Design Thinking revisited: A conversation with Scott Underwood

Following my blog article on Design Thinking and business model innovation, a vivid discussion about design thinking and business model thinking started. Lately, Scott Underwood joined the discussion. For over 20 years, Scott worked in the Palo Alto and San Francisco offices of IDEO, the global design and innovation firm.

During the last dozen years, his role involved writing, editing, speaking, and teaching about design thinking and the company’s history, culture, and processes. Scott is not IDEO’s spokesperson but a person with insights into the design thinking process. I would like to share his insights with you on the importance of the problem

definition phase and of challenging the assumption of your thinking. Below, you find what Scott wrote in his comment. I have added some emphasis to what Scott wrote.

Scott Underwood, formerly with IDEO, on Design Thinking

Patrick, I can’t give an answer that applies to all of IDEO; I’m not a spokesman, so this is my opinion: Despite definitions that we see in books and websites, design thinking remains a fairly fuzzy and dynamic concept — the phrase “nailing Jello to a wall” comes to mind. However, the problem definition phase of a project is a key component, and this is where not only big corporations but individuals like me fail. Continue reading Design Thinking revisited: A conversation with Scott Underwood

Open Innovation: Does it work?

Open innovation is a big trend today in innovation management. Where are its strengths and limitations? A discussion with Atizo.

Today, I had a long chat with Isabel Steiner and Sabine Hofer from Atizo, an entrepreneurial platform for open innovation. Atizo is a platform where companies can post a question to a crowd to get more and better solutions. This is called open innovation since you are not looking inside your own firm for ideas but to a broader spectrum of people. Some call it crowd sourcing for ideas.

The idea behind open innovation is fascinating. With Atizo, you can address more than 8.000 people with ¾ with academic background to look for fresh ideas. The biggest advantage besides the size of crowd of the “innovators” is the fresh viewpoint on the problem. You take advantage that the innovators do not know the way you always have solved the problem in the past; they are not stuck with your dominant logic.

Atizo’s platform allows companies to generate ideas, evaluate ideas and develop the ideas into marketable concepts.

The idea funnel from Atizo

Depending from your scope you want to use, you can use either the whole crowd, a subsection of your customer and clients if you are a business or you can just invite your closest community for the innovation project.

The different crowds to source from at Atizo

Due to these strengths, open innovation became a huge success in the last years. Well-regarded firms like Swisscom, Mammut, Google or BMW have used Atizo’s platform for open innovation to find new solutions.

So, is Atizo a success?

Success Story Atizo

Yes, since most customers were positively surprised about the quality of the solution. The open innovation idea works. The open innovation platform is fast and cheap to generate idea.

However, as every innovator knows, having even great ideas is not enough. Ideas have to be implemented in the firm AND adopted by the customers. First, implementation in the firm is already difficult since so many impediments like lacking resources; different priorities of top management, wrong corporate culture, Not-invented-here syndrome etc. can and will mostly likely kill the idea.

Secondly, an innovation is not what you think it is, but what the customer adopts. Therefore, from the many great ideas only few have seen the market. The classic dilemma of all innovators.

It is the question, stupid!

Moreover, what Atizo also figures out is how important it is which question you ask. Quite often, the question is very closed and so narrowly defined that the ideas are typical MOTS ideas (more-of-the-same). Nevertheless, do not criticize the ideas and solutions. The problem is with the questions. These questions are so framed by the dominant logic of the current business that really break-through ideas cannot be found. This is the same criticism I have already raised in the case of “Design Thinking”. If you ask the wrong questions, you get irrelevant answers.

Solution anybody?

So we discussed how better questions can be asked. One option is to amend the open innovation process with a phase where the crowd can deliver insights into unsolved problems they see with a current solution. They could deliver insights in the jobs that are still unsolved. Moreover, with these fresh insights even better solutions and ideas could be found. Any other idea?

Business Models, Long Range Planning, Baden-Fuller and latency

Long Range Planning, a prestigious academic journal on strategy, discovered the topic of Business Models and Strategy. It dedicated a whole Special Issue to Business Models. I have mixed feelings regarding the Special Issue. On the one hand it is great that academia takes up such an important topic; on the other hand, it is shows again that academia is a self-referential system which has a strong bias to not-invented-here syndrome since most authors do not reference earlier works that were published outside their closed community of Strategy professors. Sad. Many of the ideas I have read at other places before.

Already in May, I have heard that Long Range Planning had published a Special Issue on Business Models. Today, I got hands on it thanks to Andres Sundelin from The Business Model DataBase.

You can access the article via http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00246301 as a guest. Very interesting topics like “Business Models as Models” by C. Baden-Fuller and M. Morgan or “Business Models, Business Strategy and Innovation” by D.J. Teece are included, so the Special Issue is definitely worthwhile reading.  That is the happy part of the Special Issue.

C. Baden-Fuller, M. Morgan, Henry Chesbrough and business model

What makes me sad about the issue is the closed and self-referential world of the academia in Strategy Research. The topic was broadly covered in early 2000 at least in two Ph.D. theses, I know. However, so far I have found only two citation to Alex Osterwalder’s work in the article “Business Model Innovation: Opportunities and Barriers” by Henry Chesbrough and in the article by Wirtz & al.. Thanks Henry, that you take your open innovation approach also your research. Thanks Bernd.

I hoped to find some background on Business Models in Baden-Fullers and Morgan’s article. Negative. They seemed to have not heard from Osterwalder before, they do not cite him. They are not mentioning ideas of Gary Hamel on business concept innovation from 2000, a concept very close to business model innovation. They cite only their own kind. They still live in their closed community where it is extremely important from whom the idea is coming, even when the original idea is 10 years old and not even cited. That is what I call a long latency!

Origin of business model thinking

The origin in business model thinking dates back to the information management researchers that were building information systems. To do so, they needed models of the reality. They talked about data models, process models, enterprise models and later about business models. When the first Internet entrepreneurs were talking about their strategy, they talked naturally about their business model since that was a language familiar to them. From there, the term transcended to Strategy. E.g., I wrote my Ph.D. thesis exactly at this crossing of information systems and strategy. My supervisors were Prof. Beat Schmid, background in computer science and Prof. Georg von Krogh, a strong researcher in Strategy. Quite a balancing act.

Business model is just a model of a business

When I was writing from 1997 to 2000 my Ph.D. thesis, Prof. von Grogh told me that I needed a unit of analysis for my research. I know the traditional culprits like industry or firm but they did not fit into what we saw in the New Economy. Industry boarders become meaningless; competition came from competitors you had not even heard before.

Therefore, my answer to Georg was very simple: I used the business model as my unit of analysis. He said fine. Just define it. Well, easy said difficult done. I was positive at the beginning that there must be something since we all got Masters of Business Administration so Business should be defined. Nope. Not really.

And again, it was Peter Drucker who had worked on this. He asked the simple questions “What business are you in?” and “What is the purpose of a business”.  And this is exactly what a business model should answer when used for.

[If you want to know something about the origins of business model thinking and my contribution to the topic read chapter two of my Ph.D. from summer 2001 at Google Books. I translated part of that chapter for a workshop Prof. Yves Pigneur and Alexander Osterwalder (a German speaker) organized in summer 2002, when they started their research on business models. (added Jan. 5th, 2017)]

Chesbrough and Rosenbloom (2002) explain the antecedents to the business model concept in their article “The Role of the Business Model in Capturing Value from Innovation: Evidence from Xerox Corporation’s Technology Spinoff Companies”. It is interesting that it was not the academic world that saw the necessity to have the business in focus for strategy but the real world. The business is where the competition is. Welcome to the real world.

Business Modelling: Value Propositon vs. Value Perception

The value proposition is the defining moment of any business, not the product or the service you offer. But it is important to realize that it is not of importance what you write in or think up for your business plan but what customers perceive to be your value. And there can be a huge mismatch.

The classic business plan is a plan of promises. On paper the value proposition almost always sounds promising but in reality the customers have quite often a different perception of the firm, of its products or services. There is a mismatch between value proposition and value perception, the perception gap:

Why: Simply put!

  1. you do not get the message across to your customers since your distribution and marketing channels are too weak or
  2. you do not fulfill the value proposition you offer with your business model you actually have.

The Perception Gap

In most cases, managers will say that the first reason that they just don’t get their message over to the customer is the main cause why they cannot close the perception gap. So in their belief they spent more money on communication and sales and try to persuade potential customers that they offer the best value.

This is the typical behavior of the past Continue reading Business Modelling: Value Propositon vs. Value Perception

Thomas Middelhoff or how to earn money with a bad business model

Thomas Middelhoff was the CEO of the now insolvent German retail conglomerate Arcandor formerly known as KarstadtQuelle. Thomas Middelhoff has a good sense for timing. He left Arcandor in March 2009 just 3 months before the company had to file for bankrupcy in June. What made his stint at Arcandor so remarkable was not that he turned around the business of Arcandor but his ability to benefit personally from his position at Arcandor.

I am following the Arcandor business case for a while and I have written about the failure to innovate its business model in the past. So a recent  article of Süddeutsche on Arcandor grabed my attention.

The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reports (in German) that Middelhoff is by far better of than his former employer Arcandor and its employees that have lost their jobs. Süddeutsche Zeitung cites a confidential report of the auditors from Deloitte that acted on behalf of the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). Continue reading Thomas Middelhoff or how to earn money with a bad business model

Newspapers Economics and the need for new business models

Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google and co-author of the seminal book “Information Rules” just publishes an article on the changing economics of newspapers. The paper and his blog post is worthwhile reading.

The articles goes well along my analysis of the newspaper market, where I argue that just a transfer of the paper business model to the Internet does not work since the business model of traditional papers is unbundled by the Internet. A newspaper is three businesses (content, advertising (selling of readers’ attention) and classifieds (bringing demand and supply together) bundled together by paper. And on the Internet, the glue of paper does not exists any more. So the revenue model of newspapers will not work on the Internet.

Varian argues that newspapers actually never earned money with news from their frontpages but from special interest sections like Automotives, Travel, Home & Garden or Food & Drinks. These sections attracted contextually targeted advertising which is much more effective than non-targeted advertising like you have in the news section.

And in the Online world, special-interest sites attract the search-engine traffic and not general-interest sites like the Internet pages of newspapers.

Well, when you follow his arguments than a mere transfer of the traditional business model to the web will never work for newspapers.

Simply put. The Internet is different. It has different economics and therefore you have to adapt your business model to the changing economics. Either you do it or you die! And this not only true for newspapers but also for other industries.

[update March 29th, 2010] Seth Godin writes in his blog what it means when the economics are changing in the publishing industry. He highlights the possibility that great authors have the potential to lead their own tribe. They will not be bond to the paper publishers any more. The text is worthwhile reading since it shows new business opportunities for authors.

[update August 5th, 2010] Google posted another paper on the subject. It comments in this paper the Federal Trade Commission’s News Media Workshop and Staff Discussion Draft on “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” The paper is definitely more interesting than the title.

Google Comments To FTC

Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations

In the discussion on business model innovation the focus is often on the innovations regarding the value proposition or on the value architecture but it is interesting to look at the revenue model as well for starting points for an innovation.

Anders Sundelin in a recent blog post reflected on net working capital and the influence of the business model on it.  I can only recommend his post to anyone. He shows how this important financial figure (net working capital)  is influenced by the business model. Actually, almost all innovation in the retail industry change the economics of the industry. They all start by minimizing the working capital needed in the operation. Since the traditional business model in retailing is very capital intensive due to inventory, all disruptive innovations help to reduce the capital tied to inventory. And interestingly, at the same time as the working capital is decreased or in same cases, it even becomes negative the margins on sales go down.

One example: department stores vs. discounters

In the 1960s managers in department stores were having a good time. Department stores ( marked with a 1) went well and their economics were great with gross profits of 40% on sales. Imaging you would have worked at let’s say Karstadt, a German department store. You have a great idea. You believe that the future of retailing will be different and you have the idea a discounter retail outlet with limited stocks and less choice for the clients. You do your economics and you end up with a gross profit of 23% on sales (marked with a 2).

Continue reading Changing financials, changing economics, retailing and business model innovations

Trust, Bankers and Soldiers of Fortunes – You get what you pay

The Swiss private banks are under pressure to change their business model. It is not just pressure from other states that want to fight tax evasion via exchange of information on bank customers but also from employers that try to sell stolen customers’ data  to foreign governments.

The big news in Switzerland is that an informant, crook or thief – whatever you like to call him depends from your standpoint – has offered the German authorities data from 1,500 German customers of Swiss Banks that have allegedly dodged taxes. Last year, another informant stole data on 3,000 French bank clients from the HSBC branch in Switzerland and sold it to the French authorities. And in 2008, Germany already purchased data on German customers of the Liechtenstein Bank LGT. The LGT case cost the German government several million Euro but they received a far higher pay-back on its investment form all the taxes and fines that the busted tax evaders had to pay.

There will be more

And these three data thefts will not be the last. It is not only the authorities of high-tax countries like France or Germany that see their high return of investment if they buy data from informants but also there will be more willing bankers that will sell data of its customers. Why? Continue reading Trust, Bankers and Soldiers of Fortunes – You get what you pay

Design thinking, Ideo and disruptive business model innovation

To be honest, I get a bit bored about the mantra that design thinking will solve the problems of large corporation. Well, when I go through the case studies at Ideo I am extremely impressed by their client list but not about the output. I have seen several design thinking sessions and I am not impressed at all with the output. The results are very often: More-of-the-Same but with fancier design.

Wer hat es erfunden? Novo Nordisk insulin pen

Where is the invention from design thinking that changed the industry? Where is the iTunes or the Kindle of Ideo? The problem with design thinking starts very early in the process with the problem definition phase. And that is where large corporations fail. They define the scope too narrow and than you get nice new things that sustain your current business but not new business models that rock your industry and yourself.

Ideo is a very good (self-) marketing & design firm but not an industry rocking firm. Large firms just love Ideo because Ideo just offers such a well designed process to solve the big problem of “being not innovative”. You hire Ideo for comforting yourself for not using your own common sense and your own customer insights. You just outsource your understanding of the customer to Ideo.

And how innovative are Ideo’s ideas?

Let’s take the example of the insulin pen Ideo describes on its homepage as a case [update 22nd Oct 2010, case is not available on IDEOs homepage any longer due to redesign of page]. Continue reading Design thinking, Ideo and disruptive business model innovation

Culture and the Business Model: We are humans

In the discussion on business model innovation an important point is missing: the culture in which the business is conducted. A business is all about people “creating” customers.

Businesses are not a technical machine with input and output factors. Businesses are places where human beings work together for a common goal and therefore the culture in a business is a defining part of a business and therefore also for the business model.

Most definitions of what a business model is are rather technical. We talk about components, patterns, building blocks. We make a lot of fuss about how we rearrange the components as if they were just Lego bricks. We believe that having in mind a great new business model is already a business model innovation.

Where are the people?

Ups, no! That does not work. Somehow the most important “building block” of a business is missing: The human being that designs, shapes and makes the business work and the customer who has to buy into the new value proposition and pay. And here again we have the human factor. “[I]nnovation is not what innovators do but what customers adopt.” We always have to remember what Michael Schrage is saying. It is the customer acceptance that makes an innovation. Continue reading Culture and the Business Model: We are humans