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Chapter 1 | Platforms Guidebook

From Pipes to Platforms

By Mark Bonchek and Causeit, Inc.

In a networked economy, value is about what you connect, not what you make.

Platform thinking is the Digital Age equivalent of electricity in a steam-powered world.

In this Guidebook, you’ll learn how to network different types of resources—things, people, ideas and connections—to deliver 10x return on investments you’ve already made.

What is a platform?

A platform is any resource that can be used to create exponential value.

People in business use the word platform to mean different things. Let’s start by clarifying how we’re using it here.

In construction, a platform is something that lifts you up and on which others can stand.

In this sense, people sometimes use platform to mean a technology that forms a foundation for other technologies. Examples include the Windows mobile operating systems, and interoperable cloud-based applications like Google Drive.

A platform can also be a business model that creates value for multiple parties. Also called multi-sided platforms, examples include business models based on online marketplaces that connect buyers and sellers on Amazon, drivers and passengers on Lyft, and creators and viewers on YouTube.

We use platform to mean any resource that can be used to create exponential value by generating a network effect.

We will expand on this definition in a moment. What’s important to note now is that it includes technologies and business models, plus other resources like communities, physical spaces and organizations.


Deliver value to others


Enable others to create value


Unlearning recap

In times of transformation, it’s not just technology that gets obsolete. Our thinking does too.

Mental models are often deeply ingrained in our mental and physical habits.

Think of unlearning like making the leap from an untenable trapeze bar to a new one.

Three steps to help others shift their thinking:

  1. Recognize when the rope is fraying. Know when mental models are growing outdated.
  2. Distinguish the old and new bars.
    Help clarify the differences.
  3. Bring the new bar within reach. Use a
    “horseless carriage” strategy to present the
    new in terms of the old.

Read the Shift Essentials Guidebook for more.

From pipes to platform

Platform thinking shifts the model for value creation from consumption to co-creation.

Platform thinking is an exponential shift in the mental model of how value is created.

The pipes model arose in a model where products and services are created and delivered to consumers.

By contrast, a platform mindset focuses on enabling others to create value. Instead of value being consumed, it is co-created.

Pipes create one-to-many relationships and are therefore inherently incremental. Platforms create many-to-many relationships and can therefore be exponential.

Notice which trapeze bar you’re on

Are you talking about platforms while still using a pipes mindset? Look out for notions like “we’ll distribute our products via this platform.”  

To make the shift to platform thinking, focus on enabling others to create value, not just delivering value to them.


A platform is any resource that creates exponential value through network effects.

In times of transformation, it’s not just technology that gets obsolete. Our thinking does too.

Platform thinking shifts the mental model for value creation from consumption to co-creation.

Go deeper

“Strategies for Platform Success” by Mark Bonchek

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