Seth Godin’s Akimbo: Adversarial Interoperability

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses three kinds of interoperability. We are all connected by the webs of interoperability these days with our smart devices, and it is crucial to understand how we can make the system work better for us.

The three kinds of interoperability are indifferent, cooperative, and adversarial. Many things in life can work together because of the indifferent interoperability. Using our car’s cigarette lighter to charge a cell phone is just one such example.

The next level is cooperative interoperability, in which the people who make a device accept and embrace the fact that we might need to accommodate something new. The USB port is one such example.

When we invented the USB connection, many USB-compatible devices had not been developed. Yet those latter devices would still work with the previously established USB port.

When the government builds roads and bridges, it could not have envisioned all the vehicles that could have used the road one day. Yet the roads and bridges remain heavily used today. Industry standards make these cooperative interoperability combinations possible.

But along the way, some greedy companies attempt to break cooperative interoperability. Those companies were saying that they are trying to make things better, but mostly because they are trying to corner the market and make more profit. We know the motive is financially motivated when the consumers are not benefiting from the new process or change.

The idea of adversarial interoperability says that we need to make something so that third parties can use a system even when the inventor or the owner of the system does not want them to.

Today we have a problem with many systems and platforms. Organizations built these systems and platforms using the methods of cooperative interoperability, but they are trying to prevent other people or systems from working with them.

After gaining popularity and momentum with those systems through the benefits of cooperative interoperability, those organizations try to corner the market by making it hard for other systems to interact with them, thus confining the user in the closed ecosystem.

We now know networks are incredibly powerful. A network is significantly more essential and when leveraged by many nodes. When we build a network, the network gets more powerful when more people use the network. The network is also sticky because the switching costs are very high. The network effects have huge upsides bounties, not just for the people who use them, but for the people who build them and control them.

What we need are open networks. Open networks are resilient and efficient. As soon as something in that network starts to falter, the interoperability that is part of the network can help us make the network better.

Closed networks with lock-in tend to lead us to the most hated companies in our culture. We hate the cable company because we are locked in, and we do not have any choices. We run into trouble when we permit people who build networks to control them without any check and balance ultimately.

When that happens, what we end up with is a network with calcification and stagnation. For those networks, we need third parties who can come along and use that network to make things better for its customers. The Internet is a beautiful example of such an open system. The best parts about the Internet have been how quickly things got better when someone could freely experiment within the open network and figure out how to make the system better.

Today some people want to make our experience better in a network, and they are not permitted to do so by the controlling organization. The more we open these systems and allow changes to happen, the better things can get not just for the users in the short run but also for the people who build and support these networks in the long run.