Business model design & the democratization of strategy

AHA Business Model System                                                          ©Alison Heiser Associates, LLC

AHA Business Model System                                                          ©Alison Heiser Associates, LLC

I just read an HBR article on designing winning business models that I thought was very insightful, and rang true to my own experiences working in a variety of business contexts. Yet there was a hint at the beginning—and a more serious effort at the end—to explain the differences between strategy and business models. I have participated in more conversations than I care to count debating the concepts of mission, vision, strategy, plans, tactics. In my observation these debates are more about academic posturing, and frankly not very helpful for leaders charged with growing a business.

What has been incredibly helpful over the last ten years is the emergence of business model frameworks that provide a structure to articulate business choices in a handful of important areas. I absolutely love the choice-making language that Roger Martin has used to describe strategy. When you ask a team of people to describe choices, they are usually very good at it. And the simplicity of a visual model lends itself to conversations around the relationship of the choices that contribute to a robust or struggling business model system.

It’s the systems view of the business model that I find most relevant in considering alternative choices. Thinking about the system as interconnected decisions is a sophisticated method of strategy development. And somehow when I work with highly diverse teams—function, experience, mindset, culture—strategy becomes democratic: work that is strategic without calling it strategy.

A few years ago I had a conversation with Jim Keane, CEO at Steelcase, and we were talking about his expectations and preferred communication or formats for strategy development. He said very simply, “I can tell when the thinking is good.”

Today, I’m introducing a new framework to design business model systems. It’s a human-centered design, flowing from questions as opposed to definitions. It also explicitly includes topics, like opportunity space, that are often missing in other business models. To borrow a phrase from Jim Keane, it’s built to stimulate good thinking. Please use it to support your journey to find growth opportunities. It’s a free resource, licensed with Creative Commons to encourage sharing, and I hope that you do.  

Contact me for your copy.