Mapping Business Models (a Knowledge Game)

Mapping out a business model with a group of people is like playing a game. That's what I came to realize when my friend and leading visual thinker, Dave Gray, introduced me to his new project called Knowledge Games.

I was instantly fascinated by the project, because it is extremely relevant for anybody who wants to understand how creative work is starting to be organized in today's organizations. Yet, most interestingly, the Knowledge Games project is utterly practical, since it aims to outline a series of games designed to help you get more innovative, creative results in your work. The authors of the project, Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo are on the best path towards creating the next reference guide for the creative business professional and business innovator. The metaphor of games refers to the most natural of human mechanisms of exploring the world: games & play. And what could be more important than exploration when it comes to defining strategy and business models in a competitive environment characterized by volatility, unknowns and constant change:

Games come naturally to human beings. Playing a game is a way of exploring the world, a form of structured play, a natural learning activity that’s deeply tied to growth. Games can be fun and entertaining, but games can have practical benefits too.

When Dave asked me to formulate the usage of the Business Model Canvas as a Knowledge Game I was immediately hooked. Here is the blogpost I wrote for the Knowledge Games project (check out the original post):

Objective of Play: Visualize a business model idea or an organization's current and/or future business model in order to create a shared understanding and highlight key drivers.

Number of Players: 1-6 (depending on the objective). Works well individually to quickly sketch out and think through a business model idea or an interesting business portrayed in the press. To map an organization's existing and/or future business model you should work in groups. The more diverse the group of players (marketing, operations, finance, IT, etc.), the more accurate the picture of the business model will be.

Duration of Play: Anywhere between 15 minutes for individual play (napkin sketch of a business model idea), half a day (to map an organization's existing business model), and two days (to develop a future business model or start-up business model, including business case).

Material required: Mapping business models works best when players work on a poster on the wall. To run a good session you will need the following:

  • A very large print of a Business Canvas Poster. Ideally B0 format (1000mm × 1414mm or 39.4in × 55.7in)
  • Tons of sticky notes (i.e. post-it® notes) of different colors
  • Flip chart markers
  • Camera to capture results
  • The facilitator of the game might want to read an outline of the Business Model Canvas (free 72 page preview of Business Model Generation

How to Play: There are several games and variations you can play with the Business Model Canvas Poster. Here we describe the most basic game, which is the mapping of an organization's existing business model (steps 1-3), it's assessment (step 4), and the formulation of improved or potential new business models (step 5). The game can easily be adapted to the objectives of the players.

  1. A good way to start mapping your business model is by letting players begin to describe the different customer segments your organization serves. Players should put up different color sticky notes on the Canvas Poster for each type of segment. A group of customers represents a distinct segment if they have distinct needs and you offer them distinct value propositions (e.g. a newspapers serves readers and advertisers), or if they require different channels, customer relationships, or revenue streams.
  2. Subsequently, players should map out the value propositions your organization offers each customer segment. Players should use same color sticky notes for value propositions and customer segments that go together. If a value proposition targets two very different customer segments, the sticky note colors of both segments should be used.
  3. Then players should map out all the remaining building blocks of your organization's business model with sticky notes. They should always try to use the colors of the related customer segment.
  4. When the players mapped out the whole business model they can start assessing its strength and weaknesses by putting up green (strength) and red (weakness) sticky notes alongside the strong and weak elements of the mapped business model. Alternatively, sticky notes marked with a "+" and "-" can be used rather than colors.
  5. Based on the visualization of your organization's business model, which players mapped out in steps 1-4, they can now either try to improve the existing business model or generate totally new alternative business models. Ideally players use one or several additional Business Model Canvas Posters to map out improved business models or new alternatives.

Strategy: This is a very powerful game to start discussing an organization's or a department's business model. Because the players visualize the business model together they develop a very strong shared understanding of what their business model really is about. One would think the business model is clear to most people in an organization. Yet, it is not uncommon that mapping out an organization's business model leads to very intense and deep discussions among the players to arrive at a consensus on what an organization's business model really is.

The mapping of an organization's existing business model, including its strengths and weaknesses, is an essential starting point to improve the current business model and/or develop new future business models. At the very least the game leads to a refined and shared understanding of an organization's business model. At its best it helps players develop strategic directions for the future by outlining new and/or improved business models for the organization.

Variations: The Business Model Canvas Tool can be the basis of several other games, such as games to:

  • generate a business model for a start-up organization
  • develop a business model for a new product and/or service
  • map out the business models of competitors, particularly insurgents with new business models
  • map out and understand innovative business models in other industries as a source of inspiration
  • communicate business models across an organization or to investors (e.g. for start-ups)

The Power of Immersion and Visual Thinking

I am currently keeping my blogposts to a minimum, because I am focusing on book writing and delivering a small number of keynotes and workshops. However, I haven't stopped experimenting. During the last workshop in The Netherlands I changed the structure of the workshop and I had the opportunity to work together with JAM, a Dutch company focusing on visual strategy facilitation. It was a big success.

One of the main changes I made to the workshop structure was a new focus for the break-out sessions. I gave the immersion into client issues much more space. The workshop had two "client immersion sessions" before actually thinking of drafting an innovative business model around the clients. The ultimate task was to re-invent the consulting business model. Instead of getting them to start with business model innovation immediately I made them think about how consulting clients really feel and start innovating from there. This worked out really well, notably because JAM made the outcomes more tangible through images.

In the first break-out session I asked the groups to make a simple client profile (based on a method from XPLANE, which they call "empathy map"). The goal of this exercise is to think of the client more holistically.

The next break-out session consisted of sketching out the most important client issues. Wouter (1st image below) and Jan (2nd image) from JAM did a wonderful job of making these client issues more tangible through visualizations.

The groups then had a chance to walk around and look at the other groups' work. In addition I asked them to put stickers on the client issues which they found most interesting. This "silent feedback" gave the groups a direction for the following break-out sessions.

After the client immersion sessions I asked the groups to outline the building blocks of their business models with the business model canvas.

At the end of the busy day each group presented their work and we voted for the best new consulting business model.

By the way, the workshop was kindly hosted by, a company led by Ronald van den Hoff. He is disrupting the meeting space and event venue business with an innovative business model. Workshop participants had a chance to learn about his "lessons learned" when I interviewed him on business model innovation issues during the workshop.

All the other photos of the event can be found on my Flickr page. Big thanks to my business partner Patrick van der Pijl who took the pictures, but more importantly, set-up and managed the event.

Business Models with an Impact beyond $

We are living in exciting times. Some entrepreneurs involved in business model innovation are not only seeking for financial returns, but are also aiming at achieving social, development and environmental returns. In other words, money and fame are not their only motivators. They want to have an impact. What is interesting is that they are aiming at combining financial AND social success. These entrepreneurs try to prove that these two are not necessarily contradictory.

There are are a couple of interesting business models out there that I follow with quite some fascination. Grameen Phone is a telecom company founded by Iqbal Quadir, that has brought connectivity to rural areas in Bangladesh. What is interesting about their business model is that they partnered with the world famous micro finance institution Grameen Bank to exploit synergies.

I also very much like the business model of MyC4, which allows you and me to make loans to small businesses in developing countries. This means that I can diversify my investments away from the unstable global equity markets towards uncorrelated small businesses in developing economies. I make a return on my investment, while helping boost development. Really exciting.

I am very much a believer in the fact that you can do good while doing well. This is not about "giving back", but about creating value while making a difference. Since this is an area that I'm interested in I decided to help run a workshop on the topic in London this coming Thursday. Check out "Disruptive models: The art and science of VISUAL BUSINESS MODEL DESIGN for breakthrough social innovation" if you are curious (or sign-up if you are in London).

See you there!

Design Thinking & Techniques

I’m just back from a 2-day business model workshop I gave in Medellin, Colombia, with a local telecommunications company. For the first time I really elaborated a bit more on the design-thinking component of sound business model development. I pointed out that business people must display a particular design attitude and use design techniques in order to come up with good new business models.

The participants of the workshop, mainly from engineering backgrounds, responded really well to this message. They seemed to enjoy the co-creation, visual working on the wall, etc., which I got them to do during the break-out sessions.
Here some of the designer’s technique’s that I highlighted for use in business contexts:

  • Observation of clients to understand them, identify needs and design a corresponding business model
  • Co-creation with clients and among multi-disciplinary teams within companies to integrate different perspectives
  • Brainstorming and ideation to achieve break-throughs and come up with new business models
  • Visualization to connect concepts, foster joint understanding and run focused meetings
  • Prototyping to explore several ideas simultaneously and test business models

Initially, I wanted to show the participants the famous IDEO video where they design a new shopping cart in order to illustrate the above design techniques and design attitude. However, since the DVD I had was broken, I had to find some other videos on the Web or from my video library.

After some searching, I finally decided to show two excerpts from “Managing as Designing” from the Weatherhead School of Management. They highlight some interesting thinking on the relationship between design & business. I also showed a very short excerpt (because the whole thing would have scared them) from Philippe Starck’s talk at TED to show that design is not about making “nice” products, but about creating value for the user of a product. Philippe Starck, as many of you certainly now, is a celebrated star designer…

After these thoughts on design I would also like to stress how impressed I was by the workshop participants and the city of Medellin in general. Formerly known as a hub for narco-traffic the city has completely transformed over the past years. There is beautiful architecture everywhere and the economy is booming. Definitely a place I will enjoy to come back to. This is certainly also related to the outstanding hospitality I enjoyed by the persons who invited me.

Video Trailer ULURU Workshop on Business Model Innovation

In April I ran a workshop at the ULURU innovation theater, which was fully booked out with over 20 participants. The team at ULURU made a great trailer of the event which you can enjoy here:

I would also like to use this opportunity to make a pre-announcement of a book project that ULURU and I are planning on the topic of business model innovation. The interesting part: We won't just write a book (there are already so many), but we will design an innovative business model around the book. I think it is the best way to make a case for a book on business model innovation.

In a first phase we are looking for 4 corporate sponsors that are willing to finance the launch of the book. They will get access to a global public of managers and entrepreneurs interested in business model innovation. They will be associated with probably the most innovative management book project to date (including global viral marketing through web videos). Finally, they will get a special workshop on business model innovation designed for them and/or for their clients. All that in return for a modest sponsorship fee that is well below a 1-day/1-page ad in the Financial Times...

More on the book project to come soon... By the way, this blog (once redesigned) will certainly play a major role during the writing phase of the book.

Don't hesitate to post comments if you have ideas or recommendations for the book on business model innovation.

Podcast with Dave Gray on Visual Business Communications & Workshop in Geneva

I'm a strong proponent of using visual techniques and tools in business communications. This starts with sound Power Point Presentations and culminates in the clear and visual communication of corporate strategies (including business models). Therefore I'm a big fan of XPLANE, the global market leader in visual thinking and visual techniques that helps companies solve business problems and improve business communications through visuals. They've worked with a large number of global companies, including Credit Suisse, Nokia, Apple, IBM, Bank of America and many more.

I've talked to XPLANE's Founder and CEO, Dave Gray, about using visual techniques in business in today's podcast. We also talked about the workshop Dave will be giving at our premises at Arvetica in Geneva, Switzerland, on the 18th of March (there are still a few seats available, if you are interested).

Enjoy the podcast:


In the podcast Dave explains the value of visual techniques for businesses and private banks and outlines what we will be doing during the workshop in March. He particularly stresses that mediocre communications lead to misalignment in management and hence result in poor implementation. Dave invites entire management and project teams to participate in the workshop so that they can directly work on concrete business problems. That's quite an opportunity to be able to benefit from individual coaching by one of the leading thinkers in visual business communications.

If you are interested in participating in the workshop download the flyer (pdf) and send us the registration form.

dave gray ceo xplane

Business Model Innovation Workshop in Amsterdam at ULURU Innovation Theatre

I'll be giving a full day workshop on business model innovation at the ULURU innovation theatre in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 3. April 2008.

The invitation (image left) shows that ULURU is a company that does things differently. They have a strong network among Dutch multinationals (including Heineken, TomTom, ING , KPN and many others).

Workshop Take Away: After this workshop you will know and understand innovative business models from various industries and be able to apply the business modelling methodology to your own company. You will also be able to use a pragmatic framework to innovate within your own business model.

Content: Help (senior) management foster business model innovation at large; Give (senior) managers a broad overview of innovatieve (disruptive) business models in various industries; We will show examples from various industries (including in wealth management, private banking, telecom (Skype)); The participants will learn how to apply a simple and pragmatic approach to achieve and implement business model innovation.

If you're interested in participating click on the invitation image and contact them directly. Of the 25 available seats, only 10 are left after 4 days of workshop announcement. I'm sure it will be a great experience.

See you in Amsterdam!

Ad-hoc Business Model Stage Fight (LIFT'08 Geneva)

Arvetica is organizing an Ad-hoc Business Model Stage Fight at LIFT'08 in Geneva, Switzerland. Just like last year we thought we would contribute to the workshop program of the conference...

In this half day workshop participants will learn about a method to rapidly prototype business models. Then they will form ad-hoc teams that compete against each other. Each team will come up with an innovative business model based on a given scenario. The attendees will jointly vote the winner by evaluating creativity, realism and story.

Images and take-aways will be available on this blog soon. I'm curious to see how participants will perform with "rapid business model prototyping" (RaBMoPro ;-)

For the attendees: Here the plan to get from Unimail (venue of other LIFT'08 workshops) to Arvetica, where the workshop "Ad-hoc Business Model Stage Fight" is taking place...

Directions to Arvetica (stage fight) from Unimail (other LIFT'08 workshops):

  • walk out of the main entrance of the Unimail building
  • turn right
  • walk straight (along the tram line)
  • cross the bridge
  • continue approx. 600m (street = route des Acacias)
  • Arvetica is just across the street from the Shell station
  • Address: route des Acacias 24
  • go inside the building and take the elevator to the 6th floor

Workshop Outcome in Mexico

Last week I was in Mexico for Arvetica to facilitate two workshops on Business Model Design and Innovation. The first one was with a group of executives and the second one was with the faculty of the Tecnologica de Monterrey (ITESM). Both were organized by the well known ITESM.

In the first workshop (5 hours) I focused on the utility of the business model concept and a process to achieve business model innovation. In break-out sessions I got the executives to design parts of a business model of a soccer club, which worked out quite well. Here the slides:

In the second workshop (2 days) I emphasized the value of design thinking in business and how it applies to business model design and innovation. The work with the group of about 30 faculty members was quite fun and I made them design an entire (roughly shaped) business model during the two days. Besides that I outlined some of the underlying concepts to business model design and design thinking. Here the slides:

Throughout this first visit to Mexico I had the opportunity to meet some great people. I was very impressed by the strategic thinking and conceptual knowledge of industrialist, Jorge Valdes, of the Valsi and Evans brands and the quality of the people at the Tecnologico, such as Daniel Pandza and Maria Elena Vazquez.

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Second Life for Businesses - arvetica workshops

I've been silent for a while because I explored Second Life....For those who don't know what it is: it's a parallel virtual world that you can dive into in the form of an avatar (see wikipedia definition). Today, for example, I was at the virtual World Economic Forum WEF to listen to EasyJet founder.

Various businesses have established a presence there, such as IBM, Adidas, Reuters, Toyota (see video below for the Scion that was launched in Second Life) etc.

Because it's quite a hot phenomena we are organizing a short free presentation at arvetica on March 1, 2007 to discuss what companies may get out of Second Life. Register if you're in Geneva. We are also hosting a workshop at the LIFT conference on February 7 in the afternoon. However, most important: I will later announce a 2-day immersion workshop at arvetica where business people and marketers can really look into the potential of Second Life. Contact me if you want more info or pre-reserve for the limited seats...

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