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Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. A former Madison, WI resident, Kay now resides in San Diego, CA. The views on her blog are not those of her employer, IBM.

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August 31st, 2011

10 questions to stimulate business model innovation ideas

Here's 10 questions to stimulate business model innovation.

The road just got rockier and the atmosphere foggier.

Stock market turmoil, coupled with continued uncertainty about federal fiscal policy and the Euro, creates additional challenges for every business owner and leadership team. The risk of a double dip recession just increased. At the same time, significant liquidity resting in investor and company balance sheets stands ready to fuel attractive economic and asset value growth when the right signals appear.

While I usually hate “Top 10” lists, we’re all in need of some jump-start ideas to turn feeling blocked into forward movement. Here’s some ideas to find pockets of light as you plot your course through a suddenly thicker forest.

You’re not the only company, leadership team and family feeling upset right now. What would you learn (as a B2B company) if you interviewed a range of people in your top customers or (as a B2C company) held focus groups with consumers about their lives (versus your products)? Find out how today’s uncertain times are impacting others. I followed this advice when employed as Director of Marketing for a medical device company, electing to talk to Chief Financial Officers and Chief Risk Officers and not just MDs at our top accounts. We unearthed ideas that dramatically grew the industry and our own revenue amidst turbulence in the hospital industry.

Longer-term trends shape longer-term growth opportunities. What external elements shaping your markets are highly certain because of factors difficult to reverse, e.g., aging of the workforce; growing obesity; growing connectivity through the Internet; personalization of products? Identify ways your business can capitalize on the certain trends. While the future is unpredictable, waves are visible.

Disruption works. Who is being over served in the markets that you serve? Who’s not buying from your industry because solutions are too complex or expensive? How can you meet these two groups’ needs with a lower-cost solution? With incomes down in the USA, finding lower cost solutions is a smart strategy in B2B and B2C markets.

Not all situations customers face when using your offering are the same. Yet too often we design products and services to work most of the time. If you observed your products and services in action, in what situations would you find they are not working as well as intended? In what situations are they over- or under-design? Are they being used in unintended ways that might point the way to new opportunities for your company?

If you stopped thinking about your offering as an offering and focused instead on the outcomes that your customers are buying, what would you learn? From an outcomes perspective, what business are you in? Re-framing the concept of your business can give birth to new offerings and new markets. Just look at Apple!

How might you build a greater share of your customer’s spending while building more profits for your business? If you can’t do this internally, who might you partner with to build share of mind and share of wallet?

What do you have that other companies might want to include as part of their value chain? Amazon has a second business selling to small, independent retailers who leverage the Amazon IT infrastructure to offer their products to Amazon customers. Amazon, the small retailers and Amazon customers all benefit from this two-sided market created by the Amazon IT platform.

India and China are 40% of the world’s population and their economies are booming. How can you catch part of this wave?

Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, titled a recent blog post “Why Software is Eating the World.” He argues that the world is quickly becoming fully digitally wired. From books (Amazon) to games (Zynga) to telecommunications (Skype) to music (ITunes) to marketing (Google) to recruiting (LinkedIn), the fastest growing businesses are totally exploiting the digital world. What are the 3 most important things you could change in your business (or a new business) to fully capture the power of digital technology in your world?

Every business matures, but every company need not mature. Do you have the right mix of mature, growing and emerging businesses? How might you improve your balance?

Join me on Friday September 16, in Madison, Wisconsin at the 2011 Midwest Forum for Talent Management. I’ll be the luncheon keynote speaker.


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