Financial Crisis – an Opportunity for Business Model Innovation?

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by: Alexander Osterwalder

Innovating during an economic downturn might seem counter intuitive at first sight. However, it is precisely the right moment to do so, as long as you already prepared your company for survival during this extremely severe crisis.

This Monday European and US companies announced a brutal 76’000 job cuts in one single day (cf FT article Gloom deepens as 76,000 jobs go in a day). To focus on business model innovation when you just fired a part of your workforce to bring your company through the crisis might seem very strange. Yet, it is the right moment to do so for a number of reasons.

Business model innovation is difficult to achieve because it affects so many parts of an organization and because it needs the buy-in of so many different people. In addition, it requires the right organizational structures and a sense of urgency to make it happen. All these conditions are, unfortunately, easier to achieve during an economic downturn.

In an economic crisis complacency is gone and everybody feels a sense of urgency to act. People resist change much less when the survival of their company and ultimately their jobs are at stake. We all know how fiercely most people resist change in good times. So when the most urgent issues, such as cash management, are taken care of, a company’s management should turn to innovation. This is the best opportunity they will get to position their company for the future of business model innovation.

So what is to be done? A good place to start with is building the right organizational structures that allow for business model innovation. With this I don’t simply mean a "traditional" restructuring and shifting of people, but deep structural change. An organization that systematically wants to address business model innovation has the following characteristics:

  • its board explicitly gives the management the mandate to continuously examine business model innovation;
  • it extensively works with multidisciplinary teams across "departments" and across hierarchies;
  • it has mechanisms that allow innovative business model ideas to be evaluated by peers during a first phase, rather than "just by managers";
  • it involves the customer in the process of business model innovation
  • it maintains a portfolio of innovative business models that may even cannibalize the existing business model.
  • it has the right physical space in place to allow multidisciplinary business model project teams to flourish. In other words, it has project/war rooms dedicated to a project during it’s entire duration and with lots of whiteboards and walls to post visuals.

Voilà, some "unbaked" thoughts on using the economic downturn as an opportunity to position an organization for the future of business model innovation.

If you have any thoughts to add, please don’t hesitate. The forum is yours…

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