The four-dimensional puzzle, mobilizing global ecosystems


The four-dimensional puzzle, mobilizing global ecosystems

Connecting perspectives to solve the world’s largest problems

Startup ecosystem expert Tyler Crowley is shaping the future of media through social audio. From his home on a remote island in Thailand, Crowley is building a fast-growing news dialogue platform, whose game-like experience is key to success and attracting more and more users.

By Daniel Sunde-Hansen, Center for the Edge, Norway

Center for the Edge explores the edges of technology, business, and society to understand the shifts shaping our future. As value creation shifts from individual companies to wider ecosystems and platforms, it makes sense to explore what the orchestrators of ecosystems and new platforms are doing.

In this series of perspectives, we build on our thinking around ecosystems, platforms, and narratives by adding new context, cases, and observations. It is part of our new research project about leading ecosystems by Daniel Sunde-Hansen from our Center for the Edge in Norway, who is conducting a Ph.D. on the topic.

Over the coming years, we will present a series of articles around this theme. In this first article, we explore Tech News around the World, a social audio community growing by leveraging third-party resources and talked to startup ecosystem expert Tyler Crowley.

From organization-centricity to ecosystem-centricity

In the past, people's needs tended to remain pretty much the same for long periods of time. But as the world changes at an ever-faster rate, so too do those needs. And so the traditional approaches taken by business, too static in the face of this rapid change, will no longer work. At the same time, building new capabilities in-house, or acquiring the desired resources, may take too long or fail to attract or retain the most talented people.

The key to creating value will increasingly mean mobilizing people through networks. But how do you orchestrate these networks? Well, platforms can leverage their power, while narratives can be a powerful way of pulling participants to those platforms.1

Narratives in organizations

There is a distinction between stories and narratives. Stories are self-contained with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Narratives are open-ended.

All companies and organizations have a narrative, whether they are aware of it or not. Yet most of these narratives are self-centered and self-serving, as Center for the Edge’s co-founder and Chairman Emeritus John Hagel points out. The call to action is essentially "Buy (or use) my products or services."2

So, there may be an untapped opportunity in evolving a different kind of narrative. One that identifies an inspiring vision based on people's actual needs. And one that offers an explicit call to action to address these needs. As Hagel states, this action needs to go far beyond simply buying products and services.

The disconnect between regulators and innovators

After helping to create a successful tech startup environment in Los Angeles, Tyler Crowley has been advising the cities of London and Stockholm on building thriving startup ecosystems. He is frequently credited for his contribution to making Stockholm the world’s new “unicorn factory” and startup capital of Europe.

With extensive experience in creating physical startup spaces, Crowley knows how unexpected insights are often generated when diverse groups of people come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of new technology.

Through his dialogues, Crowley developed an awareness of the great challenges the world is currently facing. He also observed that the goals to end poverty and hunger seemed disconnected from the innovation hubs of the world.

Crowley believes the engineers and innovators of the world will solve the planet’s biggest challenges. But they need to do it in partnership with politicians, NGOs, foundations, and government agencies.

He started inviting figures from across these different spheres to meet and discuss the issues that really matter.

The need for a better understanding of tech news

Over time, Crowley developed a frustration with a media that he believes sacrifices journalism for "clicks, likes, and eyeballs." Every time he read a story from the tech scene of which he possessed direct knowledge, he found that the angle was bent towards the sensational.

In Crowley’s view, an advertising-based business model creates sensationalism that "panders to the lowest common denominators."

When social audio platforms began to surface in early 2021, Crowley founded his own community called Tech News around the World. Its purpose was to gather people with direct knowledge of the technologies shaping the world to make sense of the latest technology headlines.

Eight months later, that community numbers over 70,000 members - and is growing fast. Twice a day, participants from across the globe come together in a live dialogue and collaboratively unpack the tech news.

Solving a four-dimensional puzzle

Crowley describes the participants as a geographically and professionally diverse group of people, "obsessed about what's happening, why it's happening, and where it's going next." Using dialogue to connect the dots, he compares their approach to the construction of a "four-dimensional puzzle."

Each headline serves as an invitation for the participants to add context. Local insights from those with first-hand knowledge of the subjects under discussion mean the conversation not only becomes nuanced, but can take surprising turns and twists.

"You cannot understand a four-dimensional puzzle from one single perspective. You need to see every side of every piece and how they all connect. To do that, you need to bring together people from all around the world, from different locations and specialisms and professions, and understand how they see events from their individual standpoints."

A continuously evolving improvisation

Over time, Crowley and these global participants have developed an ability to identify connections between seemingly unrelated events. As they elaborate on the particular circumstances behind each headline, they play around with identifying potential patterns and relationships between these contexts.

This process of constant improvisation can be compared to a group of musicians jamming over a base theme or a few selected keys. This interplay is central to the experience both for participants and for the hundreds of people who listen in to the conversation – and is the catalyst for a continuously evolving narrative.

Narratives are lived, not crafted

A common misconception is that narratives and stories belong to the domain of the marketing department or PR consultancy. PR people often craft good stories about companies, from their early beginnings to how they make the world a better place through their products or services.

Indeed, the creativity of the marketing team behind Apple’s legendary ‘Think Different’ played a central part in the campaign. But it would not have had the same impact if the narrative of ‘think different’ hadn’t been established at the very core of the company by its founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

Narratives not only need to talk about a commitment, but consistently demonstrate it over time. In the case of Apple’s ‘Think different’, Wozniak and Jobs lived the narrative. They embodied the very essence of thinking differently.

Living off the grid

The discussions that Crowley facilitates are in seeming contrast to his own personal and rather unique narrative: he’s a digital native living off the grid on a remote island in Thailand.

Crowley hosts Tech News around the World from his solar-powered home, grows his own food, and uses a satellite link to access the internet.

It all began with his growing concerns over the global challenges of water scarcity and supply chain instability. Yet as he points out, while many people find the idea of living off the grid radical, it’s nothing new. In fact, it's quite natural.

Connecting perspectives to solve the world’s largest problems

We are used to think about knowledge as general principles. To arrive at abstract knowledge, we discard the messy context that constitute real-world experiences. But what if emphasizing context is the most powerful approach to obtain new knowledge?3, 4

Participants on the Tech News around the World platform are creating a narrative by adding more and more context to generic content. In doing so, they are connecting the dots that make up solutions to the world’s largest challenges.

"The conventional route isn't working," Crowley points out. "Because of climate change and these other bigger issues, we need to start listening to the trailblazers because that's where the gold is hidden."

As John Hagel points out, part of the success behind the ‘Think different’ narrative was that it was not about Apple. It wasn’t about one Steve or the other, or both. The campaign showed images of Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, and Pablo Picasso.

These creative, original thinkers changed the world. Their stories were woven together in a narrative. They thought and acted differently and made an enormous impact. Will you?

Narratives do not have a clear resolution. They are open-ended and can inspire us to take on the great challenges that affect us all. But they can’t solve those challenges. Instead, that responsibility rests on us.

To learn faster, organizations can draw on the diverse perspectives from external networks. Narratives can be a powerful way of drawing participants to these networks, and we have the opportunity to shape our narratives together.

Now is the time to start thinking more creatively about how we are going to go about doing that.

Let’s connect

As value creation shifts towards ecosystems and platforms, we want to learn from the people creating new value at the edges of these environments.

We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this subject, and invite you to connect with Daniel Sunde-Hansen on LinkedIn or e-mail.


1Hagel, J. "Business Ecosystems come of age; The power of platforms." (2015).
2Hagel, John. The Journey Beyond Fear: Leverage the Three Pillars of Positivity to Build Your Success. 2021. McGraw-Hill.
3Brown, John Seely, Stephen Denning, Katalina Groh, and Laurence Prusak. Storytelling in organizations: Why storytelling is transforming 21st century organizations and management. Routledge, 2005.
4Czarniawska, Barbara. Narratives in social science research. Sage, 2004.

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