Leadership in a world of platforms, networks and ecosystems

Movements, ecosystems, platforms, networks, hypes are all indeed hypes at the moment. That changes leadership. A shift from hierarchies to networks. From rigid to loose. From command and control to self-organising. From cogs in a machine or outputs and inputs to relationships as part of a network. From moving pieces on the board to shaping the ecosystem. Conventional notions of strategy, planning, and execution are gone. You don’t have the time.

Too slow

Conventional hierarchies are often too slow and cumbersome to function in the world today. In order to compete with networks, they need to become networks themselves. Armies, religions, and even charities are being thwarted by far smaller adversaries who, in turn, later face similarly disruptive challengers. Optimisation of value chain and linear economy of scale are becoming obsolete.

Shorter lifespan

Everyone from chess masters to CEOs retain their status for far shorter periods than they did a generation ago. A study by the consulting firm Innosight found that the average lifespan for a company on the S&P 500 has declined from 33 years in 1964 to a mere 24 years in 2016, and it estimates that it will shrink to just 12 years by 2027.  Of all the companies on the first Fortune 500 list in 1955, 87% no longer exist. A generation ago, we would expect a dominant model in an industry to last an entire career, whereas today, we can’t depend on a business model lasting even a decade.


That has implications for your leadership style. Our need to be able to weave networks that were resilient, adaptable, and based on shared values. If you do, you can achieve an increase of overall operational efficiency by a factor of seventeen. Which suggest there is an economy of scale in ecosystems. Hence the rise of platforms. The role of leaders is no longer to coerce action but to inspire and empower belief. Networks have important advantages over hierarchies. Hierarchies are expensive and difficult to maintain. Leadership must provide standards, governance, oversight, and resources.


Greg Satel wrote “Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change”. What makes some movements stick, and others don’t. The aspect, which successful movements often share with unsuccessful ones, is network cascades. This simple formula—small groups, loosely connected but united by a common purpose. Movements tend to start slowly (sometimes taking years or even decades to gather strength) but grow as the density of connections between small clusters increases, eventually hit a critical mass, and finally explode (or percolate, to use a more technically accurate term) to create the potential for transformational change.


The evidence is clear. In a world pervaded by digital technology, power no longer resides at the top of hierarchies, but at the centre of networks. Movements become successful by expanding out, always seeking to widen their appeal. It is not the passion and fervour of zealots that creates change, but it is when everyone else joins the cause that a movement gains power. When you create clear purpose and values and devise a plan to win over converts in the populace as well as within institutions, can help you make a positive difference in the world.

The lessons from the book

  • It is not “special people” who create change, although some with great talent can help to inspire it, but small groups, loosely connected and united by a common purpose.
  • Coupled oscillation is important. You need people to synchronise their behaviour.
  • Cascades tend to feed on themselves because they never stay localised.
  • Trying to force collective action is futile—people need to decide to do it by themselves.
  • Information spreads not through best friends but casual acquaintances
  • Most change movements start out in a small, distinct group that has little in common with many potential constituents and supporters.
  • Loosely connected small groups can drive massive synchronised behaviour, as long as some element of randomness is introduced in the system (and in the real world, randomness almost always comes into play).
  • It is the connections between people that are decisive.
  • Disturbance in one part of the system eventually ripples through every other part of the system, finding vulnerable clusters as it travels. Eventually, the entire order is disrupted, much like the cascading failures in the electrical grid.
  • We tend to see success and failure through the prism of strategy and tactics, and that is, to a certain extent, true. But we also act according to how we see the world. If we see the world as a series of networks and ecosystems, we are likely to act differently.
  • Every movement for change has a trigger.
  • Cascade makes change possible, but it doesn’t make it inevitable.
  • Every revolution sets the stage for a counterrevolution.
  • Cascades are only useful if they result in influence, and to do that, they must travel far beyond where they start.
  • True power does not lie at the top of hierarchies but emanates from the centre of networks.
  • It is not the nodes, but the network that drives transformational change.
  • You create change by bringing people in, not pushing them away.
  • It is not connection alone that creates a cascade, it is the connection to higher threshold groups.
  • If the desire for change remains with the zealots, it won’t go anywhere. It’s only when everybody else joins in that a transformational change can take place, whether that change is in a community, an organisation, an industry, or throughout society as a whole.
  • All too often, a moment is misunderstood to be a movement.
  • Plans that are focused solely on rallying the faithful are doomed to fail. The only thing you will accomplish is to harden the support of those who oppose your vision of change. So when you see change as a zero-sum game, you are mobilising your opponent’s forces as much as you are your own. Nobody wants to lose, but everybody wants a better tomorrow.
  • You do need to win the support from those who don’t necessarily agree with you from the start.
  • When building a network for mobilisation, it always pays to start early.
  • Successful movements do not overpower, they attract.
  • It only takes a few rock throwers among a cast of thousands to discredit an entire movement.
  • Cascades are forces of nature. Small groups, loosely connected, but united by a common purpose is a valid principle whether the network is citizens in a revolution, employees in an organisation, consumers in a marketplace, or snowy tree crickets in a forest.

8 steps 

The author gives eight steps

  1. Identifying a keystone change. Use a keystone change to drive transformation forward. You need to identify a fundamental issue that encapsulates the value of the mission—a keystone change that is concrete and tangible unites the efforts of multiple stakeholders and paves the way for greater change.
  2. Create a shared purpose and shared consciousness. Indoctrinate genomes of values.
  3. Make change foundational. To create meaningful change, you must put forward an affirmative vision for what you want the future to look like. You have to define an alternative that is actually better, not just for those who agree with you, but for the vast majority of those who will be affected by the change you seek.
  4.  Build a network of small groups.
  5. Create platforms for participation, mobilisation, connection, governance and cohesion. The decentralised nature of movements raises serious issues of governance and coordination that can cause things to spin out of control.
  6. Know your spectrum of allies. “Sun Tzu wrote ‘know yourself, know your enemy and know the terrain.’ The spectrum of allies is the terrain.
  7. Know your pillars of support. Chart where key institutions stand related to the vision for change as the movement progresses and see what influences their attitudes.
  8. If you want to make a difference and not just a point, you must make a plan. A movement without a plan is nothing more than a revolt.

Survive victory

This is the most important message from the book. Every revolution inspires a counterrevolution. That is the physics of change. Every action provokes a reaction. The goal of a movement, as he sees it, is not to preserve the excitement of the heady days of struggle, but to become mainstream, to be mundane and ordinary. If you are successful, it should be difficult to explain what was won because the previous order seems so unbelievable.

Your new role as a leader

General Stanley McChrystal likens the role of leader to that of a gardener. The role of leader can no longer be “that of a controlling puppet master, but that of an empathetic crafter of culture.” Strategy, in other words, is no longer a game of chess, but a matter of widening and deepening connections. Your role is to inspire and empower belief. From ego-system to ecosystem.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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