The Power of a Platform

Creating a platform that works for you

There is a lot of buzz around the word platform recently. From the source of all knowledge (Wikipedia): “Platform technology is a term for technology that enables the creation of products and processes that support present or future development.” The key word in here is enables. For companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, building open but proprietary platforms that enable innovation while maintaining control of the platform itself has led to enormous value generations for their shareholders and created real sustainable advantage. There is a particular mindset at work here that deserves particular attention because I think there is a lesson that can be applied more broadly by entrepreneurs, managers and executives in every organization.

1. Be humble. This may not be the first term you think of when you think of the heads of company’s like Facebook and Apple. However, one of the first things that should be recognized is the humbleness required in order to embrace the platform approach. Developing a platform requires recognition that you are not the smartest person in the room. You are essentially inviting the invention of others to ensure the value of your own creation.

2. Play well with others. Succeeding at the platform game means you need to be mindful of the success of others. Your success after all is now tied to theirs. Cannibalizing the success of those working to develop your platform is bad manners and eventually bad business. I don’t mean to imply the big four mentioned above haven’t broken this rule. I’m just suggesting it is bad form and ultimately undermines the power of your platform.

3. Incentivize participation. One of the biggest hurdles for platforms is getting to the level of community that enables the network effect necessary to succeed. Platforms are often about scale and so getting people in the door is a necessary first step towards any platform. How easy is it to use? How hard is it to learn about? How can you hear about it? These are all critical factors in determining if your platform will be able to scale.

So why should I care? The companies I mentioned are all giants. If platforms are about scale—how can this apply to me? The answer to this is simple. A platform doesn’t have to span the world in its breadth; it may span just your company or your business unit. The term platform should scale to inform strategic decisions by the largest companies in the world, but also be an important concept for those that are simply trying to develop better mechanisms for collaboration within their office, or engage their customers more directly. The concepts above are just as applicable. Thinking in platform terms is about mindset. The openness to innovation, willingness to work with others and incentivize people to join you in your endeavors is what drives results.

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