Winning The Right Game

The basis of competition is changing. Are you prepared? Rivalry is shifting from well-defined industries that deliver clear products and services to broader ecosystems that deliver expansive value propositions: from cars to mobility solutions; from banking to fintech platforms; from pharmacies to health management centers; from production lines to intelligent factories. Industry boundaries are collapsing everywhere you look, and the trend is accelerating.

Today’s leaders are already wakeful, even to the point of insomnia. For many, however, wakefulness has added confusion rather than clarity. Why? Because as competition has spilled beyond traditional boundaries, their strategic challenges no longer fit within their strategic frameworks.

Classic disruption was industry disruption. Modern disruption is ecosystem disruption. Ecosystem disruption occurs when the introduction of new value propositions impacts competition across industries, erasing boundaries and overturning structure. Traditional rivals pursued the same prize with clear winners and losers; today’s challengers are pursuing different goals and focusing on different metrics as they wage their attacks. Traditional rivals focused on their own execution to gain advantage in cost and quality; today’s challengers assemble new sets of partners to create value in ways no individual firm could hope to deliver.

Ecosystem disruptors are not just adding competition, they are redefining the foundations of competition: they are changing the game. Whether you are attacking new markets, or trying to repel these attacks where you live, you need a new perspective on competition, growth, and leverage. Success is no longer simply about “winning,” but about making sure that you are winning the right game.

At its heart, ecosystem strategy is about partner alignment. Customer insight and great execution are the necessary but no longer sufficient drivers of success. As delivering your value propositions has become more dependent on collaboration, finding ways to align your partners has moved to center stage. In industries, working with partners meant mastering supply chains and distribution channels—everyone understood their role and position. In ecosystems, the challenge is aligning critical partners whose vision of who-does-what may vary dramatically from your own.

This means that the notion of winning itself must become more nuanced. Winners in industries dominate at the top. Winners in ecosystems can create and capture value from a variety of positions, and choosing where to play is just as important as what, how, and when to play.

For startups, getting these questions wrong manifests as painful pivots—attempts to reposition themselves in the market, not understanding that the key to success is not a different value proposition but rather a better approach to aligning the partners that will give life to their offer. For large corporations, it manifests as endless pilots—attempts at creating new value that succeed in their test-site demonstrations, but fail in the commercial market when partners refuse to scale on the terms you had envisioned. For all organizations, the result is hard work, by good people, that never gains the traction it deserves.

More broadly, we have entered an era that calls for organizations to approach their value creation holistically. The rise of stakeholder capitalism compels firms to recognize their roles and responsibilities in their communities and society at large. Rising to meet this challenge, and turning this requirement into an opportunity, demands an ecosystem-based approach.

Organizations differ in their specifics. For this reason, answers regarding strategy are rarely right or wrong in a universal sense—a strategy that is great for one organization may be disastrous for another. Strategies very clearly are, however, better or worse in terms of consistency and fit. What matters then is crafting strategy that suits your firm, and communicating it persuasively enough to drive coherent action across the organization.

Everyone is playing to win—the key is to be sure you are trying to win the right game.