In recent times, there have been very profound changes in terms of how businesses are conceived. I want to speak about two of them I consider impactful. The first one, broader and perhaps more abstract, has to do with the framework. The second, which we could think of as taking place within the first, has more to do with content.
The first shift that has completely changed the way we think about business relates to ecosystems. Today each particular industry is not thought of as isolated from its environment, as was the case in previous decades, but as part of something much broader. Today we think in terms of business ecosystems. As in natural ecosystems, companies involved in a business ecosystem compete for survival, some adapt, and others become extinct. The environment acquires a relevance that it did not have before, because of the way and speed at which it changes.
We can think about a business ecosystem as a network of organizations – including all stakeholders, suppliers, distributors, customers, competitors, government agencies, and so on – involved in the delivery of a product from a specific industry. Each entity in the ecosystem affects and is affected by the others, creating a constantly evolving relationship in which each entity must be flexible and adaptable, much like a biological ecosystem. Any change within any of these entities, however small it may seem, will impact in the ecosystem as a whole. But it may also be the moment when new opportunities arise.
Thus, business ecosystems are made of a network of interlinked large and small companies and startups that undoubtedly and dynamically interact with each other through competition and cooperation. When an ecosystem flows, it means that the participants have developed patterns of behavior that streamline the generation of ideas, talent, and capital throughout the system. In order to evolve and survive, it is essential that each industry knows and understands its own ecosystem.
The second change to which I referred at the beginning has to do precisely with the ecosystems in which businesses are immersed. As businesses become aware of their ecosystem, they also begin to ask themselves what their role is and how they can improve their performance within them. Today, each and every one of these ecosystems is disrupted, trying to survive and emerge stronger from a crisis that, although expected, no one was able to prevent.
2020 has clearly been a pivotal year for the entire world. The pandemic helped to accelerate trends that were already underway, but it also brought to light the enormous deficiencies and pending debts of our democracies. In the business world, it also had its effects, and a tacit consensus is beginning to emerge around the fundamental role we must play in building a better, fairer and more egalitarian future. Business leaders of the 21st century must recognize its responsibility as actors in much broader social ecosystems and take an active and positive role in the search for solutions to the structural problems afflicting our societies.
There is still a long way to go, and I am convinced that Covid-19 is an enormous opportunity to rethink our role as part of our broader ecosystems, to be able to defend our position and space. Business leaders today, beyond the short term, recognize their fundamental role in reshaping the future and assume their responsibility in addressing the deep problems of their societies.