How to elevate your platform thinking – the role of Devil’s Advocates in harnessing serendipity

Platform thinking is gaining momentum and for a good reason. It has disrupted many industries already and it will re-shape our business ecosystem thinking in the very near future. The consequences of this evolution process will be huge and therefore it’s fundamental for us to adapt as early as possible to these changes.

The first conceptual definition of platforms, which I have noticed was by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison in their brilliant book “The Power of Pull” (2010). They introduced the notion ‘pull platforms’. The authors defined the new phenomenon as following:[1]

 “Pull platform is used metaphorically to describe frameworks for orchestrating a set of resources that can be configured quickly and easily to serve a broad range of needs”.

With a wide set of case examples the authors were able to explain in beforehand, already few years ago, the vital benefits of platform thinking. They also predicted with amazing accuracy the vast implications, which platform thinking will bring to out business environment.

The fundamental changes that accompany every shift in the industries, which are getting transformed by the platform thinking are[2]:

1) new networked markets get created

2) new sources of supply start to emerge

3) new consumption patterns will be developed.

4) new and unique combinations of competences will be created.[3]

The first three (by Sangeet Paul Choudary) are certainly valid when talking about traditional platforms, but I added also the fourth dimension, which is available by the use of competence platforms.

John Hagel et al have analyzed ‘pull’ driven platform thinking and they conclude that to exploit the opportunities created by uncertainty, pull platforms help people to come together and innovate in response to unanticipated events, drawing upon a growing array of highly specialized and distributed resources. With this feature a pull platform becomes a real asset for ecosystem builders and in orchestration of distributed freelancer organizations.

In the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambigous (VUCA) conditions the developments and the encounters often are unexpected and hence unpredictable. Pull platforms and the concrete implementation of them called competence platform will help to prepare for the unexpected and act accordingly. The self-organizing characteristics, the agility and open access are the fundamental features of competence platform and vital for survival in out contemporary business environment, and unfortunately not offered by the traditional communication tools.

How do the Devil’s Advocates fit into this thinking, why do we need them? That is a question, which has recently obsessed my mind. And the answer is finally found from Gary Klein’s wonderful book ”Seeing What Others Don’t – The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights”. According to Gary Klein insight, which is the key outcome of serendipity process, will be triggered by (the picture below)[4]:

–      Connections                                                             Klein

–       Coincidence

–       Curiosity

–       Contradiction

–       Creative Desperation

Actually a contradiction is a very strong catalyst for unexpectedness. And there are many wonderful stories in the history of serendipity about cases where especially contradiction has ignited the final insight for a great discovery. Let’s figure out how we can benefit from this approach.

Creating contradiction by purpose is easy, just make sure that there will be enough diversity in your platform and if needed ask some people to play the Devil’s Advocate role. For harnessing serendipity purposes this will certainly be a great alternative. Putting people in front of unexpected contradictions will sparkle their creativity and lead to insightful results.  The role of Devil’s Advocate might be a real catalyst in many communities and companies, as long as it’s understood the right way. Contradictory opinions can stimulate the serendipity process in various ways. Often innovation communities are way too homogenous without any contradictions; the ability to tolerate uncertainty and different kind of thinking is the key to fruitful discussions and hence disruptive solutions in any business ecosystem.

The critical success factor in introducing Devil’s Advocate principle to a competence platform is to design the matching algorithm in a way that also people with totally different values and competences are invited to certain swarms, partups or whatever they are called in various services. The alarming trend with just mixing people with similar interests and values is not encoruraging contradictory behavior – vice versa. So, as a platform operator you will be more successful and have better results with great impact, if you encourage the Devil’s Advocates to do their job properly.

(During the canonization process employed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei), popularly known as the Devil’s advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli), was a canon lawyer appointed by Church authorities to argue against the canonization of a candidate.[2] It was this person’s job to take a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, to look for holes in the evidence, to argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate were fraudulent, and so on.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_advocate

[1] John Hagel III, John Seely Brown & Lang Davison: ”The Power of Pull – How Small Moves, Smartly Made. Can Set Things in Motion”, Basic Books, New York, USA (2010), page 76

[2] http://platformed.info/platform-stack/, Sangeet Paul Choudary.

[3] Ilkka Kakko, Mika Lavikainen, Tatiana Glotova: ”netWork Oasis: New Practises for Emergent Collaborative Working Environments” p. 338 in a book by Luis Camarinha Matos, Hamidesh Afsarmanesh, Martin Ollus (eds) ”Network Centric Collaboration and Supportive Frameworks”, Springer, NY, USA (2006)

[4] Gary Klein (2013): ”Seeing What Others Don’t – The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights”, Public Affairs, New York

 

Karostech Ltd
About The Author
llkka is an experienced visionary with a very diverse professional background. He has worked in managerial positions in big industrial companies and in a public innovation intermediary organization. He has also multiple experiences as an entrepreneur or a major shareholder and board member in several business fields like consultancy, financial services, leisure and creative industries and MLM marketing. Ilkka has served as a board member in several publicly quoted companies in Finland.

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