediate and/or long-term needs and objectives. Understanding what each party desires out of the situation will enable you to facilitate an outcome that is (ideally) a win-win or at least a fair compromise.

3. Facilitate the flow of information and communication. This is the key to maintaining engagement over time and where an ecosystem approach to problem-solving often becomes in-efficient and breaks down. Information is created, analyzed and consumed throughout the eco-system but (cultural, process, organizational, and logistical) barriers prevent information from being openly shared. Facilitating information flow and removing un-necessary boundaries is key to enabling the parties to work effectively as a team.

4. Zoom out and look at the bigger picture beyond the immediate problem. The reason ecosystem problem-solving is so effective is because it enables you to look beyond the scope of your company to find causes and impacts in the broader environment that are either contributing to the problem or could play a role in resolving it.

5. Leverage external points of view to develop a more complete perspective. Partners provide the capability for an expanded perspective, but it is up to you to assemble the various pieces of the puzzle to see the big picture opportunities.

6. Provide leadership and structure to the problem-solving effort. Highly-effective teams are coordinated, and each player knows both the role they need to play and who to look to for direction. It doesn’t have to be you, but make sure someone is herding the cats.

7. Acknowledge contributions and engagement to encourage ecosystem partners to support the next time you encounter a problem. Remember that the relationships that exist in the ecosystem extend beyond the immediate problem. Take the opportunity to thank your partners as a means of strengthening the relationships in preparation for the next shared problem or opportunity.

Companies that learn to successfully leverage ecosystem partners in the problem-solving processes gain access to a wealth of knowledge and diverse perspectives. This can lead them to more effective solutions and uncover hidden opportunities for future growth that they may have otherwise discovered.

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