Ecosystem Analysis: What Are We Looking For?

 If we start by explaining ecosystems by using the “predator and prey” analogy in nature, we end up with a traditional hierarchy of actors, with status based on power and influence. This is a simple yet effective way to start thinking about the roles of the various participants in an ecosystem.


When we analyze an ecosystem, we are looking to learn the following:

  1. Who are the players, the participants in the ecosystem?
  2. What roles do they play?
  3. Why are they able to command attention? What are the sources of their power and influence?
  4. How did they achieve their position in the ecosystem?  Who are their allies?  enemies?
  5. Where do we want to play?  Do we have the capabilities to compete? How will we “win”?
  6. Who are the stakeholders?
  7. What opportunities and threats can we identify? How healthy is the ecosystem?

Business Ecosystem Evolution

Participating in an ecosystem is an active job. In terms of business ecosystems, we can track how a startup grows its ecosystem over time:

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This ecosystem growth is a function of participation. The more interactions, transactions, and value-exchanges we see, the more dense the ecosystem surrounding a firm.  A dominant position in a heathy ecosystem – that’s the goal of ecosystem strategy.

Tracking ecosystem growth and your firm’s position in it, is one way to measure your  future success. Invariably, companies with stronger and wider ecosystem ties are harder to compete against. They are far more resilient than businesses with weak ties to their ecosystem partners.

Business Ecosystem Roles

In general we can identify and classify participants by the roles they play in the ecosystem.  For example:

Principals: the business power-brokers that exert their dominion over the larger ecosystem usually through economic strength and market presence

Thought-leaders/Influencers: the leaders that shape the future with their ideas and actions

Niche-leaders: these are leaders in a category or sub-category and may be quite small compared to the principals

Connectors: those that help orchestrate value exchanges between various participants (we haven’t forgotten John Hagel’s infomediaries)

Enthusiasts: promoters of ideology or brands

Customers/Consumers: those that purchase satisfaction for their needs

Participants: those engaged in transactions and value-exchanges (includes customers)

Learners: those engaged in learning and promoting improvement in practices and standards

Observers: those not participation but still interested in the ecosystem

Media: those reporting on ecosystem news and opinion

Regulators: those interested in regulating the ecosystem (may be government or governmental agencies)

Rent-seekers: the corrupt players that seek to leverage power through corruption

Society: wider societal stakeholders

Taken together with society, these constitute the main stakeholders in an ecosystem.  Over time, roles change as does influence.

Analysis: The Business Thought-Leadership Ecosystem

Let’s interpret this online ecosystem map of Harvard Business Review and see what we can learn:


For starters, the ecosystem is fairly dense and well balanced.  The players around include some of the most important business thought-leadership sites in the world, including the leading management consulting companies, institutions like the World Economic Forum, policy and financial institutions, economic, entrepreneurial and environmental think tanks, as well as the leading business journalism and news sites.

The colors indicate attention – or traffic.  In effect, the chart is a heat map, ranging for high attention indicated as red (hot) to low attention sites indicated as blues (cold).  Harvard Business Review itself is well situated, well ahead of the World Economic Forum, for example.

Why is this ecosystem important?  It is quite simply, the ecosystem of leading ideas in business.  So if you plan on making a dent in the universe of management thought, this is where you will have to be heard.

Once we understand how the particpants are engaged in this ecosystem, we can begin the to plan our ecosystem strategy.

NOTE: Ecosystems are dynamic, and change over time.

What this means is we can track the rise and fall of a particular player over time:

  • Are they gaining or losing influence?
  • Is our message or point-of-view gaining traction in the ecosystem?
  • Have we learned what it takes to succeed? To win?
  • What actions must we take?

Stay tuned for more on ecosystem analysis.

SEE ALSO: Visualizing Flows: Mapping the Ecosystem