Getting Perspective on Your Business Model Innovation

By Tristan Kromer

The best piece of advice I give to entrepreneurs is to get a second set of eyes on everything they do. We can’t succeed at business model innovation without outside perspectives to bounce ideas off of, challenge our thinking, and perhaps most important, call us on our bullshit.

The same holds true in any field that requires innovative thinking — writing, programming, designing — and the reason it works is profoundly simple: No matter how smart we are, we cannot see our own blind spots.

A lack of outside perspective gives an innovator blindspots

The idea of multiple people looking at the same problem from different angles is not new, but we often forget its importance. Having someone to challenge our assumptions and give critical feedback should be a bedrock principle for any viable startup.

Getting multiple perspectives on your business model innovation serves as the underpinning for the customer discovery, usability testing, paired programming, Amazon’s Working Backwards process, and other fundamental methods of agile, lean startup, and design thinking practices.

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Get an outside perspective to find the blindspots in your business model innovation.

The Impact of Loneliness

Being alone is hard.

For starters, it’s lonely. Innovating should be a joyful process, best shared with people whose interests and goals align with yours.

But in a more practical sense, working alone makes it hard to spot our biases and misconceptions. We don’t always spot our own typos. I’m routinely heckled by our communications director for writing gems like “…a couple of paragraphs at moist.” But that’s what he’s there for, to be my second set of eyes.

A typo in a Slack message is one thing, but one small oversight in strategizing your business model innovation can have an outsized impact on your entire enterprise.

Business Model Blindness

When Alexander Osterwalder introduced The Business Model Canvas (BMC) to the world in 2005, he ushered in a profound clarity around the fundamental building blocks of any business. But he also made it easy to avoid deep thinking about a customer segment in favor of sticky-note theatre.

A business model canvas is useful only as long as it takes into account causal relationships between the boxes.

Sadly, many entrepreneurs never make it through the entire Business Model Generation book, and their BMCs look more like listicles than innovation. Each box contains information and ideas, but the causal relationships between the boxes are broken. The Channels box may cover Twitter and Facebook, but the Customer Segment is spending their time on TikTok. The boxes are bricks and mortar and tiles and plumbing, but separate and unconnected, those things do not make a house.

Of course, introducing the Value Proposition Canvas (or customer personas or empathy maps) helps go deeper on some parts of the business model, but most BMCs are starting points for a conversation, not well thought-out strategies. There is no substitute for deep thinking and a financial model clearly laid out in a robust spreadsheet.

Whether it’s the BMC or any other artifact, rigorous thinking comes from having a detailed conversation with someone who doesn’t quite believe you.

Rigorous thinking comes from having a detailed conversation with someone who doesn’t quite believe you. Click To Tweet

Mentors vs. Bystanders

An innocent bystander can provide almost as much value as an experienced mentor. Mentors and coaches do not have some extra-sensory perception that allows them to justifiably charge ungodly hourly rates. Most of the value of a second set of eyes simply comes from having a different perspective.

When designing a website, running a usability test with someone who is colorblind will be more useful than hiring a user-experience designer. When coding, a junior engineer fresh out of boot camp may be able to point out new algorithms that a more seasoned programmer isn’t aware of.

A business model canvas includes nine chunks of information that need to be validated.

The same applies to business models. The first issues with a business model tend to be obvious. We need help seeing the hidden ones.

Of course, random people off the street won’t know what a BMC is, and you’ll wind up spending quite a bit of time untangling your acronyms. But even that is time well spent. Your customers won’t know what a BMC is either and may not be interested in the intricacies of how your machine learning algorithm improves on GPT-3. As Richard Feynman said, “If you can not explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.”

Being forced to explain something to someone without any jargon or complexity forces a keen focus on simple logical connections with cause and effect.

  • It costs us very little to produce our product.
  • Because of that, we can lower our prices for consumers.
  • When more consumers buy our product, we can produce it even cheaper.
  • We produce it cheaper, and again lower our prices, making us more and more competitive.

I am not discounting the value of experience. Having someone who has seen a lot of business models take a look at yours can be very helpful. Once the obvious problems are resolved, an experienced mentor or coach can really add value. But don’t discount the value of an uninformed perspective.

Don’t discount the value of an uninformed perspective. Click To Tweet

So here are a few tips on getting or giving the most value out of a second set of eyes.

Tips on Asking for Perspective

Embrace diversity: Getting a second opinion from someone who looks like you, talks like you, and thinks like you is a waste of time. So stop talking to the mirror. Find someone with a different background, culture, race, religion, education, and mindset from you.

Give permission: Make sure you let the other person know that you want their candid thoughts and dumb questions. They won’t be judged for them.

Don’t defend: You are not trying to give a retort or deflect. If you’re asked a stupid question, your response should be inquiry. Why wasn’t my idea clearer?

Pour some tea: Not only is it great to stay hydrated, but having something to stick in your mouth when you’re about to defend yourself is a great suppression technique.

Focus: Deflections are harder to spot than defensiveness. Don’t try to point someone towards what you want to talk about. Let them wander and approach things in their own way with their own perspective.

Keep it short: It isn’t useful to ask for a list of 20 things you need to fix. Just one thing at a time will do the job.

Tips on Giving Perspective

Clarify the intention: Sometimes someone is just showing off and wants you to listen. Make sure you have permission to challenge them.

Ask the obvious questions: A question that’s obvious to you may be overlooked by them.

Clarify the terms: If the person is using acronyms or jargon, ask them to clarify the terms.

Look for cause and effect: Make sure the logic is clear. If you don’t understand it, it’s probably not you.

Ask them to draw: If you’re having problems understanding, a sketch might help. Visual thinking uses a different part of the brain and can sometimes clarify things that a verbal description can’t help with. Forcing things to a 2D surface can also help simplify.

Ask why: Asking why five times is great for root-cause analysis or just to force someone’s thinking.

Opt out: If it’s clear the person is becoming defensive or deflecting, it might be better to just leave the conversation. It is worse to contribute to someone’s confirmation bias than to say nothing.

 

Lessons Learned

  • We cannot see our own blindspots.
  • A second set of eyes can only improve your business model innovation.
  • When it comes to perspective, diversity is more important than experience.

 

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