From Products to Platforms

At any major construction site in your city, you’re sure to find platforms. As a building rises higher and higher, the platform provides a place where a variety of people—including electricians, engineers, site supervisors, and inspectors—can stand.

Digital platforms serve a similar purpose—and as technology evolves, their value will grow exponentially. The proliferation of cloud, social, and mobile technologies have contributed to what has been called “a globally accessible network of entrepreneurs, workers, and consumers who are available to create businesses, contribute content, and purchase goods and services.”

As Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Paul Choudary have argued, there are three key factors that determine the success of a platform strategy: the ability of others to plug into the platform to share and interact, the ability of the platform to attract those who will produce and consume content, and the ability of the platform to foster exchange and create value.

In every sector of the marketplace the shift from products to platforms is already well underway. Your company should not be asking how to keep up. What you should be asking is what steps you need to take in order to set your company apart.

Less Is More

It takes discipline and intentionality to create and maintain content that is clear and concise. The web platforms of undisciplined businesses and haphazard organizations generally stand out not because they contain so little, but because they try to do too much. In the process, they lose potential customers and cause fatigue in over-stimulated supporters.

While many organizations assume an attitude of “the more the merrier” when it comes to content, believing this will naturally result in more attention, more engagement, and more sales (or donations), the precise opposite is more often the case.

Kristina Halvorson, founder of Brain Traffic and author of Content Strategy for the Web, suggests that anyone with a web platform needs to ask two questions to determine the value of content. First, does it support a key business objective? Second, does it fulfill your users’ needs?

Does the content on your platform hold up to those two criteria? An effective content strategy will enable you to confidently answer yes to both.

Invasion of Ideas

It is not primarily sweat and muscle that build an empire, and it is not enemy spears and chariots that destroy it. Rather, empires – and organizations – rise and fall on the basis of ideas. As Victor Hugo put it, “One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.”

Rome was doomed to defeat by conflicting internal ideas long before its fall in the fifth century A.D. The United States was founded on the ideas of truth, justice, and freedom. This idea of a free world was instrumental in defeating the competing idea of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Don’t underestimate the power of ideas to determine the trajectory of your organization.

Start With Why

Anthropologist and author Simon Sinek discusses how great leaders inspire, arguing that vision – not process – should lead in business ventures. “People don’t buy what you do,” he says. “They buy why you do it.” His cites the innovative ways Apple markets and sells its products, how the Wright Brothers became the first to take flight, and how Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired and led the civil rights movement (the famous speech was called “I Have a Dream,” after all – not “I Have a Plan”).

To capture your audience, whether in business, art, non-profits, or politics, you must first show them how the world would be better through what you offer. Show them the vision, the why, and then make a killer product/system/event to fulfill that vision.

Ideas Are Dangerous

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”
– Oscar Wilde

It is all too easy to hide behind the conventional, the traditional. This hiding place is often dressed in the proverbial language of wisdom: “the tried and true,” “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” “always has, always will,” “classic,” “proven methods,” and “time-tested.” But this mentality is commonly driven by fear, not vision. It becomes a habitat of security and serves to insulate from risk. While the well-insulated house keeps its cool in the heat of summer, it is not immune to the wildfires of commerce. Sometimes the best route is the route of risk. So embrace the dangerous idea that dangerous ideas are necessary for sustainability, innovation, and growth.