Holy War on Google

The fight for ecosystems is the religious crusades of the digital age

From indie game “Eliss Infinity” by Little Eyes

Steve Jobs was very clear when he demanded Apple to leapfrog Google in five different areas.

The hardware giant for all in the world had to fight the advertising player and, with his own words in 2010, “tie all of our products together, so we further lock customers into our ecosystem.

Believing that you can actually control an ecosystem takes a lot of nerve. To say it out loud is like selling the dream of the Garden of Eden.

But that was Jobs. The Apple founder wanted his top management to aggressively enhance and expand the company ecosystem in his strategy leading up to 2011. We know that from an internal email that is now public.

He spells out loud how exactly the company was to continue its offensive scaling and strengthening of what is perhaps the most valuable commercial ecosystem the world has ever seen.

The ecosystem phenomenon seems to be more important than ever to anyone dreaming of making a long term sustainable business in a world defined by technology and merciless competition. The cracks are where the light gets in, as Leonard Cohen said. Only in business it’s where competitors will start pecking until you burst.

The point about ecosystems is that there are always a lot more elements to the actual business model than what you see if it’s doing well. In our interconnected world, speed has increased enormously — because everything is connected.

When Apple is releasing a new iPhone we see numerous companies come out to do quick business on related products; sometimes like a parasite selling a cheap cover. Other times like pure genius, it’s a revolutionising app that will take over your social interactions with the rest of the world.

The cover can turn into a nice business but will be obsolete when Apple changes size of it’s hardware. The social app can build its very own ecosystem and make Apple depend on its presence. Both of them will support the Apple ecosystem.

As the ever increasing technological development makes building a business and reaching customers faster, the competition gets sharper — whatever the industry you think you’re in. When your ecosystem of a business touches another one in just the slightest possible way you can be a galaxy apart at your core and still demolish each other. The need to control your ecosystem is only getting more important as globalisation and technology is speeding up.

That is probably why Steve Jobs went as far as to call for “Holy war on Google”.

Companies should maintain and strengthen widespread activities within a well-maintained ecosystem; it’s all about strengthening that position. Nothing is more important. Not new business. Not innovation. Not acquisitions. Only improvements of the ecosystem are relevant. We could call it macro retention. Or aggressive survival.

Anyone trying to gain a foothold with new ideas shouldn’t just find a way to existing ecosystems, but replace them altogether. Those who succeed creating as many interrelated components across the entire business will have bigger impact. This is where disruption happens and industries fall apart.

Naturally it’s not a simple thing to build an ecosystem.

Apple worked on it for a very long time and is continuously searching for enhancements that will refine the ecosystem. They spend so much time that pundits and even the market sometimes call for entirely new inventions.

Sometimes though you can succeed with the opposite approach; specifically planning to take advantage of other ecosystems.

That’s what Microsoft famously did early on when they counted on their software to be installed on any brand of pc. Almost like a virus they got an enormous reach and market share. They made a great business but have struggled to find their way when the ecosystems of the internet and mobile phones started to grow.

No matter how strong an ecosystem you will create, you will always be part of something bigger and stronger. Technology and globalisation will make sure of that.

The art of understanding and acting on these fast changing ecosystems takes an eye for analysis, lots of resources and a tireless competitive mind. But most importantly a fabulous story to sell the dream of the perfect and complete ecosystem. The Garden of Eden.

That’s what Steve Jobs did better than most.


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