Getting the Business Model Story Right.

Whats your story 1Framing the business model needs a compelling story so that it can be quickly and well understood by others. This is absolutely core. So, how do we go about it?

Recently I provided this contribution to Patrick Stähler’s blog that forms part of fluid minds, a think tank and consultancy for strategic and disruptive innovations. They  focus discussions through their very distinctive version of the Business Model and its design.

This was on some thoughts on how to explain your business model through a story or your business narrative. The original post is here

The hard part comes after designing your new Business Model, you have to explain it.

You have come to the end of a fairly long week. You have finally finished your Business Model Canvas. Finally you have a working hypothesis of something that is going to challenge some of the existing business models around. You should feel pleased; it took a lot of hard work to get to that point.

Laid out on one piece of paper is something that could have real business value yet although you can see where the dots connect, you begin to wonder if others will see the same compelling value, to invest in it, to back it, to simply support it and encourage you to continue.

Completing a business model and identifying its critical parts is only that first step, the hard part is getting it off the ‘drafting board’ and making it something tangible and potentially commercially viable for those around you to engage with.

What is the next step in executing this potential game changing business model?

Each new business model needs a compelling story – a narrative.

Share your storyWe really need to learn how to craft a story, to tell the narrative around why your business model idea stands out and is worth other people’s time and consideration.

This business model narrative along with your business model you are potentially better placed to test it, to talk about it, to validate it, to make it ‘sing for others’.

You are out to get engagement and contributions everywhere, from everyone, as you tell the story, describe your potential new business model you gain from their reaction and improve your understanding of the real need for your idea.

So we need to think about the art of narratives and storytelling

So first things first, with setting about building your business narrative, we need to get comfortable, as each of us, in our own way are unique in how we would set about the initial thinking through of the business story.

We can certainly brainstorm, or free write, and it is certainly worth to complete some essential brain warming up exercises. All of these get that brain whirling again around your new business model but in a distinctly different way, as you are focusing this on the best way to communicate your story to others. You do need to really think about this, as it needs to appeal to them, even if you feel it is the best thing ever!

We need to find our own ways of doing this warming up. We are not warming up to figure out the business model, we have completed that; we are priming our brain to start structuring our thoughts to turn them into our narrative (about our business model story).

This can take as long as you feel it is useful. For me I take my time, I like to gather around me lots of my reference papers, all sorts of scribble notes and triggers to make a fairly exhaustive first ‘cut’. Then I set about circling or highlighting them with a yellow highlighter all the main themes, the important parts of what, why and how my business model came about.

Working through some useful but measured steps is the key

Seven steps

The question you need to ask is: “I certainly have to find within these notes a range of critical aspects that will make my business model story stand out”

Let’s go through these seven steps.

Firstly 1) you have to describe what your business model will do – even if this is still at this stage where it needs to be truly tested, what is it all about. You need to allow for action words that can be understood, keep it simple but on ‘message’ for others to quickly grasp the big idea.

2) What makes this business model special – I mean so special that it can resonate with others; they can see what it is going to do to change or challenge something they know. It needs to address identified needs but all the parts are seen as connected.

Then we move to the customer side

3) who is it for?– who are those customers that will show initial interest, the potential market place you see this addresses and listen to the reaction back- does it resonate with those listening?

4) what does your business model resolve – those famous pain points or jobs-to-be-done you feel that need resolving or will be valued to overcome existing constraints you feel there is within existing offerings. Are you getting that nod of agreement, that confirming back or increasing questioning?

So far so good we are building our story, we are telling our story, we are getting valuable feedback and identification. Now we need to reflect on the part that gives the real growing confidence

5) Why you are thinking beyond the immediate– some of your longer term goals and ambitions and the way you are setting about this and what the listener can do to help.

6) what do you envisage are the resources and actions needed that will get this going and led you beyond just the idea and turning this into something real and valued by others.

If this remains unclear to the listener then you are beginning to flounder, you might be losing their attention. Maybe your business model or narrative is missing some important learning points.

You are testing your initial hypothesis in the real market place and getting the feedback you need to stop and rethink or it validates your original thinking.

Then there is one final part, our No.7

As you search through your notes, full of highlighted points being ticked off as you go.

That is the most important one, our number 7) you are looking to summarize why you will succeed

The final partThis summary ‘wraps-up’ your solution; it provides the story behind your thinking, the final piece, it brings it all together. It is conveying why the business model you see, is valuable. It transmits the value of your idea, sitting on your one sheet of paper.

Now this is not the easy part, it is the ‘call to action’, the real identification you are asking of others to value and invest into your business model, to identify with it.

The tighter the story, the faster you get feedback and identification

This narrative needs to be a really compact synopsis, the real kernel of your business model, it forms the basis for the narrative and why your story is valuable to the one listening.

Irrespective your business narrative need to spark action

It is the story that makes the sense of your business model. It conveys its value, its sense of mission, your personal visions, it offers the place where you communicate and connect the business model with the listener.

By talking about it you are generating and testing a market-making narrative, to hone your thinking, to win over others to your solutions and ideas. You are testing your business model in the real world.

Your story narrative will be significantly tested and will change I am sure.

Target Market Your Big IdeaEach step or new iteration is a ‘smart’ step forward, if it builds and learns from the last one. It becomes more and more compelling until it resonates and translates into a new, valuable business.

Your business model is closer to filling a real market need from this consistent telling of your evolving story. The business narrative is essential to your thinking.

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Knowing the Value within your Business Model is Vital

Last year I provided a guest post to Patrick Stähler’s Business Model Innovation blog and wanted to add this to my own site as I think it does place the focus on finding value within any business model design.

I think Patrick’s business model lends itself to this constant focus on value. Patrick runs fluidminds, based in Zürich, Switzerland. fluidminds helps its customers to think by challenging existing business rules, offer structured thinking and different perspectives on the strategy process and support the execution.

Patrick wrote his thesis about Business Model innovation in the digital age and from this emerged his unique ‘take ‘on working through the business model. Patrick has been dealing since 1997 with questions around how the web changes Business Models and how Business Model innovation should and could look in the digital economy.

fluidminds wants to create new businesses and to shape industries with business model innovation, with a large part of Patrick’s practice centered  on German speaking markets but he has consulted across numerous English speaking ones as well.

So in my guest post I put forward this three point view of value. Continue reading

The Business Model, a Canvas for Innovation’s Convergence

So where were you when this Business Design Summit was happening? Did you miss it? Well kick yourself if you are remotely interested in where innovation is evolving too. I missed going as it was a sell out fast but I watched the live streaming.  So I had a more detached view but let me give you the flavor of what is bubbling up around the Business Model and its Canvas where a new (and older) generation of innovation ‘tool-smiths’ are all converging in a growing community.

In Berlin, held at the Classic Remise Berlin on 19th & 20th April 2013, around 250 people gathered around the Business Model and started to bring together the converging aspects required in any Business Models design in tools, concepts, and methodologies.

Lucky for many that were unable to attend, the wonderful thing was that the summit also was live streamed and had a dedicated hashtag of #bdsummit. I watched it and got very caught up in the event. They plan to release the presentations and I think a whole lot more from this summit in outcomes through most probably the toolbox center to build better Business Models.

This summit became the place of the innovation ‘tool-smiths’ to meet and exchange so as to begin the forging and crafting of the new tools needed for innovation. These are aimed to help us in today’s and tomorrows world where innovation is more central within business strategic thinking.

Firstly, the Business Model meets one of today’s need

Unless you have lived under a rock, in a hermit’s cave or on a beach disconnected from the world, anyone remotely interested in innovation will have had business model innovation seared into their thinking.  Then you would be aware of the Business model canvas and the book “Business Model Generation” by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur and a core team of leading exponents, that included Alan Smith, Patrick van der Pij and Tim Clark and co-authored by 470 Business Model Canvas practitioners from 45 countries.

The Business Design Summits Objectives

The Business Design Summit had as its primary question: “Are the Business Tools you are using relevant for today’s world? It went on to ask “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them, instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking”.

So this was a summit of different concepts, tools and a host of the forward thinking people within the world of innovation offering the parts that are converging. The different speakers offered a rich diversity of ideas, suggestions and examples to stimulate your thinking. Each speaker contributed a tool and suddenly we had born a whole new community of “tool-smiths” crafting away within innovation.

The speakers included at the Summit

These included Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Patrick van der Pijl, Lisa Solomon, Lisa Chen, Luke Hohmann, Mark Johnson, Stefano Mastrogiacomo, Dave Grey, Karl Landart, Henry Chesbrough, Muki Hansteen-Izora , Steve Blank and Rita McGrath. Regretfully I missed one or two of the speakers as I got sidetracked within my day.

The visuals produced as these sessions developed were stunning.

Example of a visual recording, this is by @HolgerNilsPoh: A Business Opportunity Canvas by @mukiz from the #bdsummit

Apart from Holger Nils Pohl working away, I think there were lots of visual and graphic recorders busy capturing what was presented in terrific event maps. Each of these contributed and made it a visual feast. These visuals significantly improve ways to teach. More and more in our daily work, visual thinking will play an increasing part on the new tools needed in understanding increasing complexity and being quickly able to visualize it in today’s world and become part of our tool box for determining the next steps.

Some “stand outs” that I gained

It is hard to suggest one part was better than another, it was this convergence that made the event come together but for me the timely reminder by Mark Johnson on the strategic importance of the jobs-to-be-done cannot be ever understated. Jobs-to-be-Done are central to arriving at the value proposition as they should “inform” on the needs of the customer that present the new innovation opportunities, perhaps also needing new business models.

The second was Luke Hohmann and his innovation games, something I will need to explore a whole lot more. His tag line of “The Seriously Fun Way to Do Work—Seriously”.  This offers online and in-person games to help organizations to solve problems across the enterprise by using collaborative play to tap into true innovation.

Lisa Solomon who did such a fantastic job of being a main facilitator to much of the summit. She introduced her forthcoming book around Strategic Conversations and spoke about her work and teaching around innovation, leadership and design.

Of course, Alex Osterwalder had his usual high octane mix of presenting, tweeting, facilitating, just physically driving the summit along. He must be shattered after events like this, energized for what’s ahead but drained in the immediate aftermath. He was everywhere, the Innovation puppet master pulling all the strings of a well orchestrated summit.

Yves Pigneur did such a great job, introducing the BM Canvas but also in both wrap ups of “three minutes” to summarize each of the days sessions. The way he did this has some real lessons on how to recall and conclude succinctly.

Dave Gray and his evolving cultural mapping tool is yet another topic I need to climb into more following this appetite teaser “as a tool, the hammer sees everything as a nail… culture itself is a tool” where he introduces the tool steps of Evidence, Levers, Values & Assumptions. This seems a more diagnostic tool and I feel will develop the more this is progressed, improved and used.

Then the whole topic of where large corporations need to fit into this business model movement with the challenges and emerging issues discussed by Karl Landart and Henry Chesbrough. This is where the Business model canvas has to deepen its presence. The Business Model Canvas has still not fully found its way into large corporate culture, certainly not easily into the boardrooms. Time, short attention span and limited patience are real constraints. Should it- certainly yes, how it is going to happen is a real challenge.

This whole area or corporate challenge needs some real intellectual capital in solving this as it is a necessity for BMC to really take hold in large corporations. By the way, this was the best presentation in my opinion I have heard from Henry Chesbrough and I was intrigued by his emerging thoughts on providing a Corporate Conflict Detector.

Muki Hansteen-Izora( @mukiz) of Intel talked through their internal tool, a first in a public forum, the Opportunity Identification Tool or Canvas- the opportunity space is bringing their perspective into a conversation, developing up the essential components, and getting these rooted and traceable.

The summit finished with a conversation between Steve Blank and Rita McGrath around “the end of competitive strategy” Both are real influences within innovation, firstly they talked through the new playbook for strategy and where so much is due to change. The sum of this was that Organizations are still awfully reluctant to give up power, we simply can’t continue as we are, as all our ground is eroding and that long term quest for finding sustainable competitive advantage is rapidly disappearing .

Transient short term competitive advantage is taking the place of sustainable competitive advantage. This will become a “big idea” and influence our future in how we set about dealing with this. Rita is about to launch her book around this whole area in the coming weeks and I feel will “rattle a few cages” in a few boardrooms, when they read it I suspect.

Steve worked his usual magic of weaving both the start-up and established organization into much of this conversation. He provided numerous examples, spoke of the different “epiphanies” he has had on his customer process and where the link comes together in his work and the Business Model Canvas. Always throwing in the amusing story but always underscoring a powerful learning outcome.

Between Rita and Steve there was such a wonderful conversation between two deeply experienced people, full of knowledge to share, stories to tell and ways to bring these together in practical ways that you could relate too.  A great, great finish.

Are tools or ideas enough?  The world is moving really fast

My growing concern is not the enormous energy being invested in new tools and methodologies; these are good, really good, my concern lies still in the iteration process. The issue is do we crowd source these more and more, with growing built in bias, to keep improving on them as soon as an idea hits us or do we slow them down from “just being put out there” (alpha versions) to being better “beta” versions? I’m not sure when the right time is to release tools.

We have to remember Alex’s original foundation for his Business model canvas was a PhD and that was incredibly well-grounded and why it has taken hold to such a level. Steve Blank’s customer work has integrated his enormous set of experiences and lots and lots of experimentation but that comes in a fairly unique package.

Just having tools for tools sake is not the ideal place to go but tools, well thought through, placed out in the broader community to be experimented with, reiterated and improved is highly valued and needed. Finding the balance is going to be the key from all these tool-smiths.

Congratulations to the organizers of this Summit  

The Business Design Summit brought together an enormously talented group- could it have looked out into the future more, could it have debated more instead of the “tried and tested” listen and group work? Perhaps not, the group needed to begin to work together, to find a greater common language. To have this streamed was incredible and valued by us that were not able to attend. I offered this tweet to Alex:

Alex terrific day tweet.
But I do have a “what if” as my wish?

We do need to plot all the tools into the Business Model Map so we can have a more comprehensive roadmap of what tool or methodology fits where and why. I’ve love that to emerge from this summit. We really need a “live” mashup of all that is going on in a “dynamic” business model canvas environment so a growing community can all provide the next generation. I think this is where the summit has begun to provide a real momentum – the shifts we need to make “to teach people a new way of thinking.”

The next summit will be tentatively in Berkeley late this year or sometime next year.

amended version 27th April 2013

Multiple Use of the Business Model Canvas

Recently I was having a ‘conversation’ with Alexander Osterwalder concerning the limited adoption of the Business Model Canvas within large organizations. I was asking him if he agreed and if he had any thoughts on this.

Now if you know Alex, he is either jetting off to somewhere in the world to keep spreading his Business Model gospel, or about to get immersed in his next idea associated with it, so these conversations are grabbing him through twitter or short email exchanges.

Short and sweet

Excellent! One thing I’ve seen: once the Canvas is in an org it spreads organically, virally without my intervention… interesting research topic!”

Those of you in the business world that have either been hiding under a rock recently or obviously as it seems, in a number of larger organizations, the Business model canvas comes from the pioneering work Alex did for his PhD. This was published not just in his thesis but in a bestselling book, as lead author, called ‘Business Model Generation” http://amzn.to/uY9U4b. Also take a look at his site : http://bit.ly/m4DNC1

The books claim of “You’re holding a handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models, and design tomorrow’s enterprise” on the cover, it sets itself up for the imaginative person striving to alter the status quo within their business.

Without doubt this book weaves design throughout, to give you a visual feast through its canvas approach. It leads by example in wanting to replace or alter the more established business book with its style. It is a beautifully designed book to enhance the pleasure of reading it and it is not a typical business book, it conveys the essentials that you need to know quickly, simply and in a highly visual format.

So what is holding the large organization back?

I’ve previously commented Business model innovation meets one of today’s business needs. Many of the tools we have relied upon for decades just simply do not ‘articulate’ the job on hand. Models enshrined in business folk law like Porters 5 forces, Boston matrix and a host of others gave insight, were very analytical, but gave declining comfort on foresight and this is what is needed today.

the times they are a-changinbob dylan

We have seen the significant shift from internalizing to externalizing through open innovation. In seeking differentiation, businesses have had to loosen up and give up some of their ‘control’. The world seems more dynamic and complex, it is a place where you have to find a unique position in the market, and one built on competitive advantage seen through the eyes of your customer not from within your four walls. The business model captures ‘breaking’ opportunities and clarifying existing value propositions, so why this lack of uptake?

Often a potential problem is to do with it’s positioning- for the BM is it:

  • Alex spends an incredible amount of his engagement time with entrepreneurs, small business owners and to a far more limited degree, I sense, within the larger organizations. Is this one reason? There is only a certain amount of time and I’m sure Alex has to be selective with what and where he wants to deliver this message across the world. He might though, need to draw in a fellow BM disciple, who could focus and spread the message to the larger organization as his ‘patch’.
  • Is his message skewed towards the entrepreneur more? Even the subtitle on the front of the book might be a little challenging to the incumbent. “You’re holding a handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow’s enterprise”. Maybe those (the majority in large organizations) find this more of a “oh, I wish” but are simply not sitting in that sort of position to change the world? Maybe the book needs a mini-repositioning? Or a further one where a new book brings all the ‘collective’ knowledge that has been learnt since the first one, all together as a companion, or as a field guide?
  • Is it also because it might be hard to imagine that you can capture a complex picture within a one page canvas? Within large organizations you deal in pages (I mean pages) of business plans, marketing plans, briefing papers and countless justifications. Could a business model be captured so easily? Well actually yes, if anyone is wondering.
  • Is it partly because the Business model does not have enough of a blueprint of proven techniques or follows a more (comfortable) descriptive process, yet to be fully established? I’d argue that this has dramatically been changing in what I saw in a recent workshop given by Alex- it is going more along that route but perhaps not there yet, for wider adoption or ‘comfort’ for some. Perhaps it now requires a more radical ‘layered’ supporting structure that underpins the canvas? Or you simply shout “get on the train, it is about to leave without you”
  • Or more than likely, it is far more to do with that classic ‘lead and lag’. Larger organizations are slower in adoption; it is just a matter of course. Be this in new technology, new processes, social media or a host of new things they tread more cautiously, they are slower to adapt. Those that get ‘it’ internally spend often frustrating months, sometimes years, trying to convince others to make a change, to change a process, a planning structure, even a widget within an established product that often holds it back. Then the CEO reads it in a magazine, hears it from a friend and away we go. Why not buy him/ her the book and save yourself the time and trouble!

Irrespective of the answer to any of the above, my question here is: “can they afford to keep on ignoring a brilliant tool? One that will help them ‘galvanize’ the understanding of their business model and provide an amazing tool to explore other potential ones?

I would argue to the large organization “simplicity can sometimes be deceptive” and just find the time and really focus upon the potential that lies within the Business model canvas. It is a powerful tool in the right hands. Let me suggest a number of reasons here:

So the BM Canvas and its value to large organizations.

BMI provides an increasing value, my opening set of arguments.

  1. It can help discover new perspectives on challenges, also new perspectives on solutions.
  2. These perspectives can be new insights, new customers, new resources and new channels.
  3. Framing BMI in the canvas approach can underpin the Business Case through the nine building block analysis and provide a great one page justification.
  4. It can define needs- needs in the market, needs required from solutions and their impact. It can compliment ‘jobs-to-be-done especially.
  5. It can investigate value propositions (ranking, impact, capability, competition).
  6. It can help investigate higher impact propositions (value- based, enhanced economic, applications etc) to stimulate internal thinking and greater generation of potential BMI’s.
  7. It can form the basis of any model for showing where the money lies in potential profit, the possible costs and the resources needed.
  8. It can help in evaluating competition or watching for new entrants if ‘it’ or you understand the needs of the customer and where opportunities might lie.
  9. It can explore and explain consumer thinking (pre and post discovery and execution) in easy visual ways.
  10. It can be used as a neutral observer, uncovering opportunities or validating them in other industries that today may not be relevant but need to have a ‘watch’ placed upon them.

My other powerful argument lies in the yet to be fully explored multiple uses:

I call these my “large organizations eight powerful reasons to adopt the Business model canvas” and place all the options in front of you, to be explored, to be tested, to be given a decent trial.

These are:

  • To simply explore new business models as the book originally sets out in the how, what and where of doing this through the canvas approach.
  • To ‘map’ changes to existing business models as they evolve or need to pivot differently. There is a growing body of work on the pivot by Steve Blank and Eris Ries. This is not exclusive to the entrepreneur, where they have tended to focus but much of their thinking can be applied to the larger organization to learn, understand and gain from (http://bit.ly/bYhHwQ and http://bit.ly/1fpIpK ). Just spend some real time on these two sites, it is time well worth spending to learn and challenge your current thinking on many approaches to your market and knowing the different value generation points in any engagement with your customers.
  • To sketch out competitors positions to explore possible opportunity gaps should be one of those consistent ‘habits’ that so many large organizations often have a real blind spot to undertake and then get caught out and surprised when they see their share slipping away. The BM Canvas can spot and track competitors.
  • Use it as a dashboard for innovations that have an impact on existing business models. Whenever you have any major BM change you capture it on your BM Canvas so all above and below can see the change. Again Steve Blank has been pioneering this concept for using the BM Canvas to ‘signal’ significant changes that he as a VC investor really only needs to get involved in. This can apply also as a ‘trigger’ point for communicating significant changes happening, up and down the organization.
  • Use it to compare business model components across countries where different models are being applied to build businesses. This enables all involved to quickly focus on the differences on these operating models and market formations to get quickly at strategic discussions. This gives the visitor clarity and draws out critical ‘talking points.’ for allowing the visiting fireman to actually say more than “how can we help” but “let me show you ways to be safe.” It brings everyone onto the same value proposition and to rapidly explore the different options far more quickly than through those countless power point slides we have all endured, explaining each of the factors within the market. It gives business reviews a (fantastic) template. Try it!
  • When you are pitching for funds it provides the top picture that others can quickly see and appreciate the why and how- they ‘see’ the value and the $$ potential, Again this has been grasped by some of the more enlightened venture capital investors, just wanting to know where the money is coming from, and then when the changes occur, as they always do, why the ones running the business made the changes from the original BM proposition. This offers ‘intelligent enquiry’ not getting involved in the running of the business but supporting owners or business managers with appropriate experience to compliment theirs.
  • To have ready alternative scenario’s for volatile business conditions as ‘early ready’ that have mapped out potential changing conditions and where and how the business model might be adjusted or radically changed. The earlier ‘warning system’ pays in volatile times and we are all facing those at present.
  • Rapid concept brainstorming to move into prototyping evaluation and market testing. Testing many different variations in small bite sized bets is rapid prototyping, do this through the effective use of the business model canvas. Testing fast in the actual market place new business models and then learning from them to improve the approach is absolutely critical. Get the customer involved.

Just consider all of them. Learn the basics then experiment and you will not look back. I will be doing some more research and validation in the coming months on these, hopefully with large organizations willing to open up to this exploration and thinking.

Find a common language is simply needed

I do think the Business Model Canvas is about to go through a (further) tipping point, that crossing the chasm into mainstream adoption. Finding a common language is one of the critical tenets that Alex has been arguing with his Business Model approach. To find this common language and recognizing the value of this tool in many different situations can be valuable.

Gaining this common voice to the business model, so all those around can understand it easily and quickly, is a major advance on what we presently use in having to explain our business models. For me there is something intuitive about the BMC approach. But to then empower everyone, to go out and seek increased value from new ones seen, that can then be communicated on one page, well that’s the real power of the Business Model Canvas, for any organization, large or small.