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am 10. September 2010
"Then He said, 'To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?'" -- Mark 4:30 (NKJV)

You've probably heard the old saying that a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Well, this book has more illustrations, sketches, design flourishes, and graphic displays in it than pages so you can probably imagine how much content it covers. In addition to sharing ideas about business model generation, you'll learn about business strategy, change processes, story telling, design, and creativity . . . among other subjects covered in a few paragraphs or pages. If you haven't read many of the books about business innovation that have come out in the last ten years, you can just use this one to get a brief summary of the key ideas in each of those areas. So your cost per subject is almost nothing. What a bargain!

If you get bored easily, you will like this book. It covers most subjects in almost no space. By using small type, a lot of information is concentrated onto just a few pages.

A lot of my graduate business students tell me that they like books that teach them a lot of the technical terms that business people use. Business Model Generation is excellent for that purpose. It's jammed full of C-level business jargon and lots of flow diagrams of the sort that technology managers and engineers love to use.

So, what is a business model? "A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value." Got that? "This concept can be a shared language that allows you to easily describe and manipulate business models to create new strategic alternatives."

If that isn't clear to you, the authors offer nine building blocks that give you the whole picture:

1. Customer Segments
2. Value Propositions
3. Channels
4. Customer Relationships
5. Revenue Streams
6. Key Resources
7. Key Activities
8. Key Partnerships
9. Cost Structure

Each of these nine elements is conveniently broken down into still more subsegments of what to consider.

Fans of Michael Porter's work on competitive strategy will note the strong resemblances between this approach and his pioneering work of 30 years ago. But Professor Porter doesn't include as many graphics and his examples are much longer and more detailed. If you want to learn more about advantaged value chains, Professor Porter's work may be more helpful to you.

The book similarly borrows deeply from 20 other standard business and strategy references.

Who is the ideal reader for this book? I think it's someone who hasn't been introduced to business models before and has just been asked to work on developing one at work. The book seems to be aimed at people without much business education such as technologists and designers.

If you are such a person, be sure to take notes on where to find the examples you want to refer to. There's no index to the book and you'll be thumbing through all the pages to find what you are looking for.

The approach emphasizes a small group of people doing the business model generation for a business or a company. That's pretty typical of a venture being formed (venture capitalists always want to know what the business model is), new ventures, and smaller enterprises that need to make a big change in direction.

The recommended approach is 180 degrees away from what many business model innovating companies do which is to encourage stakeholders and employees to continually develop low-key, inexpensive experiments and then to expand the successes.

I always find books such as this one more helpful when they teach me about businesses I've never studied before. So if you don't know about the Swiss private bank, Pictet, France Telecom, KPN, Vodafone, Bharti Airtel, Siemens, book publishers, LEGO, Metro in Stockholm, Google, game console makers, Apple, Flickr, Red Hat, Skype, REGA, Gillette, P&G, Glaxo SmithKline, InnoCentive, Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo, you'll get some new knowledge. You may find that you'll have to do more homework on your own in many cases. Most of the references are 75 words or less.

The book was co-produced by hundreds of contributors. It shows. There's a lot here. Much of it is from the service provider perspective (consultants, design companies, and researchers), but you can probably get a sense of who you want to hire by reading this book if you find that you cannot implement what it tells you by yourself.

Over the last 35 years, I have interviewed hundreds of successful executives who created business model innovations that changed their industries in major ways. I must comment that this book is a lot more complicated than what those practitioners think about and do. So it's possible that this book is capturing an emerging practice that will obsolete how all business model innovation is done. But I don't think I've ever met anyone who did it this way. Most of these practices are normally applied to developing new products, redesigning old products, to repositioning offerings, and adjusting the value chain.
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