Prior to 1921, drivers determined their direction/position on the US Interstate Highway by looking at color-coded telephone poles. This was both annoying and dangerous. Edwin W. James, a Bureau of Public Roads employee, changed all that. His highway numbering system ensured that a motorist could figure out where s/he was given the intersection of two highways. North/south highways were odd-numbered and east/west highways were even-numbered. Numbers increased north and east. Considering the first Model T was built in 1908, the numbering system came in time for a society that was just becoming obsessed with cars…
I gave two presentations this past week; one to a London-based innovation team at a big four accounting firm and the other to some designers here in Austin*. Both groups wanted to know about platforms, innovation and how truly game-changing businesses come out of systems thinking. Why? Because technology is moving at a pace where products and services now become obsolete much quicker than ever before. But not platforms. Edwin W. James, a road engineer/systems thinker, took a platform approach to designing the Interstate Highway numbering system in 1921. Any new highway or contribution enhanced the system but conformed to it. That system is in use today, 97 years later.
That’s the power of platforms. They become the standard. For a long time…
The books and articles this week are all about, you guessed it, platforms
1. Book: Considering how dominant the main platforms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Visa/Mastercard etc) are these days, one might be tempted to believe there are no more platforms to create. The Platform Revolution suggests ways to look at markets and determine where the opportunities are.
2. Book: I read The Mesh when it came out in 2010 and, while the model it talks about is ubiquitous today, was amazed at how well she laid out the value possibilities in platforms like Kickstarter and the ride-sharing winners. Quick and good read.
3. Article: Amazon and Walmart, the two biggest online and offline retail platforms, haven’t quite captured the luxury goods retail opportunity. Maybe that’s your opportunity?
4. Narrative: Jeff Bezos’ ’it’s still day 1 for the internet’ is one of three strategic consistencies he’s maintained since Amazon’s day 1. This 2013 narrative**, missing recent innovations like Echo, shares the core strategic approach Amazon uses to dominate.
All the best this week!
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