Brainstorm your Business Model

16 May

The fundamental goal of a business start-up is to find a business model that scales. This can take a while, and is likely to require a number of iterations of the business model before the right one is found. A creative problem solving approach might start out by understanding the problems that need to be solved, looking at what has been done before, and then generating a lot of different business models before starting to test which ones work the best.

In today’s post, I’ll look at three different brainstorming techniques which can be used to develop business models using groups and the business model canvas.

Brainstorming and Business Modelling

Brainstorming has been around since 1953 when Alex Osborn created it as a way for groups to generate a lot of ideas, using the social interaction to help ideas build on each other. The main ‘rules’ for brainstorming are (i) everyone contributes, (ii) ideas are generated NOT evaluated, (iii) even silly sounding ideas can be useful as stimulus for generating further ideas, (iv) all ideas get recorded.

I have chosen a couple of different styles of brainstorm which could be well suited to a form of group discussion around a business model, with ideation being directed towards specific components of the model.

Publish, Circle, Refine

This works really well for groups of between 10 and 20 people, split into groups of around 4 to 6 people. Each group is given a flip chart sized business model canvas to fill in. They move through the following steps:

  • Groups have 15 minutes to develop their own business model. To encourage variety, each group is given a different point of view to consider (i) customer, (ii) investor, (iii) supplier/partner, (iv) production
  • Publish: each group publishes their model to a publication wall, one member stands by each model as a presented
  • Circle: remaining participants look at and discuss all other business models
  • Refine: once everyone has seen all other business models, groups return to their places and refine or improve their own business model.
  • Final versions are published and presented to the group as a whole

World Cafe

This works well with larger groups which can be divided into tables of 4, e.g. 16, 20 or 24 participants. Each group of 4 sits facing each other with knees almost touching and a flip chart sized business model canvas on their laps to form a table. Each group also has a stack of crayons or coloured pencils. A Maitre D facilitates the session using the following steps:

  • Groups have 15 minutes to develop their own business model, chatting and doodling as they go. To encourage variety, each group is given a different point of view to consider e.g. (i) customer, (ii) investor, (iii) supplier/partner, (iv) production
  • The Maitre d’ introduces the next course. Participants change tables leaving one member behind, and splitting up as much as possible.
  • Groups are introduced to the discussion so far by the remaining member. New groups add to, change and develop the business model for another 5 or 10 minutes.
  • This continues until everyone has sat at every table.
  • Final versions are published and presented to the group as a whole


A small group (say 4 to 6 people) sit in the centre of the room and develop a business model using a flip chart sized  business model canvas. A larger group of silent observers sit around the outside of the room. The silent observers write out their own ideas on individual idea journals, to be collected and combined at the end. After a period of 10 or 15 minutes, observers switch places with the central group and add to the business model, using the ideas jotted down during observation.


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2 Responses to “Brainstorm your Business Model”

  1. Chuck Dymer May 17, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    Crisp post with great tips. Thanks.


  1. Linking your Business Model to Strategy « Five Whys - May 18, 2012

    [...] a starting point, you could try asking these questions of your business model brainstorm, and see how this affects your business model and its effectiveness in delivering a scalable source [...]

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