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The power of (connected) ecosystems – notes from the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum
By Lucia Seel

With around 1000 participants from 60 countries – including large delegations from the US and China – the global management conference debated the topic “The Power of Ecosystems” with many of the leading management thinkers and practitioners of our time. For the first time, clusters were on the agenda, through the dedicated session on “Innovation Superclusters – Trust-based Collaboration Platforms for Growth Industries”.

Drucker Forum 2019

Moderated by Daniel Rettig, Editor-in-chief ada, Handelsblatt Media Group, the speakers engaged in a dialogue around questions like “Why exactly do we need superclusters?” “What is the difference between an ecosystem and a supercluster?” “How does a leader create the relationships needed internally?”

(@Christian Rangen)

Christian Rangen, founder and CEO of Engage // Innovate and Strategy Tools, introduced the concept of “innovation superclusters”: “While regional clusters, anchored in theories of agglomeration economics and local industry analysis have been recognized since at least the late 1980s, our understanding of superclusters is just emerging. These initiatives are large, national-level innovation programs, built around specific industries to accelerate system-level innovation at scale. They have a global outlook, extend beyond national borders, and, over time, become magnets attracting in capital, talent and companies.” In one sentence, “Innovation superclusters are engines of growth, and they can unlock significant industry value creation” (read more here about the supercluster approach).

(© Christian Rangen)

As clusters and superclusters have a mission to fulfill at regional or national level in driving forward the innovation competence of the industry, Kristianne Paasche, special advisor for cluster development at Innovation Norway, brought in the policy perspective: “In order to secure future sustainable growth we need to further develop our clusters so that they become globally connected ecosystems where entrepreneurship is at the core of developing new businesses and moving our existing business into the new era of technology and global value chains. As an innovation agency our main focus is to support such a development with knowledge, network and financial support.”

©Kristianne Pasche

Janka Krings-Klebe, co-founder and managing partner at co-shift GmbH, addressed the opportunities and practical challenges that corporations have in open ecosystems: “Flexibility and speed in cross-company collaboration is what distinguishes ecosystems from other business setups. In innovation superclusters, corporations can add the punch to quickly grow innovative ideas into profitable operations. In practice, corporations struggle to adapt to the speed and flexibility required in ecosystems. Their management practices and governance principles are not adequate for joint businesses. To remove these barriers, corporations have to internally transform their operations into a highly dynamic ecosystem and learn to manage and govern them according to principles of adaptivity, customer needs and value added” (more about the corporate challenges here.)


(© co-shift GmbH)

The European Cluster Collaboration Platform, an initiative funded by the European Commission under the COSME programme, and its purpose and services as “the platform connecting clusters” were introduced by Lucia Seel, communication and content manager. The sole entity of its kind in the world, the platform has attracted more than 1000 cluster organisations from Europe and beyond to use it as a hub for finding partners, initiating collaboration and rapidly accessing complex cluster-relevant information (see the mapping functionality for cluster organisations and for the regional ecosystem scoreboard) in a community-like ecosystem. She pointed out the huge difference between looking at individual clusters/ecosystems in isolation or as part of a larger grouping: only as part of interconnected networks can clusters unleash their full power.


(© Sarah Zareian)

Another session closely related to the cluster approach was that on “Managing Innovation in Ecosystems”, chaired by Philippe Dewost, co-founder of Wanadoo and author of the 2013 report to French Prime Minister on how to make France’s innovation ecosystems more attractive to foreign investors — the report sparked the government-supported La French Tech. Although not mentioned as such, cluster organisations appeared as instrumental in managing the collaborative processes within ecosystems – Cambridge professor Peter Williamson referred to them as “orchestrators of the ecosystem”. Noboru Konno, chairman of the Japan Innovation Network and president of the Future Center Alliance Japan, talked about the Japanese approach of cluster-like ecosystems. Dewost described the “time paradox” induced by the collision of very different time horizons and paces across startups (weeks), corporations (quarters), boards and policy makers (five years) and venture-capital investors (10 years), which called for creative intra-ecosystem orchestration.


(©GPDF/Gerry Rohrmoser)

The whole conference had at heart – in direct or indirect ways – the urgent problems the world is facing. In his blog on the “ecosystem of wicked problems”, Christian Sarkar reminded us that humanity faces a growing number of existential issues; to confront them, he challenged the audience to start collaborating on a purpose platform that brings together business and public institutions to address the root causes of society’s biggest problems.

A subject for urgent debate at next year’s Drucker Forum on the theme “Leadership everywhere”, perhaps?

About the Author:

Lucia Seel is communication and content manager of the European Cluster Collaboration Platform, member of the European Cluster Expert Group of the European Commission (DG GROW), networker, moderator, trainer and speaker with more than 25 years of experience in cluster development and international business.

This article is one in the Drucker Forum “shape the debate” series relating to the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Power of Ecosystems”, which took place on November 21-22, 2019 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF19 #ecosystems

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