Big companies don’t innovate fast enough.

Big companies tend to build a “kill-zone” around themselves. They destroy everything and everyone that gets too close.

There is no joy in working for a big company. More personal fulfilment can be found in a startup or other younger and smaller organization.

I come across these statements a lot in the media (old and new) recently. Many of my co-workers and students appear to agree.

Of course, there is something to these ideas. The pace and range of digital innovations as well as shorter innovation cycles make it much more difficult for bigger companies to survive. This sort of pressure is not going to deliver a stable and fulfilling work environment. And this trend seems set to continue in the future, making working for (and with) big companies even less attractive.

But there is a flip side and we shouldn’t dismiss corporate giants too quickly. Working for (as an employee) or with big companies (as a startup or research institution) can be exciting, rewarding, and inspiring. It may even be the best and only way to build a career or have an impact with your startup.

However, this will all depend on whether that big company is operating as an “intelligent platform.”

What is an “Intelligent Platform”?

When I use the term “Intelligent Platform”, people immediately assume that I am talking about companies that operate a “social” platform (Facebook, Instagram), an “exchange” platform (Amazon, Airbnb), a “content” platform (YouTube, Medium), a “software” platform (GE’s Predix, Microsoft’s GitHub), or even a “blockchain” platform (Ethereum, EOS).

This is not surprising. After all, the emergence of these new platforms and services has been one of the major economic developments of the last two decades.

But we should recognize that there is so much more to “platform companies” than facilitating transactions, exchanging information, or connecting people. There is a much more important lesson to be learned from the success of such companies.

What platform companies all have in common is that they empower and facilitate experimentation, collaboration, and co-creation amongst multiple groups of stakeholders.

These stakeholders include employees and investors, but also consumers, developers, content creators, other companies (both large and small), non-profits, educational institutions, governments, etc.

What makes an “intelligent platform” special is that it uses stakeholders’ input and feedback to improve the user experience and engagement with the “platform” and its products, services, and other solutions. This is the real lesson to be taken from the success of Amazon, Facebook, Netflix,etc.

Crucially, digital technologies are central to this approach. In this sense, all companies that wish to operate as intelligent platforms need to think and act “as if” they are a tech company.

As such, intelligent platforms are built around the idea of delivering constant innovation via an open and inclusive process of co-creation. By “organizing-for-innovation” in this way, such platforms are radically different from the clearly defined, static roles and fixed hierarchies of traditional organizations.

These are the distinctive features of “intelligent platforms”, and this is why, in an age of hyper-competitive global markets, every company needs to re-invent itself as an “intelligent platform.”

But more than that, everyone needs to ask themselves:

Is my (current or prospective) employer organized as an intelligent platform?

And why does this matter so much? Because only “intelligent platforms” can deliver the kind of environment conducive to a meaningful, fulfilling, and fun experience. Working for a big company can be fun, but only if it is organized as an intelligent platform.

So, how can we tell whether a company is organized in this way?

The 4 “Ingredients” of Intelligent Platforms

It should be noted that there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for such platforms.

Intelligent platforms can take multiple forms ranging from slightly “tweaked” versions of traditional (hierarchical and closed) companies through to the (flat and open) blockchain-based “decentralized autonomous organizations.” The “best” approach depends on the individualized circumstances of a particular business or organization.

The structure and organization of an intelligent platform does depend on four crucial “ingredients.” Every company has to analyze and use these ingredients to find the unique recipe for its “platform” to maximize creativity and opportunities for innovation.

And every employee needs to understand these ingredients in order to find an organization that works for them.

1 — Technology

It could be argued that intelligent platforms aren’t new. Some form of platforms has always been around. The exponential growth of technology, however, has significantly accelerated the emergence, possibilities, and opportunities of platforms.

For instance, Airbnb or Amazon rely…