Review of Phil Simon's The Age of the Platform
I’m feeling guilty. I like Phil Simon’s new book, The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business, because I agree with almost everything he says. The guilt comes from feeling like I should be looking for ideas that challenge my own, but with Phil Simon I think I’ve found an futurist/analyst who uses many of the same lenses I do. He shows how “each piece interacts with other parts of its ecosystem and the world at large" (Introduction). I feel less guilty for liking how the book shows the deep layers of platforms and how the four focal iconic organizations are building flexible business models. These ideas challenge all of us to critically think about new organizational forms and give us the raw materials (planks) to start.
Simon defines a platform as (p. 22):
..an extremely valuable and powerful ecosystem that quickly and easily scales, morphs, and incorporates new features (called planks in this book), users, customers, vendors, and partners....The most vibrant platforms embrace third-party collaboration. The companies behind these platforms seek to foster symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with users, customers, vendors, developers, and the community at large.
This is an extension of traditional platform thinking which he notes includes: physical and infrastructure platforms; technology platforms like landlines, cellphones and the Internet; and media platforms that spread information. In my world of technology and innovation management we’d also include product platforms like the chassis that serves for multiple models of a car, the particular platform for a family of computer chips, and the material that Swiffer uses in its broad set of cleaning tools. Simon’s view is an extension that I’ll be adding to the platform discussions in my classes.
The take away I hope my students will appreciate is that as platforms are built of “planks”:
Platforms comprise individual components, features, products, and services—collectively referred to in this book as planks. Put simply, without planks, there are no platforms (p. 24).
Planks create degrees of freedom that allow organizations to evolve in more logical ways than if they were monolithic (p. 133).
The writing is accessible. Simon manages to keep the descriptions of things like the Facebook "Like" button basic enough for non-users while also giving enough unique perspectives for experts to gain value as well. Connections to pop-culture, like the game of Risk, make for an engaging read about companies we all watch and business strategies we all should be considering.
If you’re in a rush and feel you understand how Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are building and leveraging their platforms, read Part I and then move to Part III. You’ll miss some great insights, but you’ll jump to models you can consider for your own business.
Take a look and share your thoughts here or on your favorite book review site. For more, please see The Age of the Platform's website.