Once upon a time I loved models. I even spent a significant chunk of my own savings getting to know them better in fancy locations around the world.
Models? Work related models, of course. The kind of models you would use for modelling concepts, businesses and such. What did you think?
The point is: I quickly learned that models (any of them) can be deceitful. Just when you think you have figured things out and have the best looking model in front of you, reality strikes. You are torn out of your dream and land, face down, in the ugliness of what real life looks like, when you – as Steve Blank puts it – get out of the building.
Because (1) models used for conceptualization, business modelling and presentation are inherently based on the past that (2) is seldom a great indicator of the future and (3) has a tendency to not really be able to reflect all the complexity of the real world.
Don’t get me wrong. Models can serve a purpose. They can make things look good and make for nice company and conversation. They can keep you warm and fuzzy, when you need it the most.
Models may give you the impression that all is good and well. That as long as you hold them in your hands, you are in control. When it feels best it almost feels like you’re the same kind of rockstar as a coder, who is super great at developing awesome code.
But you should never grow too fondly attached to the models.
Because the world is more complex than that. It never looks like zeros and ones or simple Post-It’s in a map or 2×2 model.
Everybody loves to hate the Excel-sheet. The model that shows the necessary cuts to costs. The model that shows the hockeystick blowing into the sky. Any model, really.
But don’t blame Excel. Blame the complexity of the world instead.
Because – newsflash – the world is a super complicated space, where nothing can be reduced to black & white, 0’s and 1’s and binary choices. It’s full color, total chaos.
All. The. Time.
For the very same reason you should never look down on the guy or girl whose job it is to use Excel to give a representation of the world. Because it is not only a super hard job. It is an impossible job. Because the world is complex.
Yet, it is great that someone is doing it. Cherish the Excel wizard.
Love the fact that someone is putting the chin out for you and others to hit – first on one side, and then on the other. Because at the end of the day we, as humans, need some kind of structure in chaos. Something from which we can navigate, have (informed) discussions and make (hopefully) slightly less bad decisions.
Because the best decisions aren’t made in a void with no overview. They are made where there is a sense of structure, overview and idea of what the heck is really going on in this world of constantly moving parts.
I have been using Assumptions Mapping for a couple of years now, but I have always struggled to use it in fx a workshop setting, because the concept with the quadrant, identifying knowledge gaps etc is foreign to many people. My experience is that it often goes much better if you just have a conversation, ask questions and plot down the answers.
So, I build a model in Excel that does exactly that. It lets you ask all the questions, make notes and score each answer based on the degree you have hard data on it and its criticality to the overall project. Once scores, the model will build a scatter chart with the correct labels, and in an instant you will have a visualization, you can work from. Cool, huh?
During the years I have met many people who have been incredibly frustrated trying to make good use of Business Model Canvas. They often follow a traditional hype cycle, where they start up enthusiastically and full of energy and purpose only to burn out after a week or two with little progress.
While it is easy to blame the tool, the tool is not to blame here. It is more about how people are trying to use it and how little knowledge they have about effectively using it. Because Business Model Canvas can be an incredible useful tool – if you know how to use it to orchestrate building your business model.
It is a hard thing to teach, so the best thing is to show it. Luckily there is a poster boy example of stellar use of it from the International Business Model Competition in 2013, where OWLET knocked it out of the park and won with their incredible use of the model. Go and watch the video here – and then go and get the true value out of Business Model Canvas.