In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Ron Adner, professor, keynote speaker, advisor, and author of Winning the Right Game: How to Disrupt, Defend, and Deliver in a Changing World and The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See That Others Miss. Ron Adner talks about his research on why companies fail and what they can do to advance in an era of ecosystem-based disruption. Professor Ron Adner also shares mindsets and frameworks necessary for leaders to develop new strategies. Finally, Ron Adner shares examples of the success of ecosystem thinking, including the HHS's (Department of Health & Human Services) Operation Warp Speed focused on developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.
-Ron Adner on the true meaning of innovation and how everyone can use innovative thinking
-How leaders can take advantage of the opportunities in the ecosystem
-Leadership's role in the changing nature of strategy and strategic thinking
-Ron Adner on why we need to change our thinking about competition
-Professor Ron Adner on what it takes to build an ecosystem
-The importance of winning the right game in business
-How shifting to an alignment mindset can enable organizations to deliver results
-Ron Adner on ecosystem thinking and its impact on the speedy development and rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines
-Steven Sasson, Inventor of the digital camera (Listen to Steven Sasson’s episode on Partnering Leadership here)
Connect with Ron Adner:
Winning the Right Game on Amazon
Ron Adner on LinkedIn
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
Mahan: Welcome to partnering leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming. Ron Abner. Ron is professor of business administration and professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the tuck school of business at Dartmouth college. He's all ward winning research introduces a new perspective on value creation and competition.
When industry boundaries break down. And that is exactly what's been happening. He's two books, the wide lens. What successful innovators see that others miss and winning the right game, how to distract. Defend and deliver in a changing world have been heralded as landmark contributions to strategy literature, clay Christianson, whom I quote frequently describe Ron's work as pathbreaking and Jim Collins.
Also called Ron, one of the most important strategic thinkers of the 21st century. I have really enjoyed reading Ron's books and understand strategy differently. So when I'm working with clients, rather than having them depend on old and outdated frameworks that many organizations are still using in thinking through strategy.
I rely on much of what rod shares in his writing, including in his book, winning the right game. So I really enjoyed this conversation and I'm sure you will too. I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. Muhammad Mohan tavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com.
Really enjoy getting those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast. Tuesday conversations with magnificent change makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region and Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders like Ron. Now, here is my conversation with professor Rod Adner.
Mahan: Ron Ad ner welcome to partnering leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
Ron: It's great to be here with you. Thank you!
Mahan: Ron. I love your book winning the right game, how to disrupt, defend, and deliver in a changing world.
But before we get to that, Ron, we'd love to know whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.
Ron: I grew up in the New York area. I was always curious and allow it to be curious, went to college for engineering. And I went into engineering because I was always interested in the question of innovation, but then I decided to do my PhD work, not in engineering, but rather at a business school, because I'd be became convinced that a lot of what we attribute innovation failures to are actually not so much about the technology and the creation side so much as.
what it is that has been asked for. And more importantly, what happens after you deliver the goods to the go-to-market place so that's been , my intellectual journey has been, how do you think about innovation in a world where people know how to innovate? What do you need to worry about next?
And that's where this whole. Approach of thinking about the overall ecosystem that surrounds the effort and recognizing that it is as critical to get, right. Is the effort itself that's where that all comes from.
Mahan: that's a very helpful background. You also mentioned innovation. You have a great book on innovation, the white lens that you had written previously. there are some words, including innovation that are used in business by a lot of people. So when you talk about innovation, what do you refer to?
Ron: great question.
Because we have all these words that are now used so much that they barely mean anything,
Innovation, disruption. Ecosystem.
so yeah, very happy. At least give you the definitions I operate. Broadly, when I think about it, innovation, it's an effort to put some new version of value creation into the world, it's something new that you're doing with the goal of creating some value for someone, with some expectation of a return for that. So those are the three aspects that if you can't articulate, you're not really saying anything. When you say the word innovation, the value going to create where you going to create it for and what you expect in return for your effort the notion of an ecosystem, which is today almost as overused for me is.
The question of, okay, you have an innovation have this value proposition, what needs to be put around it in order for you to deliver that value? What's the structure of interaction of the partners that needs to come about to deliver that value proposition and what that highlights by the way, is that.
Sometimes you need to affect that structure. You need to change the membership. You need to add partners. And then what you need is an ecosystem strategy. Sometimes you don't need to do that stuff. Sometimes. You're just create your piece and it plugs in beautifully into the existing system.
And then you don't need to worry about ecosystems. You just need to worry about execution. And that really is the point of departure for. My work for both of these books. It's what happens? How do you think differently in a world where, what matters is your ability to execute on your piece and what changes when it turns out there are other pieces that need to be brought into the game.
And that's this second world that I spend mostly.
Mahan: I love that perspective on innovation. Most specifically, Ron, because a lot of times innovation.
is seen as something that technology companies
engage in. And the fact that when you think about a few, the ecosystem that you talked about, it actually makes innovation more accessible to all kinds of organizations.
Ron: I'd say it makes it more folk. Cause look everyone, if you're in HR and you're trying to come up with a new. Talent assessment protocols, That's an innovation. Okay. It's trying to create value for your company. There's a, end-user and there's some expectation for what you're returning, That's not necessarily measured in dollars and cents, but you're doing this effort. That's non repetitive for a reason. And then the question there is all right, that's the innovation you're going after. What's the extent to which what you need to do is come up with this great diagnosis. And what's the extent of which okay.
If you had that diagnostic, now you need other people to adjust for it to matter, Do you need department leaders to change the conversation they're having with other people? And that puts us into this world that I explored in my first book, which you mentioned wide lens where the idea was all about how do you understand the interdependence.
how do you see interdependence in your value creation and the distinction I drew there was narrow lenses. I need to focus on execution, which is always important, but sometimes I need a wide lens where if I'm depending on other people, the two pillars of the wide lens, where the question of co-innovation, I'm going to do something new.
Does anyone else need to innovate for my innovation? And that's distinct from my adoption chain, which is I need to have an innovation that creates value for this end consumer could be external consumer, could be internal consumer, does anyone else needs to buy in besides the end consumer for me to deliver my value proposition.
And again, you can see how this applies in a product space, in a service space, internal clients for external. And all that was the beginning of this journey of, if I'm thinking about an initiative, what do I need to see where this new book came from when either the right game was the question of, okay, this is how people are innovate.
If they're pulling together more and more pieces, and by the way, when you look around, it does seem that's all the exciting part is being done, not alone, but through collaboration, if that's how people are innovating how does that change the way we need to think about competition? How does that change?
What we need to think about strategy with a big S and that's what winning the right game is all about.
Mahan: And that's why it's really relevant, Ron. I'm involved with, and I've seen a lot of strategic planning processes in my interactions with senior teams. In many instances, they're still relying on. The old thinking that I studied when I went through a business school, Porter's five forces play a big role. So you say that the nature of competition has changed and therefore strategy.
And the strategic thinking needs to change and take into consideration is ecosystems. How has nature of competition changed in your view? And therefore, how does the nature of strategy and strategic thinking need to change?
Ron: it's a great question. And it's a great point. most organizations today, for-profit non-profit government, what have you, strategy is a very challenging, that's the polite way of saying, ? Usually strategy devolves into a budgeting exercise. Budgeting and benchmarking against competition.
by the way, that's very hard through challenging. But I would say more and more it's feeling like it's less productive, It's more obviously less productive. And the reason for that I'll suggest to you is that, so in the old world, we used to have things that you would talk about as.
when you went to business school and then we taught you industry analysis and we taught you Porter's five forces. That was an incredibly powerful framework to help us understand how companies within an industry would compete with one, another Ford versus GM.
And so usually think about we to entry substitution, we think about bargaining power. With suppliers and buyers, That's like your quick review of core strategy, 1 0 1. But the thing that if you step back, you realize was presumed, was this notion that there was this industry and we all knew what it was.
So Ford and GM in the car industry, that was one kind of world. it's a challenging world is hard to think about differentiation. do focus low cost, etc. But it was really clear what they were competing over, right? It was the purchase of a vehicle. And the way you make money is by selling cars.
Riding. If you look at that space today, If you talk about a car industry, you sound very naive because suddenly we have all this intelligence in the car and electrification. And when you look at a company like Tesla, that's involved in. Car production. And at the same time, their distribution channel is so different.
They don't have dealers and they're doing repairs through over the years updates and there's a charging infrastructure. That's tied into your mobility experience, right? That doesn't look like a regular competitor. That's not like Toyota entered the market with a more efficient supply chain. And what do you do?
It's more like, wait a second. what's the mobility offer and what is it? They be. And that's the world of today, ? It's like, okay, my day job is I'm a professor classic disruption in higher education was the university of Phoenix coming about, this was a big deal 20 years ago. Wow. These guys are coming in and their physical canvases, a hotel and their costs are so much lower. And are they going to be able to disrupt higher ed with the. not as good, but good enough offer if it's sufficiently cheap, like a higher today.
And it's like, wow, Coursera, that's a different package, It's they've shifted from are they going to be a a technology substitute for the classroom, but rather oh, their certification they're working with universities. All the chairs are being moved around into this new value proposition.
And this is where all of our old strategy tools break down because they were never built for a world where the value proposition itself was changing. They were built for a world where we saw the industry with you, the industry. And the question was how to compete in that box. That was the industry today.
The boundaries are getting erased and redrawn. That's why we need a new toolkit. Of not just frameworks, but fundamental concepts to accommodate these new interactions.
Mahan: This is a point I want to underline Ron, which was something that was an aha for me. I've been a big advocate for clay Christianson's work on a lot of different areas. Love his thinking. This goes beyond the jobs to be done framework, which is important. Therefore, The kind of thinking you're talking about with respect to ecosystem requires to go outside of the normal questions that I know many senior teams and many executives have been asking themselves.
So the more insightful ones were going beyond just the function of. Car in that case and asking themselves what's the job to be done, moving a person from one place to the other. That was insightful. But what you are proposing is a step beyond that. It's a look at an overall ecosystem that breaks a lot of molds of the way a strategy thinking and planning has been done.
Ron: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. And so you have to get jobs to be done. You have to have that customer insight, but it turns out that having that customer insight right, is the starting point, not the ending point of the journey because the world we live in today, the follow-up question is, so how do we deliver that value?
And I think most of the way in which we've been trained to think is ah, okay, there's a job. I'm going to do the job and I'm going to deliver like me to my customer. And I fight off my rivals. Whereas the world we're talking about this notion of an ecosystem is the recognition that.
A couple of different folks are going to need to figure out how to bring different pieces together into a structure that makes sense for each other, in order to build that value proposition that they can then present to the end consumer. And so in, I'd say in the old world, the kind of the narrow lens industry world, which is remains very important, key criteria were like, you have a good idea for your consumer.
And can you deliver it? Whereas in this new world, you need to have a good idea for your consumer. You need to be able to deliver. But what you need to recognize is that often you're delivering just a part. And now your challenge as a strategist, as an investor. And by the way, as an employee participating in this and you're putting time in career at stake is do I have a plan for bringing the other partners into this game?
In the way that I want it to be played. And so ecosystem strategy really becomes alignment strategy beyond just our old version of competition.
mentioned the fact that a lot of our thinking in strategy has come from the competition and the military thinking of battles and win, lose, rather than coalitions and cooperation that it takes, which is why. It's winning the right game. I also really enjoyed reading your Kodak example because it's one of the examples that I hear repeatedly
However, most people use it totally incorrectly assuming that everyone at Kodak was asleep at the switch and they weren't. What happened to Kodak and how would have recognition of operating in an ecosystem being potentially
Ron: All right. Let's like a warning to the listener, right? Who I'm sure everyone who's listening to this. podcast heard the Kodak story 50 times. So just before you tune out the point of this is that it turns out that the story that has been embraced for since 2012, when they went bankrupt about why they failed, which is, oh this is a company that they invented digital technology, and then they were so rooted in their old chemical ways that they couldn't overcome.
Internal inertia and they couldn't master this new technology. And because of that, they died, they couldn't adapt to the landscape. Which is a story everybody's been told by the way, the very strong application of, oh, don't let that be you. So take more risks and don't be like Kodak.
That story turns out to be a hundred percent, literally. 100% anyone listening, the first chapter of both books in fact, is available on my website. So you can read that Kodak email@example.com and the reason to read it is on page one, I'll give you the answer, which is so Kodak turns out became totally transformed itself into a digital printing company.
All this stuff people said would be impossible for them to do, and that they struggled both through the nineties. That part is. Through the two thousands, they become a spectacular digital printing company. They become the number one seller of digital cameras in the country. They become the number four printer company.
They have 1100 digital imaging patents. totally amazing. And then they still die. So that part is true. But look, the reason that Kodak collapses, because they made this bet on becoming a digital printing. And then what happened was that digital viewing the phone in your pocket becomes a substitute for the picture in your wallet.
And it's digital viewing that collapses the proposition of digital printing, right? Which is by the way Kodak went bankrupt, but HP and Lexmark were damaged by the same thing. the reason to focus on this by the way, is. In some ways what's so poignant here is all right. So there's a misunderstanding of the story.
And now as soon as I say it, it's the iPhone that killed Kodak, it was like, yeah, totally get it. That's fine. The point is to ask for why were we so sure that it was inertia that killed Kodak for 10 years, really smart people looking at this story and really trying to help organizations, everybody saying don't be like Kodak because.
Organizational inertia is what kills you. For me, the power of really understanding this new kind of disruption is that it raises, first of all, it should make you very scared, right? Because suddenly this thing you were sure about for 10 years turns out to be a hundred percent wrong. And I have this the opening quote to chapter one is this quote from mark Twain, which is what gets us into trouble is not what we know.
It's not what we do. It's what we know for sure. That just needs so, so what is it that made us so confidence in the misdiagnosis of the codex and what is it that we need to understand in order to not to fall into that trap? And in some ways, what Kodak captures is here is the risk of using the old tools and winning, but winning the wrong.
That they were focused on the winning in the digital printing game. And they succeeded in winning there. They succeeded in the transformation, but it was the wrong transformation. They won the wrong game and that feels a lot like losing. And this is why we need this new perspective. That's the risk that we're facing for the old rules.
Mahan: In the two thousands, they transitioned effectively to that digital model. I actually had a conversation. Steve Sasson, who is the inventor of digital photography? Back in 1975, he had some initial trouble at the beginning and through the nineties also, as you mentioned, however, by early two thousands, the executives got it and understood at this, the fact that they needed to make a transition to digital.
But what you are saying is that they. Had a great strategy in the wrong game targeting the wrong thing and winning the wrong game. Doesn't do you any good?
Ron: Yeah. And so, got to meet Steve and I, some extensive interviews, the assassin and I about this case. And I think what was really interesting here. And again, if you're listening and you're in an organization, the inoculation of year, Is people within Kodak had some suspicion that this was going on, but what was missing was a way of expressing it coherently and being able to really debate strategy at a strategic level, rather than focusing on what's the relative market share and what's going up and down And I think both of these books, both wide lens and right game become vitally important to me that when people read them the way to read them is not just, oh, here's a new set of frameworks and concepts that let me get to a better answer. It's these concepts and frameworks are also a language that will help you get other people.
The people you're, depending on. Onto the same page. if you're the only person in the room with the right answer, you're basically useless, right? Your job is to get everybody to the right answers so they can work coherently. And here again, this is why we need a language that is appropriate for the task.
Mahan: That is a critical point that you make Ron communicate your plan throughout the organization to keep others committed your quote, Malcolm Gladwell. You cannot make sense of things you can't describe. And one of the challenges I see in organizations is vast majority of people in the organization. Can't describe that strategy.
So a group of smart senior executives. Sit in a room and come up with a strategy. And in some instances might consider ecosystems, many more of them need to do that, but that is not something that people in the organization understand and are able to embrace own and communicate.
Ron: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. the be there is that, yeah that Malcolm Gladwell will quote one. It's every chapter. I start with a quote, as you know, and chapter seven, which is about strategic clarity is collective. I start with this Gladwell quote, which is you can't make sense of the things you can't discuss.
But the corollary at the Abner corollary to that is what that means is that you or people can't understand your strategy if they can't describe it. And that really is the call for, it's not enough for leaders today to think they have the right answer. It's the things that we're asking people inside the organization to do The interactions, they need to manage a more complicated.
And so it's just as important to get them trained up and skilled up in this strategic thinking. As it is quite frankly, to have the top because the top without action from the rest of the organization is really not doing this very much.
Mahan: in thinking through this, Ron, I think some aspects of it I would categorize somewhat as mindsets of reflecting on ecosystems, the ownership and the understanding that needs to happen in the entire organization. Making sure to focus more on collaboration and partnerships. Rather than the typical competition.
So how can leaders then approach their strategy and strategic planning using some of this thinking to build off of the ecosystem, thinking that you talk about.
Ron: Yeah, that's a really good question because I want to make sure people don't think that this is all in the realm of the abstract, And both of these books, every chapter has a very clear framework for implementation. And if I think about winning the right game, if you're thinking about strategy, The first thing you need to understand is this idea of your value architecture. What are the elements that you're trying to bring together? And then only then you think about how do I bring partners to bring them together. The interesting twist in that value architecture story, which again, you can read in chapter one, which is online is that it leads us to see that partners can pursue different projects.
And there's a way of recognizing which partners might over time become foes and guarding against that. The notion. So chapter three, which is about ecosystem, offense, ecosystem, construction, once you have that vision, how do you think about the stepwise progression that you want to pursue in building an ecosystem?
The trap that many companies small and very large fall into is the sense that once I have my idea, I should be able to launch an ecosystem around it all at once. And that leads to her that is a manifestation of something that I call the ego system delusion. the difference between an ecosystem and an egosystem
is that an ecosystem is something you would define around a value proposition. And you think about the partners you want to bring together an egosystem is what happens when you define all those activities with yourself, always at the center. And to your question about leadership, a successful leader today's environment has to be able to avoid this very natural egosystem trout, and needs to. Realize there's a different trade off in leadership, Between execution and alignment that if you don't know how to manage that, the likelihood that you're gonna bring one of these systems together is diminishingly small
Mahan: and as you said, I was smiling, Ron, it's an ecosystem, not an ecosystem. And in many of these conversations, it's a little bit like putting the earth at the center of the universe and everything revolving around the earth in thinking about the ecosystem, your organization doesn't necessarily end up in that center.
So what will it take and what does it take for leaders to effectively be able to operate in more of an ecosystem environment?
Ron: That's a great question. some ways what's great about it is it highlights the difference from what it was like to work in a world of industries, which by the way, was a really hard world to work in. We don't want to minimize that. And by the way, big chunks of the economy today still function like that.
And in some ways, like the title of this book is signaling how different the world is today.
Because again, if you can't define an industry, because everyone is beginning to come into this space with different motivations, with different goals suddenly you need to figure out this idea of winning the right game, which is signaling both that there are multiple games being played on the board.
And to as we said with Kodak if you win the wrong one, that can feel a lot like. What do you need a leader in this kind of environment to do is they need to have this different strategic outcome, but two, and just this, as you said, so critically, once you realize that winning here requires building a coalition, then the usual traits of execution, the idea of the best leaders would put their companies ahead of themselves.
Always deliver results. That's great in an industry, but if you're trying to build a coalition and all your partners know that you put your company, first of all, the time, that's a lot harder to get them to choose, to follow your direction. And so this isn't in chapter six, actually, draw this contrast between an execution mindset for leaders and an alignment mindset.
And the key is it's not that one of these leaders is better than the other it's that different leadership mindsets are appropriate to different contexts. If you're in an industry context, then execution mindset. But if you're trying to align partners in 20 ecosystem, then you need to have an alignment mindset.
And the reason that matters is because what you'd be willing to do and what you'd be willing to sacrifice would be. And an alignment mindset. You have to necessarily be willing to sacrifice short-term gains in order to bring together the coalition. And that's a, by the way, it's a different emotional space to be in is a question how easy it is for a single individual to move from one mindset to the other.
But definitely as you're thinking about assigning leaders, as you're thinking about what you want to volunteer to lead, you want to understand that much
Mahan: and in making that transition to an alignment mindset Ron, it is a difficult transition for. Most organizations and most leaders.
what are approaches to be able to affectively focus on alignment. In addition to the mindset.
Ron: All right. So this is where where the other tools both winning the right game of wide lens come into play, which is you this start with, okay. You articulated value proposition. Then you need to have clarity on what's the architecture that you're trying to pursue. And again, the frameworks from the book.
And then you need to think about what's the blueprint that I'm building towards, who are the partners, what's going innovation, what's adoption chain and how is it that these things will come together? by the way, the twist here is I talk about this. We need the right game under notion of the hierarchy of winners, We've all been trained to want to be the leader, Cause you look at individuals or leaders, you look for companies that are leaders, they bought. Certainly in an industry world being the leader of being the winner, those are almost synonyms, right? Nobody wants to be the fault, but in an ecosystem, if you think about it, if all you have as leaders and no followers, You just have a bunch of guys in suits, walking around. No one's accomplishing. So an ecosystem mindset is also one that recognizes that, oh, there's going to be somebody pulling the system together. And then they got other people who are going to be coming together to support that. And it opens up a whole new conversation about what does smart followership look like in an ecosystem so that the hierarchy of winners is maybe the number one spot is you're the leader of a successful ecosystem.
That's great. The number two spot is you are a smart participant, a smart follower in a successful ecosystem because if it's a successful ecosystem, everyone is succeeding. The followers may not make quite as much, but they also risk a lot less. So the returns can be quite that's. The second, third place goes to followers in unsuccessful ecosystems.
Alright. You're a follower. You're not making money. You're going to lose something, but your investment wasn't that big, you didn't commit the whole organization. Last place in an ecosystem is the people who try to lead an ecosystem, but then we're unskilled. Because all they have is their investment in their mess to clean up without anything to show for.
distinction here is that in an industry leadership, it's like an outcome you're leading in market share. You're leading in sales and an ecosystem. Leadership has a role. The job of the leader is to give everybody else the reason to follow instead of. It's not an outcome, The outcome is collective within the successful ecosystem. And here again, this is a different kind of conversation that look, I think experienced people have that as an intuition, their effectiveness can be multiplied. If we can give them a clear crisp language in which to bring that intuition alike
Mahan: it's really important for all of us to reflect on this Ron because I,
believe that most of the strategic planning that I've been exposed to an IC
There are some of the same questions, same frameworks from competitor analysis to everything else that are still the go-to and the executive feel more comfortable because most of the executives, whether in business school or elsewhere have been exposed to it. So they know where are we as compared to competitors?
what are they doing that we need to learn from? How can we get ahead of them? So a lot of the questions that are being asked in the strategic planning conversations and the thinking is aligned with the wrong game and winning that wrong game.
Ron: Yeah. it's interesting to me so when wide lens came out 2012, basically it was saying, when you're thinking about innovation, you need to realize you're missing this really important thing. Part of the job of the book was to convince people, to think about their eco we did the right game, came out just a couple of months ago. And I've been amazed at how much it's resonating that is. Everybody knows that their understanding of competition, they don't need to be convinced that they need to rethink competition. They all feel it. what's been missing is what's the toolkit we can use.
So I have to say I've been actually incredibly pleased with the way in which these ideas have been picked up. Because one of our idea, I write these books because the luxury of being an academic with time, for researches, to be able to come up with ideas that are hopefully useful for the world.
And every once in a while you'll get something. And then the reason to write the book to put it out. So the, I think key to your question is, again, we need, so people are hungry for this, right? So the book is there and really what I want not enough for a single leader to have this new approach to strategy, right?
It's how do you get your team to communicate in this? And you can get the book from the library. You can buy a book and pass it around. I don't make my money through book sales is really is in order to be effective. To be efficient with your energy and resources in this world, the more of this you can see in advance, just the more effective you can be.
And that's really the hope behind this book.
Mahan: it's outstandingly well done. And in addition to organizational leaders, Ron, I interact with, and I know we have listeners who are mayors county executives, heads of. Nonprofits that are trying to bring together initiatives across region this kind of thinking that you also shared and played a role in operation warp speed.
So do you mind talking a little bit about that and how. Ecosystem thinking impacted the development and eventual rollout of the COVID vaccines.
Ron: Yeah I say two different things, first is the broader point is. These kinds of dynamics apply so far beyond the private sector, right? This need to bring coalitions together in support of a value proposition. Governments, nonprofits have been focused on this for longer than the for-profit sector has been quite Frank.
I would suggest. Their strategy tools have not been quite as effective either, which is why actually. So the afterward of, the book is confronting ecosystem disruption beyond the private sector. And it's all about how so many things that used to fit within the government sector.
We don't have industries, we do still have departmental box. And if you think about whether it's the environment used to be an issue for the EPA. They used to be smoke coming out of a smoke stack and it was too black. That was a problem today.
Global warming, you know what sea levels are rising. Real estate is getting drenched. There fires in California. It's no longer fitting within that one silo. The opioid crisis was a similar. When I first started working with HHS, that the example I had there was the opioid crisis was this interesting disruption that it was a combination of a healthcare issue and a criminal justice issue.
I'd really interesting. It was the first time we had major drug addiction coming from a prescription drug, and the criminal justice system didn't quite know how to interact with it and solving it will obviously need that kind of. And then COVID is like the biggest example, right?
So again, it's a virus, so it's supposed to stay in a healthcare bucket within two months it's global trade it's national international defense goes across the whole thing. And actually would say operation work speed. The vaccine initiative is a beautiful demonstration of How to look at a situation and as an aside, There's always a question when people would you read examples of success in ecosystem thinking there's always this question of well, but did it happen accidentally or did people really think this whole thing? And I'd say for the last 25 years, There's basically been this movement that says the world is so complicated.
We should don't so much worry about having a strategy as much as being good at adapting, Oh lean startup, AB testing, lots of express fail fast. All that stuff is in some ways an advocation of. so I'm totally on the other side, I say the world is so complex, you'd better just stop what you're doing and spend some time thinking about, the likelihood that you're just going to flip coins to the top of the mountain, very low. And so what makes operation warp speed particularly interesting as you said, it was I had some interactions with the folks responsible and it was amazing what they were able to accomplish.
Operation work speed, really totally reconfigured pharmaceutical ecosystem in terms of not just the speeding of testing that allow for faster approval of these vaccines, that was people working nights and weekends for me, the real miracle was that once we had approved drugs
within a matter of weeks, we had sufficient quantities to large percentage of the population. Like the magic was we had drugs and they became available. As opposed to the usual process was you have a drug approved, then five years later you could inoculate the population. And in order to make that the government played this incredible role
of orchestrating really one of the best demonstrations of public private partnership, Leveraging the private sector and the powers of the public sector, The public sector came in terms of managing procurement, managing logistics. That's what was such so important that there was this collaboration between health and human services and department of defense.
They saw from day zero we're going to need hundreds of million. vaccines to go into arms and reconfigure things, as basic as we didn't have enough glass vials for those, for hundreds of millions of doses. And so when they contracted with the pharmaceutical manufacturers where they pre-purchased in order to de-risk these R D commitments the saw through the potential problem of, okay, Merck is going to have a hundred million vials.
But it's Moderna, that's going to get the vaccine first. You don't want a world where Merck is sitting on a hundred million empty vials and Moderna has 15 vats full of miracle vaccine that can't go anywhere. And so the way in which they, repositioned redrew. The reallocated responsibility is what a allow of.
This miracle production to happen. And it's a perfect demonstration of something that could only be thought of only could be executed if at all been thought through in advance. And as you say one of great points of pride is yeah, that kind of the why , that this ecosystem thinking from wide lens and when you have the right game played a role in the way in which they thought about that it was not involved in the initiative itself tremendous teams, tremendous efforts.
Secretary Azar on down. But it's a demonstration of just the power of the public sector when it works well, it's a demonstration of public private partnerships. And as you say very much a demonstration of how important it is to understand this outside of the.
Mahan: that's why it's important, whether it is with the private sector, the nature of competition having changed and then need to think through ecosystems or in the public sector or in our communities, the nature. Of change and the nature of the challenges we are facing require more thinking aligned with the ecosystem rather than traditional ways of thinking, which therefore require new systems, tools, and approaches.
Even into conversations of strategy. You mentioned earlier that you can't abdicate strategy. Some have abdicated it because they haven't had. The tools of thinking that you provide, and many others are still using the old tools to come up with the old rules and all strategies to win the wrong game.
So I think you provide a lot of those frameworks Ron in your books that leaders. read think about reflect. And as you mentioned in conversations with their team members and everyone in the organization have a new language as they work together in taking advantage of the opportunities in the ecosystem.
through collaboration and having more significant impact on the community now, before finding out how the audience can connect with Uron, we'd love to know. Are there any other books, whether relating to strategy, ecosystems, or leadership that you think can support your thinking? Both in the wide lens and in the winning the right game.
Ron: It's interesting. I think there are a lot of. they're business books that look at this space different people take different cuts at this question of ecosystems and platforms. I think there's really interesting set of you can dig into the history of complex projects and learn a lot.
About how this works, I think it's important to realize, even though we're using this word ecosystem so frequently today, ecosystems are not right. Ecosystems. When the car industry was founded 120 years ago, it was an ecosystem challenge. Somebody's got to figure out, okay, if I'm going to make this horse, this wagon with an engine who's going to provide the fuel, who's gonna pay for the. roads It was an ecosystem story back then. It's so it's interesting for me to read a histories from that era what's true though, is things moved a lot slower because a given firm was involved in just one ecosystem at a time and it could have been a 20 year journey.
I think what does make today so much more challenging is a given firm, given an organization will find itself. Pursuing multiple ecosystems simultaneously. And at the same time, what we see more and more is competition coming from other markets that aren't mine simultaneously. And that's what leads to the strategic chaos that we're feeling.
Mahan: Ron. How would you recommend for the audience to find out more about you? You mentioned the first chapters of both books are on your site and connect with you find out more about your
resources. Ron abner.com has host of different resources that I've pulled together for people trying to think through this. There's the chapters of They're summaries of the frameworks. There are media podcasts and also the connect with me.
Ron: best place to go. the reason both publishers agreed to give me permission to like, share the entire first chapter of both books, which is unusual for a business. Like most business books is like one chapter drawn into the book
here the birth chapters are enough to set up the problem. And I have enough confidence that the value of the rest of the book will make you want to read it. But reason for doing this is so that you could share this with the people you need to have these discussions with. Again, for me, the real motivation of all the time and effort that goes into creating these books.
So that people can use them to be more effective and just if I can, the more barriers I can reduce to that, the better. So that's. Yeah. So if you go to Ron, andrew.com, that's my best, the most generous shot at
Mahan: That is a great place to start. However, I'm sure the audience will want to buy and read the books.
Ron: hi the book. Tell everybody to buy the book, review the book,
Mahan: There are books, Ron that you read and I read lots of books. And after you read the book, you get the one point you got it and move on for the book. Never to be revisited. Yours is one that people want to read and refer to both in conversations and in application of the frameworks, whether it's the wide lens or winning the right game, how to disrupt, defend, and deliver in a changing world.
I want to end with a quote of yours. You say the greatest danger lies in doing everything to win only to discover you have won the wrong game. Thank you, Ron Abner for giving all of us a chance and the frameworks to play in and win the right game. Thank you so much for joining me in this coversation
Ron: oh, thank you so much. You're so generous with your praise and is an absolute delight to be with you.