…and then you win…Gandhi, platforms and 2013

First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.

That’s one of my all-time favourite Mahatma Gandhi quotes. [But it doesn’t displace the No 1: When asked what he thought about Western civilisation, Gandhi replied “I think it would be a good idea”].

Whenever I think about paradigm shifts, particularly in the context of those influenced by technological advances, the Gandhi quote comes to mind. Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma covers some of the relevant ground, but doesn’t evoke the emotional dimension quite as succinctly as Gandhi does.

We’ve been in the midst of a massive change in paradigm for some decades now, what John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison referred to as The Big Shift. Driven by continued and continuing advances in digital infrastructure, and augmented by liberalisation in public policy, businesses now operate in markets where competitive intensity is increasing, where barriers to entry are reducing sharply, where margins are hard to sustain.

There are many ways to characterise the shifts taking place. Hierarchies to networks. Stocks to flows. Centralised to distributed. Broadcast to peer-driven. One-way to two-way. Command and control to community.

These shifts, in turn, create the beginnings of other, more complex shifts. Markets affected by the Big Shift tend to move to the extremes of hyper global/low touch or hyper local/high touch; the middle ground becomes hard to hold, whether in terms of size or scope.

Industries that relied on “national” boundaries find this very hard to deal with. It is therefore no surprise that media, entertainment, telecoms, banks and airlines, amongst others, feel like they have been caught in a crossfire for a very long time.

There’s a good reason for them to feel that way. A simple reason.

They have been caught in a crossfire. Between hyper global and hyper local.

My friend and colleague, Sean Park, has written about this for some time now, about the effect of digital markets on business. [If you want to learn more about it, you should visit his blog The Park Paradigm. It is also very instructive to read Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital to get a related perspective]. That will be the subject of a different post, probably sometime in January 2013.

In this post, I wanted to concentrate on the subject of platforms. A few days ago, I suggested that 2013 will be the Year of the Platform. Today I want to spend a little more time explaining why.

Connectivity is becoming ubiquitous and affordable, as is access to compute power and storage. Smart mobile devices are everywhere and allowing everyone to connect to everyone else, allowing everything to connect to everything else. Soon it won’t just be our phones that have SIM cards and GPS: so will our pets, our pots and our pans.

The communities that are formed by such connections create new market opportunities. In the past, such opportunities were only accessible to those with the right background, the right connections, the right education, the right socio-economic status, perhaps even the right lineage. Those barriers are weakening day by day as the internet, the web and smart devices are enfranchising billions in new ways. And not surprisingly, those whose power came from the protection afforded by those barriers are seeking to use the remnants of that power to delay the inevitable. That’s why, nearly a year ago, I wrote about why I was so pleased to see SOPA and PIPA and ACTA come and go…. They were so clearly acts of desperation, with unintended benefits…. They helped wake people up, helped educate them about what was at stake.

What we saw last month at WCIT in Dubai had similar characteristics: desperate actions by those who saw their power being eroded, a protest movement in response, publicity about what was going on, education of the man and woman on the street, and ultimately failure of the intended action.

We’re going to see more of this cycle in 2013. Even dinosaurs learn to dance. But the desperate dances are not going to be the main event of 2013.

Because the main actors of 2013 are people similar to you and me, yet subtly different. People who for the first time will be enjoying the power of ubiquitous affordable connectivity, compute power and storage. People enjoying this power wherever they are, whenever they want to, for whatever they like.

That power creates opportunities for people to build markets and communities; this has already
been happening for decades now, but we’re going to see this trend accelerate in 2013.

As more and more people find new ways to connect with each other, they find new ways to create value for each other.

For each other. Important words. I will come back to them.

These new ways to connect and to create value in turn create opportunities for others, to build tools that help people do this.


Platforms come in many shapes and sizes, guises and disguises. A credit card is a platform. So is a car. A mobile phone is a platform. So is the Web. Communities and fora like the World Economic Forum and TED are platforms. So are political parties. An airport is a platform, so is a newspaper.

Platform. A term that means so many things to so many people. Yet when you look at platforms from a digital perspective, some common elements emerge:

Platforms are open. Of course some platforms are more open than others, as barriers to entry are retained, often by incumbents, often, sadly, with the assistance, sometimes even connivance, of regulators. Incumbents tend to have considerable financial power until they cease to exist.

Open means open to competition. Open means allowing participation by all. And this has implications on standards, on prices, on prerequisites, on the cost of entry and the cost of exit.

Platforms are adaptive to the environment. They’re elastic, allowing participants to scale both up as well as down. They’re responsive to change: cost of change is as important a measure as unit cost in a market where change is a constant. Adaptation and scaling take place at speed, allowing creativity to operate at the pace of the market, not the incumbent.

Platforms enable ecosystems. They are “multi-sided” like exchanges and marketplaces, focused on simplifying interactions between participants.

As David Weinberger said recently, the smartest person in the room is now the room.

In 2013, there’s going to be a room born every minute. A very smart room.

Those rooms are going to demand support for their interactions and their creativity, as they change the way they live. That support is going to come from platforms.

Platforms. Open, adaptive, enabling. Allowing ecosystems to be formed and to flourish.

Technology vendors understand platforms. Even incumbent technology vendors understand platforms. But many of them are tied to hardware or processor licensing models, the DRM of the computer industry.

Apple’s climb to the stars has made some of these vendors relive their dreams of yesteryear, allowing them to believe that the money’s in hardware.

The money’s not in hardware.

It’s in ecosystems. (And if the ecosystems support elegant and well-designed hardware, that’s great.)

But it’s the ecosystem that matters, not the hardware. I think it was James Gosling who described OSX as “Linux with QA and Style”. No ecosystem, no hardware sales, no hardware margins.

People forming communities to do magical things together; people building infrastructures that enable this to happen: people creating value individually and collectively across the whole spectrum: in education, health and government; in business and in the arts; in personal lives as well as in community.

All this has been happening for a while, in a William Gibsonish future’s-here-but-unevenly-distributed way.

But a change is gonna come. This whole space is going to get injected with “quantum energy” as the number of empowered people gets to critical mass.

2013. The Year of the Platform.
The Year of the Open Adaptive Platform.

Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you for spending time visiting this blog, reading what I have to say, commenting on it, helping me learn, helping me share.

As usual, comments welcome. But I may not respond straightaway, I’m largely offline for the next week or so.

28 thoughts on “…and then you win…Gandhi, platforms and 2013”

  1. The year of the platform; and, in Higher Ed ….. the year of Blended Learning (occurs on campus and via online {MOOCs, et.]. This creates silos for students. A platform whereby the students can have ONE access point to track all their academic, career, etc. activities is needed.

    By the way; 7/8 years ago I was told I was crazy – studentforce would never happen!!

    Happy New Year!


  2. Excellent piece of work. I got here from Chris Brogan’s share on G+ and I’m glad I did! Thanks for providing this insight!

  3. I think that the easing of entry barriers *will* bring about more sustainable innovation. Communities have different priorities. That’s why in open source “profits” are socialised and “losses” are privatised. Abundance economics.

  4. The challenge that I’m really excited about probably is still a little way off … platforms are appearing in “connected healthcare” but at the moment they are still islands failing to share data or leverage a genuine all-encompassing solution to start leveraging the richness of data to help control healthcare (especially in the US). Funnily enough I’d blogged about if earlier this evening – http://post.offbeatmammal.com/connected-healthcare-still-a-pipedream

  5. JP
    Another piece of forward thinking on “Open Adaptive Platform” that links well to your “collaboration flows” requirements you addressed in your blog https://confusedofcalcutta.com/2012/06/17/continuing-with-the-social-enterprise-and-flows/ I am sure you will be aware of Adaptive Case Management. See the comments by Tom Koulopoulos here http://www.acmlive.tv/agenda.html I think all are agreed the current state of enterprise software is woefully short of modern day requirements he concludes “….ACM that will take the applications that support knowledge work well outside of the box, connecting us to way we really work”.

    “Adaptive” is the key requirement to move forward. There are two absolute requirements that any new platform needs to deliver.
    1. Agility/flexibility in the software for quick change to reflect business requirements and
    2. The user interface that can focus on the customer by delivering all required information, formal and the “informal”, to the recognised user for that instance of the task in hand in a user friendly format for both use of information and collection and creation of new information.

    Then there is “Open” a much abused term in “IT”. Is this not more about transparency at a level that all interested parties can understand what is actually happening? Such knowledge then supports good decision making supported by “Adaptive” capability.

    With our 20 years R&D and being in the “ignored” category of evolution finding that elusive TLA that the industry loves has been a challenge. We have been “ridiculed” by “IT” who do not believe that business requirements are simple and can be addressed by less than 13 work task types, thus no coding to build custom solutions. The innovators dilemma is our battlefield for the “fight” where David and the Goliaths will meet. What is winning? Well survival in a hostile environment is a start but as informed comments emerge that allows us to find our role then the playing field levels…… a bit.

    I think that delivering ACM will require what you describe as the Open Adaptive Platform. The critical requirement is the underlying Software capability and so Adaptive Enterprise Software (AES?) will be our “tag”? Are you ready for this? Maybe you should see as you move from ignoring to winning? 2013 will be an interesting year – have a good one.

  6. “Platforms are open. Of course some platforms are more open than others, as barriers to entry are retained, often by incumbents, often, sadly, with the assistance, sometimes even connivance, of regulators. Incumbents tend to have considerable financial power until they cease to exist.” – that should have been in Animal farm. Spot on.

  7. My next post or two are probably going to focus on open data, and as you say this is really critical for healthcare to move into at least the 20th century if not the 21st

  8. Thank you Philip. The example you cite on clinicians is a good one. Need time to digest the whole post though…

  9. There’s a business network called Ecademy which uses the terms “open, sharing and random” and “closed, controlling and selective” to identify two extremes of social platforms.

    It’s a little disappoint that so many plaforms are branded. Rather than offer a mediun for innovation to regard their existence as innovation in itself.

  10. Spot on JP – I think back to Highland Park – Henry Ford’s model factory for mass production that opened in 1910. In Highland Park, all the elements of the mass production platform were visible. I think there are many platforms today Etsy. AirBnb etc that show us how this will be done in some detail today

  11. JP, I think I understand what you’re trying to get at in this post on “platforms”, but the word “platform” is getting in my way, since I see the world as protocols vs platforms, or as I like to put it, “lines vs boxes.”

    To me, the web is a an open protocol (actually an evolving set of open protocols). Linux, Windows 7, OSX, and iOS are platforms (only the first of which is open). The web is composed of boxes (platforms) connected by lines (protocols).

    Both platforms and protocols can be open or closed (and to varying degrees). The web is arguable the most open set of protocols in history. But credit card networks, eg the Visa network, are fairly closed protocols that are nonetheless more open than the credit card platforms that compose the networks.

    I’m a big believer that protocols are more important to ecosystem evolution than platforms, even biological ecosystems. For more on the fundamental importance of protocols in biology, see the work of John Doyle ( http://www.cds.caltech.edu/~doyle/ ); for example, this paper on biological protocols: http://bit.ly/VvL2A0 .

    This is especially true of “hourglass” protocols (or as Doyle calls them, “bowtie” protocols: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bow_tie_(biology) ). I call the process of architecting such hourglass protocols “middle-out” architecture (to contrast it with top-down and bottom-up): http://bit.ly/VvLHBC .

    I consider this the era of open, middle-out protocols, with the web being the era’s paradigm. Networks are more powerful than nodes; lines will trump boxes; protocols will outlive the platforms than implement them.

    Happy New Era!

  12. nice piece – love to hear more on the evolution of platforms and enabling content/data…..whats in store ….etc

  13. Hi JP,

    Loved the post but would like to point out a factual inaccuracy (the quizzer in me is still alive..lol days well spent trudging the quiz circuit in Calcutta…Derek O’Brien..Dalhousie institute et al)

    The quote “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.” is wrongly attributed to Gandhi. Apparently, there is no record of Gandhi saying this. A close variant of the quotation first appears in a 1918 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein:
    And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
    Proceedings of the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (1918), p. 53

    Keep those ideas flowing…….



Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.