Towards a Theory of Ecosystems

Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 39: 2255-2276, 2018

22 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2018

See all articles by Michael G. Jacobides

Michael G. Jacobides

London Business School

Carmelo Cennamo

Copenhagen Business School - Department of Strategy and Innovation; SDA Bocconi

Annabelle Gawer

University of Surrey

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2018

Abstract

The recent surge of interest in “ecosystems” in strategy research and practice has mainly focused on what ecosystems are and how they operate. We complement this literature by considering when and why ecosystems emerge, and what makes them distinct from other governance forms. We argue that modularity enables ecosystem emergence, as it allows a set of distinct yet interdependent organizations to coordinate without full hierarchical fiat. We show how ecosystems address multilateral dependences based on various types of complementarities - super modular or unique, unidirectional or bidirectional, which determine the ecosystem’s value-add. We argue that at the core of ecosystems lie non-generic complementarities, and the creation of sets of roles that face similar rules. We conclude with implications for mainstream strategy and suggestions for future research. Managerial Abstract We consider what makes ecosystems different from other business constellations, including markets, alliances or hierarchically managed supply chains. Ecosystems, we posit, are interacting organizations, enabled by modularity, not hierarchically managed, bound together by the non-redeployability of their collective investment elsewhere. Ecosystems add value as they allow managers to coordinate their multilateral dependence through sets of roles that face similar rules, thus obviating the need to enter into customized contractual agreements with each partner. We explain how different types of complementarities (unique or supermodular, generic or specific, uni- or bi-directional) shape ecosystems, and offer a “theory of ecosystems” that can explain what they are, when they emerge and why alignment occurs. Finally, we outline the critical factors affecting ecosystem emergence, evolution, and success -- or failure.

Keywords: Ecosystem, Platform, Complements, Modularity, Complementarity, Value Creation, Value Capture

Suggested Citation

Jacobides, Michael G. and Cennamo, Carmelo and Gawer, Annabelle, Towards a Theory of Ecosystems (March 2018). Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 39: 2255-2276, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3218233 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3218233

Michael G. Jacobides

London Business School ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London, London NW1 4SA
United Kingdom
+44 20 7706 6725 (Phone)
+44 20 7724 7875 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.london.edu/mjacobides/

Carmelo Cennamo (Contact Author)

Copenhagen Business School - Department of Strategy and Innovation ( email )

Kilen
Frederiksberg, 2000
Denmark

HOME PAGE: http://www.cbs.dk/en/staff/ccesi

SDA Bocconi ( email )

Via Bocconi 8
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

Annabelle Gawer

University of Surrey ( email )

Guildford, Surrey GU2 8DN
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/sbs/people/annabelle_gawer/

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