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


  • 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


  • 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


  • “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

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.


  • 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 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:


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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 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... Uses Canvas to Visualize, Challenge and Communicate Business Model

I always love seeing young and interesting companies adopt the Business Model Canvas. So I was very happy when renowned Dutch music upstart SellaBand used the Canvas to visualize their Business Model. They're a typical example of the business model generation. They use the image below to explain their innovative model to investors and employees. The image is one of the many illustrations in the "Business Model Generation" book by the way.

Sellaband provides an alternative to the traditional music industry. It is a platform that empowers artists to record their next album, funded by their fans.

Read more about the SellaBand business model example and how it came to live in Patrick van der Pijl's blogpost. Patrick worked with strategy consultant Ouke Arts, strategy visualizers JAM, and Sellaband co-founder Johan Vosmeijer on the case.

If you're interested in the link between business models and visualization: JAM has done a lot of the visual thinking in "Business Model Generation"!

Business Model Knowledge Fair & Book Launch

No, the book is not finished yet, but we launched a 200-print unfinished limited edition for the Business Model Knowledge Fair in Amsterdam last Friday. The limited edition, which was messed up by the print-house (page order wrong), is now truly a collector's item and can be purchased for $250.-

The "real" book will be out in September and can be pre-ordered at a special 25% discount on The reason it takes a little bit longer than planned is because we are co-creating the book. Integrating 400+ people in the process is time-consuming, but makes for a better book!

A number of those co-creators from our business model book writing Hub also took place in the Business Model Knowledge Fair last Friday. It was extraordinary to see them face to face. They came from many different places: US, Spain, Canada, Slovenia, Germany, and more (12 countries in total - on the Hub participants are from 40+ countries).

As to the event: The day was perfectly run by Patrick van der Pijl from Business Models Inc, who moderated the presentations and workshop sessions. The event took place at the “Hotel De Goudfazant” - an innovator's venue.

I kicked off the day with a presentation on... Business Models. Check out the slides:

After my Intro Patrick interviewed the entire core book team, including my co-author Yves Pigneur, designer Alan Smith and editor Tim Clark (Patrick is himself involved managing production and distribution). To give the audience a feel for the book project FISH-EYE media produced a short video trailer of the book writing. Enjoy it:

Then, after his short video intermezzo, four business model innovation practitioners presented their work. Bas van Oosterhout of Capgemini presented his work at DSM, Marielle Sijgers presented and Harry Verwayen of Kennisland presented his work at the National Archive. Really impressive what these people are achieving!

In the afternoon we continued with something that I find core to systematically approaching business model innovation: Visual Thinking. The visual strategists of JAM, who are substantially contributing to the book, ran a dare2draw session. They got all 60 participants to draw their business model. Look at the photo proof (or check out all the photos here):

After the drawing session Tim Clark and Alan Smith took over. Tim presented his exciting and relevant research on the relationship between cultural context and business models, particularly related to Japan. Alan gave us a great insight into design methods and design thinking. Absolutely crucial when it comes to business model innovation.

The end of the day was devoted to the business model Hub where we co-created the book. First, Martijn Pater of Fronteer Strategy - a co-creation specialist - outlined the guiding principles of co-creation. Then the participants jointly brainstormed on a couple of questions to continue this business model innovation community: What are the lessons learned? What business model questions remain unanswered. What do we really need to focus on as a community of practitioners. Let's hope this effort will go much beyond the book!

Here some final photos - The book team (Tim's missing - see him in the next photo)

Tim Clark (with the blue shirt) and others - drawing business models

Participants enjoying the day

Presentation of a visual business model

I'm presenting the "broken" b&w limited edition

If you are interested in buying one of the remaining "broken" & unfinished limited editions of Business Model Generation, of which only 200 examples will ever be printed, you can do that here. The book is printed in black & white, contains about 70% of the final content, of which 50% is fully designed. This limited edition was part of the package of the Business Model Knowledge Fair. What makes it a collector's item is that the print house got the printing wrong. The page order was misaligned, which completely messed up the design and made the book almost unreadable.

Buy the "broken" limited edition of Business Model Generation now for $250.- and you will get the final full color print in addition for free this September.

Caveat: This is a collector's item of which only 200 examples will be printed. The book is not finished, not fully designed and has a print error.

Business Model Knowledge Fair, Book Launch and other Upcoming Events

I'm excited to announce the Business Model Knowledge Fair and Book Launch Party on June 19 2009 in Amsterdam (register now for early-bird rate). Though we still have some path to go to finish the business model book, I'm really looking forward to the event. It will be a special day where we have working sessions around the book content and share knowledge and experience with business model practitioners! It will be a unique and particular event and you will get a limited special launch edition of the book.

As a reader of my blog you get a special discount off the entry price. The first 10 people get a crazy 35% discount (discount registration code: "bizmodelblog35"). When those are sold out you get still get a nice 10% (discount registration code: "bizmodelblog10").

I will also be speaking at a couple of other public events this Spring:

  • April 16. Oslo (Norway): Keynote at BEKK Business Model Seminar (sign-up)
  • May 7. Tampa (US): Keynote at Innovate Tampa Bay Summit (sign-up)
  • May 15. Waterford (Ireland): Keynote at Innovate to Compete

See you around!