Agility, Resilience, Fun: Allan Adler Talks Ecosystems
Having never attended a Firneo learning session, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Partnerships expert Allan Adler immediately put me at ease.
Unpopular opinion: partner people need jargon.
Some professionals, especially when they’re new to partnerships, insist that industry jargon is unnecessary. After all, it’s complex, often lacks a clear linguistic relation to the phenomenon being described, and can be exclusionary when those who aren’t fluent can’t (yet) participate.
While those are fair critiques, they miss the bigger picture: industry jargon, when used correctly, enables precision and eliminates ambiguity, making communication clearer. This is especially true for concepts that are radically new and embedded in paradigms that break from whatever came before. For instance, you can say “radio signals floating through the air that connect a device to a router” and most people will kinda sorta catch your drift… or you can just say “wi-fi” and be instantly understood. Not too long ago, “wif-fi” was jargon, too.
Enter the “partnership ecosystem” term.
It’s trendy, it’s buzzy, it sounds smart… but does it mean anything?
For partnership professionals who throw the phrase around like hotcakes, it’s more than a clever slogan. It’s an ethos, a lifestyle, and a noble pursuit that ushers in an exhilarating new era of business and entrepreneurship. But for those who are just learning about the partnerships industry (like me, hi) the entire thing just sounds weird at best and scary at worst.
Firneo recognized the communication problem and decided to step in by hosting the aptly named “WTF Is An Ecosystem?” event, with renowned partnership guru Allan Adler leading the conversation. An innovative change maker who guides businesses and entrepreneurs to discover the potential of the partnership ecosystem, Allan is the creator of the GoToEco Framework. I was nervous about attending—after all, I’m still new to the partnerships industry, have no idea what I’m talking about, and these people are experts—but the down-to-earth and accessible explanations immediately put me at ease.
While comments and questions from audience members flowed in, Allan launched into an offbeat and evocative nature metaphor, comparing the interconnected networks of businesses, communities, and customers to a living, organic, and dynamic structure: “With cloud computing and SaaS, relationships, workflows, and data exchanges went from unidirectional to bidirectional. We do everything together now: comarket, co-sell, co-innovate, co-retain.”
Encouraging the audience to reflect on how today’s most impressive enterprises function, Allan went on to explain that platforms companies are leading innovation because they went eco long ago by inviting and enabling participation and collaboration. The shift from go-to-market to go-to-ecosystem will, Allan argued, catapult to success those organizations that prioritize concern for workers, ethical business practices, and the environment: “Sustainability is a cornerstone of the ecosystem—it naturally designs itself to be sustainable.”
This symbiotic, community-focused, and effortlessly intelligent approach defines the ecosystem mindset, and it’s a dramatic departure from how business traditionally operates. What are the advantages of being a collaborative player in a much larger system of partners? Allan outlined three major ones: agility, resilience, and good plain fun. Tight-lipped suits might roll their eyes at the latter, but in today’s business landscape, when we communicate with our colleagues via GIFs on Slack and gamify our organization’s to-do lists, partner people understand that play and productivity can merge—and amen to that.
When the session wrapped up, I reached out to Allan with follow-up questions. What happens, I wondered, if a tech company has created something so revolutionary, that they want to hoard the benefits for themselves? Can they say to hell with eco and still succeed?
It’s a mindset thing, Allan explained. He suggests that businesses ask themselves: “Are we an open, innovative company that recognizes that by leveraging the power and influence of the market, we can go higher and faster than by hiding, protecting, and controlling our precious IP?” Indicative of the radical transformation in values that GoToEco promises, Allan used language that you don’t normally hear business thought leaders use as he described the cultural—and economic— difference between “a fearful, scarcity-based culture” and a company culture that’s “based on love and abundance.”
On that note, I asked about uber-successful juggernauts that, despite their collaborative and eco-based approach, often come under fire for their working conditions (I see you, Amazon) and climate pollution (hey, Microsoft). The expert’s answer was nuanced. “That’s a fair pushback,” he acknowledged. “But the more widely shared and communicated a company’s practices are—across thousands of companies and millions of community members—the more ethical they become. Much as global social media exposes despots and shines a light on perpetrators, so, too, ecosystems businesses will have nowhere to hide.”
Is this supportive and ethical approach inherent to partnerships? Yes, Allan insists. It comes with the territory, and explains his tireless and liberal sharing of partnership frameworks, strategies, tactics, insights, and general advice: “Partner people are more generous than most, and it’s partly the gestalt of the people and the community that inspires me. I’m very passionate about my—our—mission of unlocking ecosystem potential and transforming business for good.”
Business for good, huh?
“It’s the Other and the I,” Allan muses. “I believe in giving for the sake of giving, and having confidence that we will receive on the other end.”
I’ll take it.
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