Update From the Field: National Association of Community Health Centers March 2019

Last week, the BIF team visited Bond Community Health Center in Tallahassee, Florida and Eau Claire Cooperative Health in Columbia, South Carolina to conduct interviews with leaders, staff, and patients as we continue our work with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). BIF and NACHC leadership are joining forces to explore the questions:

How might we shift our lens to uncover innovation opportunities that will transform how we serve patients?

How might we collaboratively innovate, going farther together?

How might we continue to promote equality in the healthcare system?

We learned a lot in our four day trip down South, and a few insights emerged as we look toward the next phase of the project.


Key Insights we Learned from their Healthcare Leaders:


The role of Technology in healthcare systems

When speaking with leadership teams at the sites, we learned that technology is helpful but not the long term solution to fix the healthcare system. According to Donnell Durden, Coordinator of Community Relations and Outreach at Bond Community Health Center:

“All of the technology works, it helps, it helps us amplify our message. But nothing is more important than getting outside, touching the people, shaking hands… reaching out to them; letting them know that we are here for them, we want their business, but more so, we’re here.”

Emerging technologies help deliver value in the real world, but are not at the core of creating healthier communities. Technology can be utilized as a component to support larger system changes that focus on the human experience first. If they’re constrained by today’s business model, technologies will only deliver tweaks, not transformation. It is crucial that we consider technology to be a supplementary aspect of innovation, rather than innovation itself.


Medical services are only 20% of the health centers job-to-be-done

Keeping in mind the increased importance of the social determinants of health when considering the actual services needed to successfully run a community health center, medical services only cover about 20% of all patient needs. The remaining patient’s jobs-to-be-done are met through enabling wraparound services like transportation, having access to childcare, caseworkers, insurance specialists, social workers, and nutrition education outreach, among others. While none of these wraparound services are actually separate from a comprehensive care model, often these services are unacknowledged in traditional healthcare experiences. The wraparound enabling services compose the majority of what community health centers do for people, but these services are often non-billable and intangible in healthcare. By adopting a more evolved definition of what health and wellness look like for individuals, we gain a better understanding of service gaps and experiences, realizing that wraparound services provide a more holistic and comprehensive solution to their pain points.

What innovation means to healthcare leaders

When speaking with community health center leadership teams, we gathered that innovation means changing the way care is provided to better serve patients and families, leading to healthier, wholesome outcomes. It also means not accepting the status quo. But what does innovation look like within community health centers? Dr. Robinson, CEO of Bond Community Health Center posed the question:

“When we consider innovation, we need to ask ourselves- Is it a good fit in the community? Does it fit the mission? Is it feasible and sustainable? Can you see passion and excitement among your team and will that lead to lasting partnerships?”


Innovation means staying true to your core values while also not allowing the way systems work today to dictate what’s possible for a better future. Eau Claire Cooperative Health Center’s leadership team focuses on how their founder instilled in them the mindset and perspective that there isn’t anything they can’t do. Innovation isn’t easy in this context, but core business models need to change if we strive to continue breaking down the barriers of inequality in healthcare.


Looking Forward

Look out for the next update from the field highlighting the patient perspective as we continue to make discoveries in our research with NACHC.


For more on our work, visit our case study here: National Association of Community Health Centers Case Study

Introducing BIF’s Design Methodology Playbook

The time has come to be a market maker, not just a share taker. Business model innovation is the new strategic imperative for all organizations. Transformation is not a wait and see game, the road signs for disruption are on the path right in front of us.

Too many either don’t see the obvious signs of disruption or choose to ignore them. We see the competitive landscape through the lens of our own industries and their prevailing dominant business models. Business model innovation isn’t about best practices, it’s about next practices. If you wait for the signs of disruption to appear, it is already too late. The job-to-be-done for institutional leaders is to explore, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. R&D for new business models is the new strategic imperative.

Since its inception fourteen years ago, Business Innovation Factory (BIF) has been developing and integrating the next practices of human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement into all of our client project work. These lynchpin capabilities now enable us to deliver on our value proposition: BIF helps institutional leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage.

I am beyond proud, on behalf of our entire team, to introduce BIF’s Design Methodology Playbook.

BIF's Design Methodology PlaybookWe openly share our playbook to enable more institutional leaders to go from tweaks to transformation. We put everything that we’ve learned about enabling business model innovation, including all of the how-to-guides and tools we’ve developed, into our Design Methodology Playbook. It details each of the 22 steps in BIF’s four-phase (Shift, Conceptual Design, Prototype and Test, Commercialize) Business Model Design Methodology. The playbook clearly describes how we help institutional leaders explore and test what’s next.

We also share our playbook because, at BIF, we believe that our important social systems, including healthcare, education, and public services, are broken and that transformation becomes possible when we share and learn from each other’s approaches, platforms, and tools. That’s how we get better faster, together.

BIF’s Design Methodology Playbook is a work-in-progress; we are always improving and adding to it. By sharing it and learning from each other we collectively get better at enabling transformation.

We live in a time that screams for transformation yet too many institutions are only capable of tweaks. We developed BIF’s Design Methodology Playbook because a growing number of institutional leaders know they need a better approach to innovation. Together, we can make transformation safer and easier to manage.

Your Vision. Our Approach. BIF's Design Methodology Playbook for Download

BIF Welcomes the Joe Andruzzi Foundation

We’re pleased to announce our newest BIF Member, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. JAF inspires us all by helping to alleviate the financial burden for cancer patients and their families throughout New England.

“As the Joe Andruzzi Foundation enters its tenth year, we are thrilled to become members of the extended BIF community,” said Joe Andruzzi, President and Co-Founder of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. “Our entire organization is looking forward to tapping into the extensive resources offered within a BIF membership as we strengthen a strategy and business model that will help carry the Foundation’s mission into its next decade of operation.”

As a Member, JAF will gain access to BIF’s innovation experience, community, and unique approach to developing next practices and new business models through BIF’s Design Methodology. With a growing financial burden placed upon patients, JAF and BIF will work together to explore and test new ways of addressing rising and oftentimes unexpected medical costs to alleviate the burden facing patients and their families, building on the organizations 10 years of experience.

“We’re thrilled to partner with the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. JAF shares BIF’s core human-centered values and strategic focus on transforming healthcare” said BIF Founder and Chief Catalyst Saul Kaplan. “The financial toxicity of cancer is increasing and is as important to manage as the toxicity of cancer treatments. BIF is excited to help JAF explore new transformational models that rise to the level of the financial problem that families impacted by cancer face.”

Founded by former New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Andruzzi and his wife Jen in 2008, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation grew from Joe’s own successful battle with cancer and serves as a means to provide financial assistance to cancer patients and their families so they can focus on recovery – not bills. It also funds research at Boston Children’s Hospital, building on the Andruzzis’ longstanding commitment to cutting-edge pediatric brain cancer research.

If you’d like to get involved or lend your support to the organization, please visit: JoeAndruzziFoundation.org

You can hear more on Joe’s story from the #BIF2017 Summit below:

When Transformation Feels Intimidating, Membership Can Help

Membership is the first step in shifting the conversation towards what is safe, practical, and possible. It’s a low-threshold way to catalyze your innovation agenda and an easy initial engagement with BIF.

Start Your BIF Membership Today

We’re hiring Experience Designers

The Business Innovation Factory’s (BIF) mission is to help institutional leaders design, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models in the real world. Our vision is to influence systems-level transformation in areas of high social importance focusing on healthcare, education, and public services. We believe that human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement are at the heart of any successful transformation process.

An increasing number of institutional leaders know that disruption is everywhere, business models don’t last as long as they used to, and current innovation efforts are at best-producing tweaks. If transformation is the goal, leaders know they need a new innovation approach. BIF helps make transformation safer and easier to manage by helping leaders design, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models.

BIFs Methodology for Next Practices and New Business Models

A key component of BIF’s business model is its crazy cool Experience Design Team, who are now nine strong. BIF’s Experience Designers work with our Experience Labs to deliver our strategy, design, and capacity services in the healthcare, education, and public services market. As their career’s progress, Experience Designers assume project and client management roles and work to support business development, as well as on developing BIF’s next design practices and tools. Here is our new BIF Experience Design Competency Model.

What are we looking for?

The Business Innovation Factory (BIF) is currently seeking several Experience Designers for our Providence, Rhode Island office. This role requires a unique blend of research chops and real-world experience at the intersection of human-centered design and social innovation. Designers will work as a member of BIF’s Experience Lab design team to conceive of, develop and test systems-level solutions to some of our most pressing social issues in education, healthcare, and government.

Experience Designers will design for change by:

  • contributing to the development of human-centered research plans
  • leading secondary research efforts to build foundational knowledge  in lab domain areas
  • contributing to and/or leading ethnographic fieldwork efforts (start to finish) which generate powerful observations and insights
  • helping synthesize data and translating observations and insights into transformational ideas for new solutions and approaches
  • helping craft an articulate and compelling story that helps people connect with the work

Our ideal candidate(s):

  • draws on knowledge and experience from a background in design or social sciences
  • combines fluency in qualitative research methods and data analysis  with an ability to move beyond research as outcome to research as input to real-world solutions
  • is interested in exploring new and novel approaches to research and their application in BIF’s lab work
  • has experience with or is open to working within the human-centered design process
  • has an entrepreneurial mindset and is comfortable working with ambiguous problems in a dynamic environment
  • is able to work collaboratively or independently as needed
  • has excellent writing and communication skills
  • is willing to travel

If this sounds like you, please send a resume, cover letter and examples or cases that demonstrate the variety of research projects you have worked on. In the examples, please share details about your research approach, what observations and insights were generated, and the outcomes of the study.

All materials should be sent to info@businessinnovationfactory.com.


Starting the Transformation Conversation with a BIF Membership

“ I want to be realistic about innovation within a large institution. I don’t want innovation to die on the vine. Start-ups can be disruptive because they are not encumbered by existing systems and business models. They can create the space to start from scratch and re-imagine what is.”

It is the start of 2018, and BIF’s Patient Experience Lab Manager and I are easing into a conversation with an innovation leader within a large health care system.

This conversation is familiar; it starts in similar territory as many others. “Tell me about your innovation agenda,” I ask. “What is the mix of incremental and transformational?”

Invariably the response, like the one above, skews incremental, and it is not without good reason. Incremental feels safer and more realistic; more manageable and more practical. It skews towards easy wins with stories of success that will light up leaders’ appetites for more. It favors solutions to known problems that can demonstrate an ROI that is consistent and valuable to the existing model. It leans into concepts that can scale using existing infrastructure; change management need not apply. It will often call for diluting the innovation imperative by building a culture of innovation.

Despite this approach being the “norm,” most executives are dissatisfied with their innovation portfolios. Few generate “breakthrough” innovations that are commercialized. Few prevent disruption from smaller and faster start-ups and may lead to organizational friction. The average tenure of an innovation leader is less than 24 months. One of BIF’s members once told me that the commonly used acronym for Chief Innovation Officers (CIO) could just as easily translate to Career Is Over.

The problem? Institutions need an innovation strategy that can both improve the way the model currently works, while exploring and testing new business models, but most institutional leaders are ill-prepared to envision, structure, and roll-out this type of portfolio, in part, because they don’t have visibility into the possibility of the “both/and.” Instead, they are lured into the safety and rationale of incremental change.

Which is why BIF’s work begins by dismantling the myths that ground incremental innovation as the only safe and practical approach:

Innovation Doesn’t Die BECAUSE It is Transformational

Innovation doesn’t die because it is transformational. Transformational innovation dies because it lacks support and resourcing from leadership. Leadership is the number one condition for enabling business model innovation. In our experience working with clients across health care, education, and public service, leaders intent on transformation will break down silos, challenge institutional norms, and mobilize the unusual (and necessary internal) stakeholders required for transformational work.

A Start UP Is Not the Only Space to Explore New Business Models

Start-ups are often lauded for their innovation capacity because they are encumbered by incumbent models (or the straight jacket of an existing business model). But a start-up is not the only space for the exploration of new business models. Start-ups are not the only space to be lean and agile in service of new models. The answer lies in creating an adjacent space, well resourced, and visible. This is significantly more than the IKEA furniture, whiteboards, and sticky notes of innovation theatre. This is more than “running fast, low, and dark” — the operating model of many “skunk works” innovation teams.

The adjacent space needs to be able to access the capabilities of the institution — such that it can access the raw ingredients that can be baked into new conceptual designs. The secret sauce here is gaining permission to “borrow” capabilities — without disrupting the flow and efficiency of existing operations, while simultaneously being able to free capabilities and deploy them into small-scale innovation experiments.

The adjacent space needs to be visible, with permeable walls such that the learnings can be in service of the new and the old models. It needs to have a clear agenda and mandate with the resources required to do the work.

Think BIG. Start Small. Scale Fast.

This is an often quoted philosophy here at BIF and for good reason. We need to think big. Patients, citizens, and students are all screaming for better models while existing models are collapsing under their own weight, as well as pressure from disrupters. Transformation is the imperative. We know that Rome wasn’t created in a day, and neither was transformational practices. This is how a generative approach to testing, refining, and testing again leads us safely into the future. Our labs focus on what the user needs, translates this into a future-facing customer experience, and defines the next practice that will underscore this customer experience with opportunities for both improving the way the models work today and bridging into the business model of the future.

This approach enables us to identify what the “it” is before we focus on how it will scale. Only once new models have been proven to work for a small N (the size of the N relative to the size of the test group), do we figure out how we would engineer it to serve the N of an alpha group, then the N of a beta group — so on and so forth.

I think often that the goal of early conversations with innovation leaders is simply to dismantle these myths, to widen the aperture of what is considered safe and practical when it comes to an innovation portfolio. A mix of incremental and transformational is important and within reach of most leaders, if they have the will and know-how.

Sometimes leaders are ready to jump into the exploration of transformational next practices and new business models, but more often than not, they need to see the path, understand the investment, and bring stakeholders (especially their Boards) along for the ride. At BIF, we created Membership as an easy way to help leaders do this and leaders have used in a variety of ways:

  • To work with leadership teams to frame the innovation mandate and agenda within an institution
  • To build meaningful demand amongst key stakeholders (most often Board of Directors) for transformational innovation
  • To troubleshoot key strategy and organizational challenges while implementing innovation portfolios

Our methodology is a framework for creating Next Practice Labs and for running demonstration projects that will result in scaleable new business models. Applying this framework through sponsored projects within institutions and engaging in membership are not mutually exclusive, and my favorite partnerships are those that use the cross-ruff from membership to project to membership to ensure that leaders are able to maximize returns and benefits of their innovation portfolios and projects.

This is the big work; but like I said, first we need to start small. And a Membership provides the first small step towards shifting the conversation about what is safe, practical, and possible.

Think big, but start small. Join us in a Membership conversation today.


BIF Welcomes Salesforce.org, CVS Health, and URI College of Business Administration as Members!

Salesforce.org, CVS Health, and the University of Rhode Island College of Business Administration will be able to engage with a vast network of institutional business model innovators, taking advantage of opportunities to connect leaders to a steady flow of business model design idea, practices, and tools.


If your company isn’t quite ready to take on a new business model strategy or design project, consider becoming a BIF Member or Partner. Both options offer opportunities to connect your leadership team with peers and big thinkers and introduce them to a steady flow of business model design ideas, practices, and tools.

Visit our Membership page for more information. We’d love to chat.



Platforms for Collaborative Innovation

The imperative for collaborative innovation is two-fold:

  • It can enable exponential innovation — and therefore value creation — for individuals, organizations, and society.
  • At a time when it is needed most, it can enable the cooperative tools that humans need to solve complex problems in transformational ways.

Today, the market is responding in a variety of ways— utilizing both placemaking and platform tools as containers for enabling.

On the one hand, secondary markets are enabling individuals, organizations, and communities to share, exchange, and leverage excess capacity. Secondary markets are the broad category for the platforms we understand as the sharing economy, collaborative consumption, the gig economy, etc.

On the other hand, there is a host of “market making” efforts catalyzing possibly disruptive new ventures at the start-up phase through incubators, accelerators, and maker spaces. These spaces exist within communities and within institutions.

There are strengths and weaknesses in both- but my general critique is that we are (1) still missing the platforms that enable us to network capabilities across business models, and more importantly, (2) increasingly decreasing the will to do so.

Here is how I have come to frame the landscape. Secondary markets and maker spaces are creating the conditions for both collective creation and collective action:

Collective Action

Accelerators (and I’m using the phrase to include all start-up territory, from incubators to accelerators) build the capacity and strengths of entrepreneurial ventures. They have the potential to increase economic activity and value in the community — both in terms of attracting investment and in terms of increasing personal wealth and income, jobs, and tax revenue. As entities, accelerators network entrepreneurs together — enabling visibility into a shared experience. This is incredibly powerful for solving the before mentioned challenges of the innovator’s isolation and loneliness. It also serves up the benefits of a network — access to new ideas, contacts, and resources. That said, new ventures don’t truly leverage collaborative power. And accelerators fail to focus on catalyzing new value chains or systems. They are product-driven, at best, and entrepreneur focused at worst.

Crowdsourcing platforms, e.g. Kickstarter, begin to bridge the gap between collective creation and collective action specifically because in addition catalyzing venture creation they also enable crowds to act in service of that creation.

Sharing platforms take the power of crowds one step further by unlocking the value of under-used assets. I am increasingly intrigued, as well, as by platforms such as DecStack, described as a decentralized space, and virtual co-working space — with the potential of leveraging the gig economy, the utilization of dormant computing power, and the distributed power, as well as attribution and contribution ledger capability, of blockchain and related cryptocurrencies.

Across the market, the tools and platforms are emerging to accelerate collaborative innovation. The question is: do we have the will?

A major trend affecting the opportunity is the decline in individual engagement in all aspects of society. 70% of Americans feel disengaged from their jobs. Students’ engagement in their education bottoms out in the 11th grade. Relatedly, 7 out of 10 teachers feel disengaged from teaching and education. Over 44% of Americans didn’t engage in the 2016 election.

This translates to leaders as well. In Fixing the Game, Roger Martin explain how CEOs are increasingly motivated by short-term “returns,” and correspondingly, play short games — that comes at the expense of longer-term bets nurtured through exploration, discovery, and traditional innovation R&D.

Engagement is Key

Engagement is key to collaborative innovation, and progress more generally. It enables diverse theory and thought to come together in new and different ways. It is the backbone of collaborative innovation — because it allows my thoughts and your thoughts to come together to create a wholly new thought, thing, or theory. Engagement — defined by curiosity, creativity, and exploration — allows us to be move from mediocrity and consensus to something that is co-created, progressively exciting, and transformative.

More often then not, we don’t give ourselves permission to do that. We wallow in the constraints of “what is.”  We let the constraints of “what is” beat us into submission. We focus on finding the dream job. We don’t focus on creating it. We focusing on getting through school to earn a credential. We don’t focus on curating a learning journey. We complain about our health care, rather than engaging in self-managed care, exercise, and good nutrition. We seek magic bullets and “hail mary’s” and we quickly leave when they don’t pan out. We let things happen to us rather than make things happen for us.

That said, I don’t think humans want to be that way. I think we are inherently creative, and we want to engage in the creation and exploration of new experiences. I think every innovation agenda that is trying to create a culture of innovation is focused on this one insight. People are creative and playful.

So what if?

What if we playfully built people’s capability, capacity, and appetite to collaboratively engage in the experiences of their daily living, short and long-term — from how they show up at work to how they show up in their community? What if we gave them the tools and platforms that build trust and cooperation? What if we enabled people and teams to collaborative co-create the world they want to live in? The experiences they want to have? The things and interactions that make up that experience? What if we gave them the tools to get recognized for it, to benefit from it? What if we encouraged them to stay for the long game.

I truly believe the world is collaborative in nature, and it is waiting for us to do our part.

Your vision, our approach. Let's talk.

Conditions for Collaborative Innovation

In Part One of this series, I defined collaborative innovation as an imperative for the 21st Century, and yet, also a poorly understood and utilized tool. In part Two, I wanted to dig further into what it looks like, how it happens, and the conditions that support it.

The day after Christmas 2004, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean catalyzed a tsunami that killed nearly 250,000 in 14 countries. The tsunami knocked out central infrastructure — roads, electricity, and banks. Those of us at GlobalGiving were keen to respond and started raising money quickly to help relief efforts. The challenge, however, was distribution. The logical recipient — the Red Cross — was delayed in reaching remote villages most in need. It felt inhumane to ask unknown individuals to go through the typical vetting procedures associated disbursing philanthropic dollars to nonprofits. Instead, we activated a network of entrepreneurs on the ground and turned to an underused grantmaking tool called fiscal reporting. Instead of having to find and fund only nonprofits, we were able to fund any efforts — executed by any type of organization, individual, or network — that were in the service of relief. We simply had to document fiscal expenditures; a significantly less cumbersome task. In this way, we were able to more quickly bankroll relief efforts — providing water, emergency supplies, and human resources to where they were needed most.

It is understood that 70% of health determinants are non-medical; meaning, they are the output of where we live, our education, and how we make our livings. While this has been known and understood for decades, our health care system has been unable, or unwilling, to move upstream and address the social, or non-medical determinants of health; they have continued to focus on sick care while our population gets unhealthier. Enter Children’s Health System of Texas, and Peter Roberts. Peter hired BIF to help understand what it would take to keep families healthy. The answer could be summed up by helping them improve their wellbeing. Doing this required networking with “unlikely partners” — moving Children’s Health out of the business of program delivery and into the business of brokering relationships. It required working with community organizations to change their cost and revenue structures, to be able to serve an n of 1, when they were in the business of costing services by programs. It required unleashing capabilities from their current business model in service of a new one, not for just one organization but for the many required to catalyze the prototype of a new system.

Just how many fish are there in the sea? The perspective changes based on whether you are a New England fisherman regularly catching fish in the sea or whether you are NOAA scientist worried about data pointing to dwindling supplies. The lack of shared reality makes it difficult to created shared motivation for monitoring and accounting for fish supplies. It also leads to significant tension and distrust. A tension that is only heightened when the financial and time burden of monitoring is hoisted onto the fishermen. The better way? What if we created a new value chain, using fishing vessels as platforms for shared data collection? What if we empowered and rewarded fishermen who take a greater ownership role in monitoring and accounting by collecting and owning fish and other environmental data (such as temperature, current, pollution) that can begin to build a base of knowledge about the overall health of fisheries? In this shift, we imagine a common value chain for all that can engender cooperation. A unified approach, common language, and cooperative platform with new value streams can enhance trust and foster collective action — in effect, giving separate business models a reason to cooperate as a system. This was the concept co-created by government, scientists, fishermen, and entrepreneurs.

Two successful entrepreneurs walk into a makeshift recording studio in New Haven, CT. They both have an emphasis on place-making. Barry Svigals is an architect who relies heavily on participatory design to engage people in imagining and co-creating future structures; he recently completed the design of the new Sandyhook elementary school. Ben Berkowitz is the founder of the revolutionary #civtech ‘See.Click.Fix.’ I had invited them together, to prototype a new podcast series, #RCUS, an exploration into the mechanics of Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. Barry and Ben work 50 feet from each other; they have spoken at the same conferences; they have friends in common. They buy their coffee from the same shop. But they had never met. When they came together in a facilitated conversation, they immediately started riffing off each other — co-creating play spaces for “Make Haven,” a down space for creative construction and innovation and imagining networked community projects, combining employees and spaces to create public installations to signal the meaning and purpose of community.

Whether it is epic disasters or everyday disasters, whether it is random collisions of unusual suspects, or it is the creative resolution of fierce tensions, the answer is collaborative innovation, because it can create unparalleled opportunities to tackle complicated and complex problems at a new scale. Rather than trying to parse out the issue, tackling it piece by piece and creating point solutions, collaborative innovation enables us to think and act more systemically and imagine bigger bolder solutions.

But it is significantly harder than coming together to talk and share. Coming together to actively create and/or make requires that we have a good methodology and the right conditions. If we understand these things, we can accelerate the incidences, and therefore the impact of collaborative innovation.

It won’t come as a surprise that two of the cases described above are examples from BIF’s portfolio of projects demonstrating the power and potential of transformative innovation; nor that we understand that the same methodology that helps leaders explore and test new business models is the same methodology that helps leaders collaboratively explore and test new business models.

If a business model is a network of capabilities woven together into a sustainable delivery model, a system is a network of business models that have learned how to cooperate.

Value chains create incentives for cooperation. But what does it take to get people and institutions to explore and innovate together?

This is significantly harder. First, most leaders are so focused on scaling the existing business model that allocating time and resources to exploring new ones — and collaborative business models to boot — is best described as a distraction. Second, collaborative innovation requires a “play” mindset — one which many leaders have outgrown. A play mindset is one in which the outcome is unknown, and the purpose of engaging is curiosity and the pure joy of unbridled exploration. Third, collaborative innovation requires revealing a vulnerability in both your point of view and your position. It requires saying that our existing business model isn’t the only “right” answer, or that it isn’t “totally sufficient” for the job to be done. It requires admitting that we have a blind spot or that we need others to get to scale or deliver a value chain. This is a vulnerability that individuals and organizations hate to reveal to the public, and certainly don’t want to reveal to investors or funders. Fourth, if we’re able to get past these issues, there is the technical complexity of working together. Most importantly, we lack shared information, language, and metrics which enable us to actually play together.

When combined, these factors collude to kill collaborative innovation; leaders lack both the incentives and will for unbundling capabilities from their current delivery model in service of something new. This is why in addition to the “how” and a methodology, we need the conditions.

These conditions are infrastructure — tools, language, and techniques- that together create the alchemy of trust, play, and collaboration. And from projects like the ones above, as well as a host of others, I’ve come to understand that there are five specific elements:

Conditions for collaborative innovation

Understanding the mechanics of collaborative innovation enables us to catalyze and accelerate its emergence. What might this mean for individuals and institutions? First, and I’ll talk more about this in the third segment of this series, individuals are taking advantage of new collaborative platforms to leverage excess capacity (Gig Platforms), share knowledge and resources (Sharing Platform), leverage crowds (Crowdsourcing Platforms), and make stuff (Maker Spaces). Organizations have an unprecedented opportunity to catalyze new markets and systems, leverage their own underutilized assets (including thought capital, as well as technological and physical assets) for new revenue streams, and deploy innovation resources in entirely new ways.

In short, by creating the conditions for collaborative innovation, we are changing the innovation equation from linear to exponential.

Your vision, our approach. Let's talk.

Introduction to Collaborative Innovation

It took me two decades of work, a marriage, a divorce, and a masters thesis to understand that I have spent much of my life curious about and actively exploring a series of interconnected and related questions, which I have adopted as my personal design challenge:

How do people self-organize in purposeful ways? How do they network their gifts and talents together to solve problems, create value, find joy, and make meaning? How do they grow and transform over time creating the evolutionary transitions that we understand as progress?

More importantly, I have come to understand that we have a new imperative to understand the mechanics of these processes, such that we can mimic them to accelerate the pace of change.

I call this the collaborative innovation imperative.

And it is the imperative of the 21st century.

This is a story in three parts. Here, I explore why the innovation of the 21st century must be collaborative. I’ll explore how we understand, and fail to understand collaboration and innovation. In Part II, I’ll share the findings over years of exploration — what are the conditions that enable people to come together and strive together. Beyond colliding with unusual suspects, how do you organize together? How do you find new ways to create value together? What is the supporting infrastructure that can mimic and accelerate this process? I’ll share finding from years of learning and doing — academic exploration and real-world prototypes. Finally, in Part III, I’ll talk about platforms for collaborative innovation — what exists today and what is missing in the market.

There is a simple reason that collaborative innovation is the 21st century imperative:

Our world is increasingly complex and interconnected. The world’s problems follow suit. Accordingly, our approach to solution designs needs to be as well. It is that simple. But we keep trying incremental approaches and point solutions, and we keep being disappointed.

Let’s take any issue — starting with health. I don’t want to start with “health care” because “health care” has become the industrial solution to “health.” Health is made up of our physical and mental well-being. It can be managed and nurtured in a variety of ways that work across daily habits and routines, surrounding environments, relationships, spiritual practice, etc. But that’s not what the industrial solution looks like — it looks like sick care, a point solution that treats the physical ailments of the body. The system that supports it is organized around the goal of sick care.

If we can do that, we can also organize around the concept of “health” — a concept that BIF’s Patient Experience Lab has proven in the market a couple of times. Yet for some reason, that approach is often touted as “too complicated.”

Unfortunately, while collaborative innovation is the imperative of the 21st century, the phrase also contains two words central to a game of Buzz Word Bingo in almost any environment. Both are so overused that many audiences have demanded that we create new words. We want collaborative work environments, collaborative learning, and even collaborative consumption. Everything is innovative — from chairs to the new lunch menu at Applebees.

So then, what is collaborative innovation?
Collaborative innovation is the answer to a job to be done. But more often then not, it’s the answer to the wrong job. When people say they want collaboration, what they are really saying is that they don’t want to go it alone; they want to think out loud, or they want validation of an idea to lower the cost of failure. Collaborative innovation then becomes a pacifier to the lonely innovator — the person on the bleeding, painful, crazy edge of what is possible.

I think this is important — we all get better faster by thinking together — but it limits the real frontier and potential of collaboration, and doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation, which we define as actually creating value for people in new ways.

The real frontier is when we start acting together — by making and creating. Here, we can collaborate to design concepts, to prototype concepts, and to scale/commercialize concepts. We work collaboratively because we can’t get there alone.

Here’s why.
We all have our own blind spots. We operate through lenses and models that create efficiencies, but they also serve as constraints or blinders. The value of random collisions is that when we combine our collective lenses, we can see the opportunities in our blind spots. We can find opportunities at the edge of our own visibility. We can create wholly new opportunities in our opposing viewpoints and models through the creative resolution of our tensions. In this sense, our perspectives, experiences, and lenses are ingredients that we can combine in new and different ways to collaboratively innovate together.

Second, we collaborate to prototype together because just like the ideation phase — we need to combine and recombine capabilities in order to create a tangible concept that people can experience. It is unlikely that we have all the capabilities we need, and we need to borrow them from others. In my experience, organizations have 65–70% of the capabilities in-house for prototyping new models, and everything else needs to be cobbled together in other ways.

Finally, similar to the prototyping phase, commercialization requires new value chains at scale. Collaborative innovation in the commercialization phase enables us to create gravity, organize the supply chain, and catalyze the network effect to go to market successfully.

All of this is easy to explain on the whiteboard.

In the real world, the challenge, and opportunity, for all of this, is that it requires more than coming together — it requires trust, alchemy, and infrastructure.

It requires the “right” conditions.


Your vision, our approach. Let's talk.

What Happens When We Actually Understand Collaborative Innovation

Our mantra at BIF is “Connect, Inspire, Transform. We cannot get better faster if we don’t do it together, to learn from one another, to grow.

We’ve been practicing these abilities through our work and at our Annual Collaborative Innovation Summit for the past 14 years, catalyzing reactions within storytellers and audience alike. But what exactly IS collaborative innovation? What does that look like? And how has it become the imperative of the 21st-century?

Our Chief Market Maker, Eli MacLaren, has spent the better part of her career studying and applying this concept and will explore it in depth over a three-part series, addressing these pivotal questions:

1. How do people self-organize in purposeful ways?

2. How do they network their gifts and talents together to solve problems, create value, find joy, and make meaning?

3. How do they grow and transform over time creating the evolutionary transitions that we understand as progress?

In order to successfully create actionable foundations for change, we need to have a baseline understanding of the what and the how of collaborative innovation in order for us to do a better job at self-organizing in a more purposeful, powerful way.

We’re excited to share this series with you in the hope that it will light a spark and start catalyzing a reaction within your network. When we connect outside our normal silos, we build our network of capabilities and gain the most by experiencing change through the lens of others. Transformation also requires an emotional connection to the work. When we feel involved, when we feel like we are an essential part of the story, only then do we begin to really see transformation start to happen.

And only then will we truly make transformational change in our most vital systems a reality together.

What’s Your From…To Story?

A fellow pharmacy school graduate and colleague from early in my career, George Zorich, is writing a book advocating for pharmacy schools to integrate entrepreneurship education into their standard curriculum. A section of the book will contain stories of pharmacy school graduates who leveraged their education in surprising ways, catalyzing non-traditional and interesting career paths. George asked me to share my story. I’m honored to be asked and I found it invaluable to reflect on my own convoluted career path. Are you doing what you originally set out to do in college? If you’re like most people you’ve had to reinvent yourself multiple times over your career. The world of work is changing faster than ever. What’s your from….to story? Here’s mine.

My thought process coming out of high school was no more complicated than, I love science and it would be nice if a college diploma resulted in a job! Pharmacy fit the bill. I wasn’t signing up for a career, just looking for a start. I wanted something I could build on without a clue where it might lead. A pharmacy degree from the University of Rhode Island School of Pharmacy in the 1970’s was the perfect prescription. I knew by my sophomore year I wouldn’t spend my career filling prescriptions but I have always valued the foundation I received at URI. While I couldn’t tell you then how I planned to leverage a pharmacy degree I had confidence it would set me up for a successful career. I have been grateful for my pharmacy education every day since.

I went on to launch a career with many twists and turns as an innovation junkie and strategist. I believe there is always a better way. I have dedicated my career and life to enable those around me to make what’s next easier and safer to manage. My career has followed the simple principle of always staying on a steep learning curve. I have always done my best work when I stretch myself to learn and do something new. I never cared about job titles, how many people reported to me, or how much money I made. I knew those things would come if I kept myself on a steep learning curve, always willing to tackle new challenges.

After pharmacy school, I wanted to learn how business and large organizations work and how emerging technologies change markets. I combined my analytical foundation from pharmacy school with an MBA from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the Strategic Management of Technology. From there I leveraged both degrees to work in the pharmaceutical industry for, Eli Lilly & Co, first in sales and then in the home office as a marketing manager. I had the incredible opportunity to work on the US introduction of Prozac. It was a young marketing manager’s dream job. I learned the difference between market making and share taking. Most people and organizations are share takers, competing for market share in a defined industry with known competitors. I became obsessed with market makers, people and organizations that redefine markets. My career has been defined by enabling market makers.

From Lilly I became a road warrior consultant first with Arthur D. Little and then as a Senior Partner at what became Accenture. I’m still learning what I learned during those halcyon days traveling around the world working with pharmaceutical and medical products companies, enabling and leading consulting practices and teams focused on innovation. I became interested in the difference between the innovation rhetoric coming out of the CEO suite and the real work being done at mid-levels in most of the companies I consulted with. The rhetoric was about transformation but the reality was more focused on incremental improvements to the way the companies worked at the time. Nothing wrong with tweaks but it seemed to me that a different approach to innovation was needed if transformation is the goal. Institutions are much better at share taking than market making.

I was fortunate to retire at an early age from Accenture, a few years after its IPO, and my wife wasn’t in the market for an innovation strategist at home to advise on household operations. I made the mistake of raising my hand to the new elected Governor in my home state of Rhode Island and the next thing I knew I was working as the number two at the state’s economic development agency. Soon after I joined the agency its Director went back to Wall Street and I found myself leading the agency. I had become an accidental bureaucrat! It completely changed my world- view and approach to innovation. Instead of seeing innovation through the lens of large institutions I learned to see it through the lens of the citizens, students, and patients they served. In developing the state’s economic development strategy I began to see the state as a real-world sandbox to develop transformational models in government, education, and healthcare.

I created the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) at first as a local program in Rhode Island, and when I left state government, to now serve government, healthcare, and education leaders across the country to explore and test next practices and new business models to help make transformation safer and easier to manage. We live in a time that screams for transformation and the best we seem capable of is tweaking what works today. BIF is trying to change that.

I am proud of my pharmacy background and how I’ve been able to combine and recombine what I’ve learned along the way to take on and create new roles that didn’t exist or that I could never imagine when I was in college. The truth is that none of us can predict what we will be doing in the future. All we can do is learn how to confidently reinvent ourselves, building on our capabilities and experiences. Reinvention is the most important life skill in a rapidly changing world. Any college degree or post-secondary credential, including pharmacy, is a wonderful foundation to open up many new career and life paths if we let it.

What’s your from…to story?

Converting Emerging Tech Into Next Practices

To appreciate the full breadth of possibility created by emerging technologies is to feel like a kid in a candy store. Our candy store is overflowing with brain-exploding and exciting new technologies including genomics, robotics, internet-of-things, big data, artificial intelligence, drones, and 3D printing to name just a few.

Any one or combination of these emerging technologies has the potential to change the world. Whether they will or not, and at what pace, depends on our ability to combine and recombine emerging technologies into next practices and new business models to solve the important social challenges of our time.

Why do companies fail at turning emerging technologies into real value?

Reason no. 1 for failure is an infatuation with technology instead of the business problem that needs to be solved. Many human beings in the corporate world fall in love with bright new shiny objects and then try to force-fit the business problem to their favored technology.

As the saying goes, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” It’s usually after the initial glow wears off and millions of dollars have been burnt in the innovation bonfire that organizations realize they are not any closer to seeing results than they were 12 months back.

The key to successful innovation is accepting that not every technology is right for your business. Selecting the right technology requires steely-eyed focus and clarity of purpose. Instead of pondering whether AI or VR is the “best” or “coolest” technology, you should be asking, “Which new technology will help my business stay competitive and relevant over the next 100years?”

Another reason why companies fail at meaningful innovation is they invest in areas that are unrelated to their core competency or business. It’s like a tire company investing in an AI-powered skateboard, which doesn’t make them more relevant or add more value to their target audience. Smart companies invest in adjacent and synergistic categories to stay competitive. Lately, there has been a flurry of innovation labs and incubators at global companies who are trying to stay relevant in a very disruptive age, but innovating in a silo doesn’t help the organization break old business models. The innovation model must have connectors to existing parts of the business and leverage strengths wherever possible.

The most devastating threat to the adoption of new technologies and innovative business models is a legacy company culture that is fiercely resistant to change. An organization’s attitude towards change and willingness to adopt new ways of doing things can make or break the most promising innovation program.

How can you bring about an innovation-centered mind shift in a legacy organization?

Transformation is a team sport. It requires a shared language. Very often the same people who are tapped for running innovation are folks who have experience with the company but have zero expertise driving innovation. They stifle innovation.

Today’s corporate innovation strategies and approaches are organized to produce tweaks to today’s business model. The new corporate innovation imperative is to do ongoing R&D for next practices and new business models.

Emerging technologies don’t deliver value in the real world until they’re converted into capabilities. If they’re constrained by the straightjacket of today’s business model, they will deliver tweaks at best.

Emerging technologies don’t deliver transformational value until they’re converted into next practices and either integrated into today’s business model or leveraged to launch entire new business models.

Understanding the promise of emerging technologies is an important first step but their transformational promise will never be realized without innovation strategies and approaches to go beyond incremental change to the way things work today.  It’s not the technology that is getting in our way, it’s us. Stubborn humans and organizations that through around all the innovation buzzwords but then constrain the exploration and development of transformational next practices and new business models.

Here are the 8 key steps to explore, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. 

  1. Focus on business problem you are trying to solve rather than the technology itself so you can generate maximum value for your business.
  2. Stop innovating in silos and build connectors to other parts of your existing business so you can leverage current strengths and competencies.
  3. Have a well-thought-out plan for scaling innovation by acknowledging and preparing for the various constraints within, across and outside of the organization.
  4. Hire catalysts and enablers rather than familiar faces to turn innovation into opportunity.
  5. Transformation starts when you ‘Shift” your lens to see opportunities from the perspective of customer experience and jobs-to-be-done.
  6. Customer experience provides the best foundation for the ‘Conceptual Design’ of a next practice or new business model.
  7. The only way to know if a design concept will survive customer contact is to ‘Prototype and Test’ it in the real world.
  8. To successfully ‘Commercialize’ next practices and new business models, start with a market-tested Minimum Viable Business Model.

In conclusion, turning technology buzzwords into real business capabilities takes focus and discipline. Innovation is a marathon, not a sprint and the real business value is realized long after the glamor of a new bright shiny object has worn off.

About the Authors:

Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst at Business Innovation Factory. His mission is to enable collaborative innovation and contribute to a more prosperous local and national economy and to catalyze business model innovation in healthcare, education, public safety, and consumer experience.

Mia Dand is the CEO of Lighthouse3.com, a Digital Strategy & Research Advisory firm based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an experienced marketing leader who helps F5000 companies innovate at scale in the digital and social media space. Mia has built and led digital/social media programs for world’s best-known brands including Google, Symantec, HP, eBay and others. Her firm Lighthouse3.com authored the first definitive guide for Influencer Technology, which you can download athttps://lighthouse3.com/influencertech2017.

Introducing BIF’s Design Methodology for Next Practices and New Business Models

A successful business model is like a shark that has to keep moving to stay alive. But how do you make sure you’re not stuck in a crowded swim lane with declining margins, swimming upstream against disruptive currents, or even worse, find your organization dead in the water? A growing number of institutional leaders tell us that their current approach to innovation isn’t working. Inertia and culture are getting in the way of what’s next. The job-to-be-done for institutional leaders is to explore, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. R&D for new business models is the new strategic imperative.

A next practice is a new and improved version of a capability or group of capabilities. It has the potential to transform customer experience promising a better way to deliver value. A market-tested next practice can either be integrated into today’s business model or be leveraged independently to enable entirely new business models. Since its inception twelve years ago, Business Innovation Factory (BIF) has been developing and integrating the next practices of human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement into all of our client project work. These lynchpin capabilities now enable us to deliver on our value proposition: BIF helps institutional leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage.

I am beyond proud today, on behalf of our entire BIF team, to introduce:


BIF’s Design Methodology includes detailed inputs, key activities, and outputs for each of the four phases of the process.

It is the result of a 12-year labor of love. Here are ten things our team has learned along the way:

    1. You can’t analyze your way to transformation; it’s a generative act.
    2. Transformation requires a different approach than incremental change.
    3. Leadership in the 21st century requires more focus and new approaches to explore and test what’s next.
    4. Institutions have the capabilities to accelerate society’s path to what’s next, but they’re locked in the straightjacket of what’s now.
    5. Emerging technologies are an exciting and important enabler, but without the human side of innovation, transformation isn’t possible.
    6. Transformation starts when you ‘Shift” your lens to see opportunities from the perspective of customer experience and jobs-to-be-done.
    7. Customer experience provides the best foundation for the ‘Conceptual Design’ of a next practice or new business model.
    8. The only way to know if a design concept will survive customer contact is to ‘Prototype and Test’ it in the real world.
    9. To successfully ‘Commercialize’ next practices and new business models, start with a market-tested Minimum Viable Business Model.
    10. BIF’s Design Methodology helps make transformation safer and easier to manage.

Everyone on Team BIF has contributed to our Design Methodology in countless ways over the years. We wouldn’t be able to share it today without each team member’s amazing effort and without collectively living our BIF value of collaborative innovation. Innovation is a team sport. Special thanks to BIF Experience Designers Crystal June Rome and Kay Zagrodny, who did the hard project work. They immersed themselves into herding passionate inno-cats at BIF, spent countless hours listening to me drone on about the underlying idea, and stayed true to their most recent project experience. Crystal and Kay had just wrapped up an amazing project, working with BIF’s Chief Market Maker, Elizabeth MacLaren. They worked with the Population Health team at Children’s Health in Dallas, prototyping and testing a transformational next practice centered on family well-being. The next practice we helped them develop was then stitched together with the capabilities to deliver an insurance product. A brand new business model is being launched by Children’s Health now in Dallas. Imagine that, a hospital commercializing a new business model that is on the hook to economically improve family well-being. Team BIF rocks!

“At BIF, we believe that social system transformation becomes possible when we all open source our new approaches, platforms, and tools. That’s how we get better faster together.”

We have also benefited enormously from a growing and engaged community of innovation junkies from around the world who inspire us and help us to get better faster every day. At BIF we believe in enabling random collisions of unusual suspects or making a RCUS! It’s key to finding opportunities between our silos, disciplines, and sectors. I’m grateful for a random collision with XPLANE Co-Founder Dave Gray, and their crazy cool and talented team. XPlane’s superpower is using visualization to help teams align around a shared purpose and story. We leaned heavily on XPlane’s superpower to create this visualization of our BIF Design Methodology, and it won’t be the last time we collaborate.

We share our BIF Design Methodology today to more clearly describe how we help institutional leaders explore and test what’s next. We also share it because, at BIF, we believe that social system transformation becomes possible when we all open source our new approaches, platforms, and tools. That’s how we get better faster together. The 12-month process depicted in BIF’s Design Methodology is intended as a guideline. We always customize it to meet the specific needs and requirements of each client project.

We live in a time that screams for transformation yet too many institutions are only capable of tweaks. We developed BIF’s Design Methodology because a growing number of institutional leaders know they need a better approach to innovation. Together, we can make transformation safer and easier to manage.

Saul Kaplan
@TheBIF Founder & Chief Catalyst.
Author, The Business Model Innovation Factory

Three Things Are Changing: 1) The Market 2) BIF 3) Me

Famous last words; This time it’s different. No really, this time it is. We have arrived at that Malcolm Gladwell tipping point. Well at least I have, and I don’t think I’m alone. Let me make it personal. We each find our own reasons to reach for another gear, to reinvent ourselves, and to do work that matters. My burning platform is comprised of three things that are changing simultaneously: 1) The Market 2) BIF 3) Me. It’s not about me or my three things, it’s about being informed by and engaged in what’s changing around you, being self-aware and intentional about what’s next, getting better faster, and being clear about what’s important and what you value. Whatever your reasons, please hurry up and figure it out, because we need everyone to play, transformation is a team sport and a generative act. It’s go time!

The Market Is Catching On

When I first starting yakking about next practices and new business models at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), twelve years ago, it was clear that institutions of all kinds were about to face a tsunami of existential threats that would require leaders to focus much more seriously on what’s next, not just new products but also next practices and entirely new business models. We all saw disruption coming. But at the time very few institutional leaders were ready, I’d say 1 out of 10 were. The truth is that BIF wasn’t ready either.

But over the last decade, an increasing number of leaders have figured out that disruption isn’t something to be defended against but an opportunity for the institutions they lead to be proactive, to go from being a share-taker to a market maker. More institutional leaders now recognize that business models don’t last as long as they used to and that their current innovation efforts are at best-producing tweaks. If transformation is the goal, more leaders now know they need a new innovation approach. BIF helps leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage because sometimes tweaks aren’t enough. Today, 3–4 out of 10 institutional leaders are ready and so is BIF. That’s what I call an addressable market!

BIF Is Ready

Over twelve years BIF has been imagining, designing, prototyping and testing the next practices that enable us to help leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage. Our vision and mission haven’t changed although we are always getting better at articulating it. BIF’s mission is to help institutional leaders design, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. Our vision is to influence systems-level transformation in areas of high social importance focusing on healthcare, education, and public services. We believe that human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement are at the heart of any successful transformation process.

What’s changed at BIF is that we have gone from conceptual next practices, to actually standing them up, first for ourselves, and then for other motivated institutional leaders in the market. Because we did the hard work of standing up these lynchpin next practices (human-centered design, rapid prototyping, storytelling/engagement) BIF’s business model now delivers on our value proposition: To make transformational change safer and easier to manage. We’re ready.

The Third Thing That Changed Is Me

As the Founder and Chief Catalyst at BIF I have only myself to blame for what BIF has become and how fast it reinvents itself. It’s true that the market for what we’re trying to do is emerging and that our next practices and business model had to be developed generatively but in the end, I too have to change for BIF to work.

Much like for many of you, September 11th was an inflection point, after which I pivoted and became an accidental bureaucrat, working as the leader of my home state’s economic development agency in Rhode Island after successfully avoiding government for my entire career. It changed my life and world-view of the role innovation plays in transforming social systems, industries and communities. I learned to think about innovation, as value delivered to real students, patients and citizens living and working in real communities. I learned to see opportunities through the lens of customer experience. BIF was a result of that inflection point in my life. I’m beyond proud of what Team BIF has accomplished together.

I’ve now reached the next inflection point in my life, precipitated by the 2016 U.S. presidential election result and turning 60 years old a month later! I’m not one to blog about politics, although everyone who hangs with me or follows me on social media knows that the election result has thrown me, and a lot of us, for a loop. On one hand, if you’re an innovation junkie, the election is an interesting case study in disruption but I would argue that history will look back someday on this election as a case study of how not to disrupt. At BIF we know there is a better way to make much-needed transformation safer and easier to manage. It’s time to prove it.

I thought turning 60 was going to be awful but it wasn’t. Sure, I spent a few beautiful days with my bride hiding on an island, but if anything, turning 60 has energized and focused me with a sense of urgency to continue the work of scaling BIF to meet the scale of the societal challenges we now face. It’s work that matters.

The last chromosome in our BIF DNA is; A decade is a terrible thing to waste. I’m not planning on wasting this next one and I hope you aren’t either. Let’s go!

Next Practices Vs. Best Practices

Everyone bows down to the all, important benchmark. How many times have you heard someone say, “You only get what you measure”? Most organizations commit to identifying and measuring performance against industry best practice. Many have recognized the value of looking outside of their industry for practices that might provide a source of competitive advantage.

Adopting existing best practice makes sense if you want to improve the performance of your current business model. Going beyond the limits of your current business model requires a network-enabled capability to do R&D for new business models. The imperative is to build on best practices to explore and develop next practices.

Understanding best practices and applying them to increase business model productivity is an essential capability for all organizations. No surprise most companies benchmark their performance adopting practices ranging from accessing benchmarking data to sourcing (internal and external) process improvement capabilities. Like all learned behaviors the earlier it is adopted the easier it is to scale and to apply in other markets. Entrepreneurs and small business leaders should start with a back of the napkin approach. Be specific about goals and take the napkin out a lot.

It doesn’t take long to exhaust the library of best practices in any given industry. Field organizations have seen most of what the competition is doing and can report their observations. In addition, your customers and networks have an important perspective that should be tapped. Social network platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and Linked-in make real-time information interaction possible across networks. Leverage these new tools and platforms. It is worth it.

Your Vision. Our Approach. BIF's Design Methodology Playbook for Download

Only exploring your own industry for best practices is limiting. New sources of competitive advantage are far more likely to come from observing and adopting best practices in completely unrelated industries. All leaders should spend more discretionary time outside of their industry, discipline, and sector. There is more to learn from unusual suspects who bring fresh and different perspectives than from the ideas circulated and re-circulated among the usual suspects. The big and important value creating opportunities will most likely be found in the gray areas between the silos we inhabit. Get out more.

Best practices are necessary but not sufficient. Business models don’t last as long as they used to. Leaders must identify and experiment with next practices. Next practices enable new ways to deliver customer value. Next practices are better ways to combine and network capabilities that change the value equation of your organization. Organizations should always be developing a portfolio of next practices that recombine capabilities to find new ways to deliver value. Leaders should design and test new business models unconstrained by the current business or industry model.

It is easy to sketch out business model innovation scenarios on the whiteboard. It is far more difficult to take the idea off the whiteboard for a spin in the real world. We need safe and manageable platforms for real-world experimentation of new business models and systems. Since most leaders in the 21st century will likely have to change their business models several times over their careers it makes sense to do R&D for new business models the same way R&D is done for new products and technologies today. Create the space for exploration.

It is not best practices, but next practices that will sustain your organization on a strong growth trajectory. While you continue to pedal the bicycle of today’s business model make sure that no less than 10% of your time and resources is dedicated to exploring new business models and developing next practices.

So Many Corporate Innovation Labs, So Little Innovation

It’s the innovator’s day. CEOs everywhere know that keeping their companies relevant in a rapidly changing world is imperative and that innovation is the solution. Corporate leaders also know their legacies depend on their organization’s ability to reinvent itself.

It’s not going well.

The CEOs I talk with admit privately that they’re getting tired of hearing Uber, Airbnb and Netflix disruption stories. They want their organizations to play more offense. They want to be market-makers, not just share-takers.

In response, CEOs have climbed onto the innovation-lab bandwagon. Corporate innovation labs have sprung up like weeds across industries around the world. Any self-respecting CEO now has a corporate innovation lab!

I have visited many of these innovation labs and spoken with those who’ve been tapped on the shoulder to start and lead them. My overall impression is that, at best, most of these innovation labs will produce only tweaks to today’s business models.

Innovation labs will launch with lofty rhetoric from CEOs about transformation and thinking out-of-the-box. But as soon as line executives and business unit leaders get control of the lab’s agenda, it is destined to produce only tweaks. This shouldn’t be a surprise, because corporate innovation labs are structured, resourced and governed to produce incremental improvements to today’s business models.

Lab projects are prioritized and funded to produce new products, services and tech-enabled capabilities that will improve the performance of today’s business. The projects compete for resources based on financial metrics relevant to the current business model.

There is nothing wrong with that approach — leaders should always improve their current business model to stay competitive. But here’s the rub — today’s corporate innovation labs won’t help a company avoid being ‘netflixed’ or disrupted by an entirely different business model.

My conclusion: Corporate innovation labs aren’t set up in ways that will help companies avoid disruption.

Here’s why.


10 Reasons Corporate Innovation Labs Produce Only Tweaks


  1. Innovation lab mandates aren’t clear. Incremental versus transformational innovation require very different organizational approaches and support.
  2. CEOs must own the transformational agenda. Instead, they cede authority to line executives who are accountable for the performance of today’s business model.
  3. Innovation labs overemphasize the production of a better mousetrap, as opposed to a better business model.
  4. Potential innovation projects that may cannibalize current business are taken off the table, severely limiting the innovation lab’s scope.
  5. Requiring a financial forecast for an innovation project — before exploring it in the real world — only works for tweaks, never for transformation.
  6. Corporate innovation labs see emerging technologies through the lens of today’s business model, as opposed to a catalyst for an entirely new model.
  7. Corporate innovation labs have difficulty shifting their perspective to see opportunities through the lens of customer experience and jobs-to-be-done.
  8. Corporate venture funds are not innovation labs. They may provide startup capital to entrepreneurs, but withhold the company’s most important assets: scalable capabilities and market access.
  9. Innovation labs aren’t organized as a connected adjacency to the core, a sandbox where capabilities can be combined and recombined, to change how customer value is created, delivered and captured.
  10. Companies lack the talent systems to develop future leaders with experience working both in the core and in the innovation lab.

I think we all know that tweaks are necessary — we should all get better every day. But tweaks aren’t sufficient. If tweaking the way things worked today were enough, life would be so much easier. Sometimes we need transformation, and this is one of those times. In the 21st century, the most important life skill — and corporate capability — is reinvention.

Transformation, disruption and reinvention don’t have to be scare words. We can create the conditions to explore and test entire new business models while we are still pedaling the bicycle of today’s models.

An important mandate for these new innovation labs is to do R&D for new business models, the same way we do R&D today for new products, services and technologies. R&D for new business models is the new strategic imperative. Corporate innovation strategies must create discrete approaches to deliver incremental improvements to today’s models, while also enabling the exploration of entirely new models. Doing so will require more clarity on the objectives of the innovation lab, as well as recognizing that the same structure, approach, resourcing, staffing and governance will not work for both incremental and transformational innovation.

It’s a good thing CEOs are taking innovation seriously. I sense they’re realizing that just setting up an innovation lab and delegating it to line executives isn’t enough, and they’re right. I’m finding more CEOs open to talking about how business model innovation fits into their strategic agendas, and I predict we will begin to see this new imperative better reflected in their organizational approaches to innovation.

Today I stand by my observation: So many corporate innovation labs, so little innovation. Tomorrow I expect we will see more corporate business model sandboxes to make R&D for new business models an ongoing strategic capability.



Are you ready to start your innovation journey? We’re here to help! email us at hello@bif.is

BIF’s Market Maker Infiltrates TEDxDirigo!

Prepare to have your mind blown by Eli Stefanski! Chief Market Maker by day, rockstar storyteller by night, Eli is obsessed with making systems-level thinking sexy.

During her recent talk at TEDxDigiro, Eli lit up the stage with her tale of overcoming the friction in our existing system through social entrepreneurship.

Eli teaches us we need to become inclusive and expansive to solve the world’s problems, and charges us to take action. Warning: Video will compel you to change the world, proceed with caution.