The Challenges of an Innovation Journey (an Author's Perspective)

Our upcoming book Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers (10% pre-purchase discount) is literally on the way to the printing press – time to summarize the experience.

The past 14 months have been an exciting, but also very exhausting innovation journey. From all my experiences with innovation (I have helped build two and sell one organization) this has been by far the most challenging one. It is only thanks to a great team that this project has produced a powerful book (Yves Pigneur: Co-Author, Alan Smith: Design, Tim Clark: Editing, Patrick van der Pijl: Production). So how did the journey look like: Starting Point

Goal:

  • Produce a book on the topic of business model innovation that stands out in a market where countless strategy and management books are published every year

Assets:

  • a “willing” and enthusiastic co-author with the best analytical and structuring skills I can imagine: My former PhD supervisor Prof Yves Pigneur
  • a reasonably well frequented blog on business models with a global audience
  • a business model innovation approach increasingly practiced around the world, notably in companies such as 3M, Ericsson, Deloitte, and Telenor (based on my PhD dissertation and blog)
  • a variable income stream from keynote talks and workshops that almost covers the living costs for my little family (invitations for gigs solely through my blog) and allows for writing

Handicaps:

  • “Competing” in a field of big name gurus from Harvard, Insead, Wharton & Co., while I am mainly known through my blog

Initial Ideas:

  • Publish the book based on an innovative business model to underline the importance of the concept
  • Finance the book through corporate sponsors who would have their logo on the cover
  • Bypass publishers
  • Sell mainly through Amazon.com

Of course things turned out differently than I initially imagined. It was actually much more exciting, though I hadn’t foreseen most of the obstacles. But let’s first look at the end result of the journey.

Outcome:

  • a highly visual, full color, beautifully designed, and practical book with 280 pages on business model innovation
  • strong differentiation from traditional strategy & management books
  • 470 co-authors who have contributed to making this a better product and who have partially financed the endeavor through their access fees to the Business Model Hub where the co-creation has take place
  • Pre-sales through our own website www.businessmodelgeneration.com that have contributed to financing the first print run
  • Successfully bypassed publishers (I even got an invitation by the German publishing industry to show how we’ve done it)

What I realized during the project was that Business Model Generation is spearheading an entirely new generation of management books: designed, visual, co-created, approachable and applicable. We had to create entirely new systems and processes to actually produce such a book.

During the work with our creative director and designer, Alan Smith from The Movement, I realized how powerful design is to create a good management book. It’s not “just” about the content, but also about the form. Management concepts are inherently visual, because they deal with simplifying the complexity of today’s business environment in order to make it manageable. Not using visuals to convey these concepts seems silly.

Good design can make management books much clearer and more functional – and as a side effect also more beautiful. As a result of our project I have become intolerant for old-style text-heavy management and strategy books.

So what are the key lessons learned that I could share with writers of future management books?

Lessons learned:

Pros:

  • Co-creating the book in a completely transparent way on an Internet platform has been a wonderful experience. We regularly shared content chunks in a very raw and unedited format with 470 co-authors. In addition we gave insights into our challenges and the design process. The feedback and comments led to a greater product - though responding to every one of the 1’300+ comments and integrating them into the book was extremely time consuming. The positive aspect was to see how enthusiastic the crowd was and how some people started to feel ownership of the product. Rightly so, since they contributed and will have their names printed in the book.
  • Designing the book under the creative direction of Alan Smith has been an eye-opening experience. I couldn’t imagine writing a text-only business book anymore. Impossible. It just wouldn’t make sense. Design and visualization is – in my opinion - indispensable to convey business concepts. More importantly even, discussing the design of content with Alan helped crystallize key concepts of the book. Thus, design thinking has become core to producing content rather than just an afterthought to make the book look good.
  • Differentiation has been “easier” than expected. What we have done in terms of co-creation and book design is truly unique and has attracted many, many curious people. I think it was the only possible path for us “underdogs” in this field of mostly North American gurus (sometimes with Indian roots ;-). Sales will tell.

Cons:

  • Playing underdog is tough. The players who we hoped could sponsor the book project didn’t see the potential and didn’t understand. Now that it’s done they are showing up. Too late – we covered the risk of the project ourselves and succeeded. The premium to join now is high!
  • Resources were extremely limited. It is only thanks to the “sacrifices” of the entire core book team that we could bring this project to fruition. More money would have made the process much easier, yet it probably wouldn’t have led to a better end product.
  • Lacking the infrastructure to do what we wanted to do was a challenge. There is no off-the-shelf platform on the Web where an author can co-create with readers and ask them for a participation fee. We tinkered with Ning and Paypal and my blog to put something workable together.
  • Amazon.com is a must-have distribution channel. However, to sell on Amazon we must give them 55% of our sales price. This leaves us with 45% to cover production costs and shipping to their warehouses. We will probably have to charge a much higher price than we want to simply to cover our costs. However, solely selling at a reasonable price through our own website www.businessmodelgeneration.com based on a Dutch fulfillment center is not an option. Amazon has a de-facto monopoly…

Those were some initial thoughts… There is certainly more and I will write more when we have started to deliver books end of September.

Have a look at the “making of” pages coming directly from Business Model Generation to learn more about what we’ve done.

Making of...