Remixing the Principles of Platform Design, with Simone Cicero

Simone Cicero

In a recent episode of the Business of Platforms podcast, Simone Cicero, creator of the Platform Design Toolkit, discusses how he’s led an effort to create a shared language for businesses today, how marketers can nurture interactions with a multifaceted ecosystem, and how his open-source Toolkit can accelerate strategy. The Platform Design Toolkit offers a set of design thinking and system modeling canvases to help businesses explore digital and non-digital platforms. In conversation with Vivaldi CMO Agathe Blanchon-Ehrsam, Simone explains the genesis of the Toolkit and its evolving role to offer a shared set of tools in our growing age of complexity.

Vivaldi is proud to partner with Simone to offer the first North American Platform Design Masterclass in NYC on March 18-19, 2019. Agathe will be co-facilitating the session and participants will be able to apply the Toolkit to their own projects through hands-on workshops. Join us as we implement platform thinking to reach greater heights.

See below to learn more about Simone’s masterclass and the Platform Design Toolkit:

Q: It was a huge step to codify that first toolkit. The problem with codification is that when the world changes as quickly as ours does, there’s a risk of then needing to evolve all of that pretty quickly. How much have things changed in the past six years?

A: Well that’s a good point. First of all, I think the less we codify the better it is, because sometimes we tend to fall in love with our own tools. I think I’m more interested in the topic than in our set of tools.

Another point is things evolve very quickly, but if you think about one of the most used frameworks for business design, which is essentially the Business Model Canvas by Osterwalder and Pigneur, it barely evolved over the last ten years, and I think this is one of the strengths of the tool. Because at some point, you need to lay down some kind of shared language, more than shared tools. Even if at one point we felt the need to change something or maybe one definition didn’t really fit with the evolving understanding that we had about the topic, I think we really wanted to lay down some framework that wasn’t changing every week, because otherwise people could couldn’t even talk about this using the same language.

Sometimes we feel this pressure to evolve, to add more things, and we really need to resist this, because the toolkit is not the point of the discussion, it’s really just a shared language that we use to have a conversation of how things are changing.

Q: Why was it important for you that the tool be free and be widely accessible?

A: On one end because it was based on open-source knowledge. Most of the big ideas that are in the toolkit are from all the people using it, either intentionally in the Commons, so licensing them to into open-source tools (like Osterwalder did with the business model canvas, and like Simon Wardley did with his Wardley Maps), or just using them in the in the public domain as blog posts. We are remixing ideas, we are not inventing anything. On the other hand, by creating open-source tools and releasing all our knowledge in the commons, we are somehow pushed to climb the value chain, so we are also pushed to design ourselves as a platform. It’s always good to have this push towards in creating new value, otherwise you tend to stick with  trying to put a price tag on whatever you do and that’s it, you don’t really evolve.

Q: You will be coming to New York City to conduct a masterclass from March 18-19th. What does a two-day master class look like, what’s the experience like for participants, and what can people expect to learn and take away?

A: We provided this masterclass over the last two years in 15 European cities and it was always a fulfilling experience, especially for us facilitators and trainers to engage with such an amazing community of thinkers. I particularly love to give this masterclass, because it was a way to accelerate our methodology and our thinking. In two days, with so many interesting people, we always get to some crazy new ideas.

When it comes to the format, I would say that it’s a mix between a strategic acceleration and a learning experience, because we always ask participants to work in preparation and to identify a design brief that they are very much excited about. It can be, for example, the company’s project, a new strategy, an organizational transformation they are envisioning, a market that is exciting them, etc. It’s always about doing hands-on work, learning the new methodology, and learning the approach of an earlier case.

In regards to the dynamics, I would say it’s really a hands-on experience, so we usually start with a little introduction, then move onto the actual exercise, and conclude with a reflection on how we confronted the project, so it’s a cycle of six or seven experiences like that. It’s also very interactive. Since we have team tickets, normally we have around eight teams that attend, but we also encourage people to come alone and then aggregate in teams, because we think that the team experience is definitely much better.

Q: What’s the audience composed of? Are the participants in this masterclass more at the senior executive level or do you need a design background?

A: We did these workshops with several kinds of people, from an 80 year old with no background in design to university design students. So there’s both sides of the spectrum, it’s really democratic, because of the fact that this methodology wasn’t designed by designers helps keep it very user friendly and relatable. In general, what you need is interest for the topic and ideally some project where you want to test the approach. Often, people from a business strategy or design thinking background attend our masterclasses, especially those who are responsible for design within companies. There are also a lot of startups who attend and use this experience to accelerate their vision, then move into pivoting, testing new ideas, or re-creating the strategy.

Platform thinking is very powerful when it comes to creating new business because if you approach an opportunity with platform ecosystem in mind, you have to design a little bit more. So it’s shifting the investment from creating tools of resources into envisioning, understanding what work you need to design, instead of putting things on the market with no traction with the ecosystem.

Q: I’ve personally attended a masterclass with Simone and loved the experience and was blown away with the output. I’d highly recommend it to anybody who’s either interested in exploring the possibilities offered by platform thinking or actively looking at an opportunity and trying to implement something within your organization. Simone, would you like to share the URL to your website where all the documents can be found?

A: Yes, of course, everything can be found on including the white paper published in 2016, the full open source toolkit with all the canvases, and an additional platform opportunity exploration guide that we released around two months ago. I also suggest taking a look at where you can find hundreds of articles articulating our understanding and vision into more complex explanations and reflections.

Tune into more of The Business of Platforms podcast here. If you’d like to learn more about Vivaldi’s platform strategy offering, contact us at