Creativity and Business Model Innovation (part 1)

Business model innovation and the search for a scalable business model has been a hot topic over the last couple of years with the explosion of lean startups, customer discovery, and business model generation. But where is the actual innovation in all of this? I am seeing a lot of trial and error but not so much thoughtful creativity as entrepreneurs continuously pivot and validate until they strike business model gold. It might be agile but is it innovative?

Over the next week I’ll be looking at how structured creativity can help put the innovation back into business model innovation. If you want to know how Six Thinking Hats, the five whys, SCAMPER, random word generation or the hall of fame can help to uncover more innovative business models, then this series is for you. Let’s start by looking at how the TERMS Star can help develop more creative value propositions.

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mmMule connects travelers and locals

Imagine planning your next holiday to eastern Europe and finding out that a local orphanage are in desperate need of children’s books written in english, and will reward you with a day out horse riding  if only you will bring a few books.  This is the basic premise of AngelMule, as written about by SpringWise recently.

The idea was formed when co-founders Andrew and Avis found themselves taking a football with them on a trip to Rwanda. They were going anyway, and it wouldn’t take much space, so they also decided to go the extra mile and take it in person to the orphanage that had made the request…the rest is history.

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Why the business case is killing innovation

Most business cases outline a problem, some potential solutions, and an investment strategy in the hope of gaining approval. Unfortunately this no longer works.

Innovation is a Process

We know that innovation is more than just a single activity involving a group of ‘creatives’ getting together and inventing wacky but wonderful ideas. Innovation is a deliberate process moving through a number of steps:

  • Understand the problem
  • Clarify your vision of success
  • Develop the right question
  • Create lots of ideas
  • Develop the most promising ideas into solutions
  • Experiment
  • Launch (this is where you should use a business case)

For the sharp eyed amongst you, you may have noticed that we do still use a business case. Okay, so they are useful…just not as a mechanism for evaluating innovative ideas.

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Collaborative Structures for Open Innovation, part 2

When is a collaboration a good collaboration? And what makes some teams work better together than others? In part 2 of my exploration of collaborative structures for open innovation I’ll be developing a simple set of success criteria for the question:

What kind of collaborative structures can businesses use to source and exploit new ideas?

But first, let’s take a look at how collaborative structures work.

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Collaborative Structures for Open Innovation, part 1

Recently, I wrote about open innovation as a design pattern. The idea of learning how to create and develop ideas “not made here” is an interesting one, as are some of the collaborations, partnerships and contractual structures used to reach out to other organisations. In this post, I’ll start to explore the question:

What kind of collaborative structures can businesses use to source and exploit new ideas?

Using the Productive Thinking Model, the first task is to start gathering some information so we can understand what is going on a bit better. Normally (for a single person CPS effort) I would reach out to the trusty Mind Map…I just found it a bit clunky. Perhaps I’m getting old. Anyway, in today’s post I’ll introduce a new approach to personal brainstorming with the Cloud Map.

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Design patterns #1 – unbundling

Jumbled up business models are all around us. Banks who focus on banking transactions and winning new customers, mobile phone companies who mix up selling phone plans with managing the telecommunications network, and world famous brands who do it all from designing the devices, controlling the applications that run on them and running the stores and distribution network that sell them. Vertical integration can be a complex juggling act. Unbundled business models look at these activities across three essential business model components:

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Mind Maps and Doodles

People have been using visual systems to organise their notes for thousands of years, with Tony Buzan laying claim to the term Mind Mapping for his system of organising notes using a tree like structure with branches radiating from a central theme.

In this example a group of children are asked what they would do with an iPod touch. Using this as their central theme the mind map radiates out across a number of branches like ‘games’, ‘internet’ or interestingly ‘jailbreak’. As each branch is explored, related ideas are added in words or pictures, using a kind of free flow process of word association to capture related information.

As the mind map develops, the structure emerges and an easy to navigate visual map of the idea space emerges. Mind maps are often used to organise notes without having to follow the more restrictive structure of unstructured lists or simple tables.

The Buzan site also lists some more interesting case studies to show how others have used mind maps:

  • Mindmaps to develop government proposals: An iterative process is used with splinter groups breaking out and reconvening to improve mind maps over a 3 day period. Incubation periods between sessions allow participants to  ‘sleep on it’ for improved creativity. The physical environment has also been set up with multiple whiteboards and wall space to encourage a deep level of mind mapping.
  • Mindmaps for business planning: an accounting firm use a multi-layered structure to organise and hyperlink multiple mind maps, one for the priorities and plans for each department in an accounting firm. The setup resembles a mind map wiki.
  • Mindmaps for collaboration in strategy development:  mind maps are used to capture and structure session notes as they go along, instead of putting everything on flip charts/post its and writing it up at the end. Note: whilst this sounds appealing, it might lack the multi-user participation of a large post it free for all since only one person can edit the mind map at a time.


But what if you don’t know the structure, or just feel like being a bit more expressive artistically? In this TED talk, Sunni Brown spreads the word about doodling as a valid means of communication, and not just meaningless images scratched out in classroom exercise books.

Taking doodling a step further Sunni has developed Gamestorming, a formal approach to visual note taking.  In collaboration with Business Model Generation, the art of doodling is now being applied to the smash hit framework for innovating your business model.

Have a look at this doodle version of Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on creativity (not) in our schools:


Six Empathy Hats

A scorpion wanted to cross a brook. On the bank he saw a frog and asked if the frog would give him a ride to the other side. The frog was afraid the scorpion would sting him, but was reassured when the scorpion pointed out that this would mean they would both drown. The frog agreed and half way across the scorpion stung the frog, and they both began to drown.

“Why did you break your word and sting me, knowing it would be certain death for us both?” cried the frog.

“Because it is in my nature.” said the scorpion.

Sometimes, it takes more than just thinking about somebody else’s point of view. We actually have to empathise with them for true understanding.

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Six Value Medals

Edward de Bono published Six Value Medals in 2005. The framework provides a simple tool for systematically considering different perspectives when investigating value. For creative thinking activities, this can be used in two ways:

  1. At the beginning, to help frame your problem correctly by focusing on areas of greatest value
  2. After ideation, to help select ideas on the basis of their potential value

In an earlier post on idea selection, I wrote that ideas can be selected on the basis of potential impact and ease of investigation in place of more commonly used criteria like ‘will it work’ or ‘can we do it’. This form of Black Swan idea selection avoids the common problem of premature idea termination by suspending judgement a little longer. Instead of deciding whether an idea is will work, or whether or not the team can do it with existing resources, we take the more entrepreneurial approach of focusing on what could be with little regard for the resources we currently have to and (people, relationships, prior experience, similar ideas in play already etc).

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