The concepts of market shifts and diversification aren’t new ones in business. Neither is the idea that sometimes it’s better to collaborate with the competition than to think of everyone as your enemy. What’s new, contends author Phil Simon in a fascinating new book, is that technology has changed the way these principles can and ought to be applied to thrive in today’s fast-paced business landscape.
In The Age of the Platform, Simon looks at four 21st-century powerhouse companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) which have managed to grow big while keeping their competitive edges and innovating at lightning speed. He says this “Gang of Four” has built platforms which are redefining business. A platform, says Simon, is:
“An extremely powerful and valuable ecosystem that quickly and easily scales, morphs, and incorporates new features, users, customers, vendors, and partners.”
The age of the platform, says Simon,
“requires a completely different mindset. It must be at the core of a company’s business model. Companies must not only exist, but they must thrive in a state of constant motion. They must embrace dynamic stability… and constantly revaluate and redefine basic precepts.”
A third of the book is taken up with case studies: how the Gang of Four companies operate and what strategies they have used to build and sustain the platforms that fuel their businesses. The rest of the book explores platforms more broadly—what they are, why they matter, and what your business can do to apply them. Simon sets out the key components of a platform, including:
- A comfort with evolving your business over time
- The ability to scale
- Dynamic stability and change-tolerant business design
- Heavy reliance on data and technology
- Ease of use
- Win-win opportunities (e.g., for vendors, app developers)
A lot of business books are worth reading because they give you ideas or help you do something you’re already doing a little better. Then there are the books that really make you think. The Age of the Platform is a very quick read—but don’t let that fool you. It’s filled with big ideas for innovating and experimenting to keep your business relevant, profitable, and poised to seize new opportunities.
Disclosure: I donated to support the publication of this book via Kickstarter, which means I thought it was an intriguing concept—and that I actually paid more for my “free” copy than the book’s list price. None of this, however, impacts what I chose to say in this review.