Thursday, November 29, 2012

Towards a Definition of Organizational Strong Sustainability - A Review of the Literature

Based on my considerable progress over the past 3 months I've just added my second post to the blog of the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Group (SSBMG), an applied research group within OCADU’s Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) that I helped to co-found.

This new blog post is about one part of the thesis: the literature review I’ve just completed that I hope will
  • Provide a definition of organizational strong sustainability
  • Identify design principles for the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology and the Canvas it powers
  • Contribute to the work to define a "gold standard" for organizational strong sustainability

In this blog post I explore how this literature review relates to:

  • my Strongly Sustainable Business Model Ontology and the Canvas it "powers"
  • the "Gold Standard" for organizational strong sustainability, and
  • the SSBMToolkit which integrates these together to achieve the goal of the SSBMG

If you'd like a copy of this literature review please contact me.

I look forward to responding to your comments on the SSBMG blog... now back to writing!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Evaluating the Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas (SSBMC)

Wednesday Nov 21st, Prof. David Johnston, my principle supervisor of my thesis committee, invited me to talk with his York University Schulich School of Business Operations and MIS masters class SB-OMIS6700 on the Management of New Technology about the focus of my resource: my Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas (SSBMC).

I realized this was the 16th "outing" that the SSBMC has had since it was born back in the Summer of 2011.  The SSBMC comes from the realization that Alex Osterwalder's wonderful and increasingly well known Business Model Canvas (BMC) makes a major implicit assumption:  it assumes you want to design a monetarily profitable business model.  This is great, but ignores all of us interested in generating social, environmental and monetary profit! (See this post for more on Strongly Sustainable Business Models).

Wednesday's outing was also the 2nd opportunity to see how the SSBMC performs in a "visual design mode".  The first design mode outing was at the April Design with Dialogue workshop on "Business Model Innovation for Social Entrepreneurship" where the focus was the design of the business model for the NGO "New Comer Women's Services Toronto" using a summarized canvas.

This 2nd outing used the full colour canvas with an engaged and enthusiastic group of masters students who were looking at designing the business model for the launch of an innovative fresh produce packaging technology SmartPac produced by FreshTec.  This technology enables produced to be picked later (enhanced taste and nutrition) with less spoilage and shipped for longer periods (i.e. lower carbon footprint since produce can be sent by ship not air).  All this in Harvard Business School Case Study 9-511-059.

I asked the students come having watched this talk by Alex Osterwalder "a new approach to designing business models" (slides) using his now well known Business Model Canvas (BMC) as well as reading the case. 

We also watched this 2 minute video about the BMC.

The question I asked was: does the BMC have include all the concepts required to describe the possible FreshTec business models?

Does the BMC include all the concepts
needed for the FreshTec business model?

Their answer was the BMC has some gaps: stakeholders (other than customer), how to
describe non-financial aspects of profit, revenues and costs, how to describe the relationship of a  firm to broader society and the natural environment.

After a quick introduction to my SSBMC and some coffee, David and I let the students loose with the sticky notes!
Group 1 Decided to work on the Business Model
where FreshTec goes to market with the
Government of Panama
Group 2 Decided to work on the Business
Model where FreshTec goes to Market 

with a Major Retailer

Discussing the options with group 1
A key question: who pays?
Discussion with Group 2
Group 2 Final Presentation
Group 1 Final Presentation


Lots of great feedback:
  • More clarity required between
    • Stakeholder and Actor
    • Channel, Relationship and Partner  
    • ...although some noted this could just be lack of time to learn more about the terminology and needing more time to practice.
  • "Really helped connect the dots"
  • "We could see the whole thing"  
  • "Made us think about the context for what we were doing - economic, social and environmental"
  • "Helps make sure you don't forget something"
  • "Great for a first brainstorming session - saves time"  

One aside: Of course no discussion about how increasing international trade in produce might decrease resilience by discouraging local food production... but that's the reality is many of today's business school  case studies! (see an introduction of the alternative here).

 A good evening!  Thank-you everyone... invaluable.

FYI...The other outings were all using the SSBMC in a "descriptive mode" - i.e. describing an existing business model rather than designing a new or changed one.  These included:

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    The EcoSystem Creating the Future of Strongly Sustainable Business

    It's been an inspiring week... talking to smart folks* about their dedicated work to design and bring into being strongly sustainable businesses.  But it left me with some questions...

    First what do we call the collective systems that all these folks and all their organizations are helping to create?  I'm going to suggest we call them the "ecosystem creating the future of strongly sustainable business".  Perhaps this is an example of a value-constellation? (Thanks to Peter Jones for this idea).

    Second.  This got me thinking about ways to explain and describe all this work...and perhaps this might help all these folks and their organizations collaborate with each other towards what I think they would all see as a common ideal goal.

    One Ideal Goal

    There is a growing consensus that we need to act quickly and at scale to help business move to adopt strongly sustainable business models, i.e an ideal goal of:
    All business proactively enabling strongly sustainable outcomes
    To, as John Ehrenfeld puts it:
    Create possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever
    (You can read more about this in my post Strongly Sustainable Business Models - Defining the Field)

     One Approach

    Acting on Einstein's observation that you don't solve problems using the approaches that created them: there also seems to be a growing consensus that we need to move forward by using what we know works, but at the same time approaches we didn't use to create the current "mess".  In practice this would appear to  mean:
    Collaborative Design + Systems Thinking
    Together perhaps the ideal goal and the approach could be illustrated as follows:

    Six Foci

    Many people and organizations are working towards this ideal goal using this approach: but each has a number of foci - depending on their skills, knowledge and where they believe they can best contribute.

    I'm suggesting it might be helpful to think about these foci in the following six groups (if you have suggestions for more or different please respond in the comments)
    1. “Gold Standard”  
      • What is organizational strong sustainability and how is it measured? (Based on the science of strong sustainability) 
    2. Skills, Competencies & Knowledge  
      • What do people need to know to be effective at creating and improving strongly sustainable organizations (and a certification to demonstrate competence)? 
    3. Education 
      • How to ensure people know what they need to know (facts and methods)? 
    4.  Method & Tools 
      • How do you efficiently design and implement businesses with high probability’s of achieving the “gold-standard” What tools can help? (Strongly Sustainable Business Model Canvas) 
    5. Community 
      • How can businesses making the journey to strong sustainability work together and support each other? 
    6. Services 
      • Provide services to businesses to accelerate the journey to strong sustainability 

    Toronto Centric Example

    So what does this look like in and around Toronto and the people I work with... rather an alphabet soup... but see the list below for the acronyms* ...

    Is this perspective helpful?  Confusing?  What's missing?

    Leave me a comment and let me know.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    Book Review - The Nature of Business

    Just had my first book review published... written with Janice McDougall  and Norbert Hoeller... not sure why my name is first... unless its by order of first name...and that *NEVER* happens! 
    The review was written for an amazing magazine about Bioinspired Design - Zygote Quarterly... photos are stunning... words aren't bad either*.
    The review is of the visionary / call to arms "The Nature of Business: Redesigning for Resilience" by Giles Hutchins.  The review can be found here.   

    Giles also wrote some nice summaries of the ideas in the book for the Network for Business Sustainability earlier this year...
    Aside:The book publisher is involved in the first UK Transition Town Totnes... where many of the ideas from the book are being put into practice.  There is even a local Totnes Pound - to keep economic transactions local...
    * For those interested in fast trains check out issue #2 of Zygote Quarterly about the redesign of the front of the Japanese bullet trains based on the shape of a King Fisher bill (not to mention the changes to the pantograph!)

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    What's in a name?

    Looking for ideas for a less Industrial more Ecologically, Biological, Sociological, Strongly Sustainable equivalents for the following...
    1. Organization name / "Workplace"  
    Alex Osterwalder's for-profit business model tools company is called the Business Model Foundry - indicating hard work (in terms of heat, beat, treat - the classic unsustainable industrial process) is required to create business model tools tools.
    What should we name the organization which is going to develop of strongly sustainable business model tools (click here for details)?

    Can you suggest a "eco-inspired", "bio-inspired" or "sociology-inspired" noun which conveys "a place where things are created"?  i.e. not a industrial / neo-classical "foundry" but something inspired by ecology, nature or society but involving smart people trying to do good while doing well?

    2. Name of a Person / "Role"
    Alex Osterwalder , who I will, call a "conventional"  business model tool designer (albeit a socially concerned one - see the dedication in his PhD and describes himself as an alchemist*   ( ... as in "an alchemist works in the (heat-beat-treat) foundry ...

    What would be the the name for the people who work in the place which is  eco,  bio- or sociologically inspired? 

     * Doesn't inspire confidence for me...magic and all that... but it is what he's done and he's being (very) successful!  More conventionally he also calls himself an innovator (

    3. Place Where People Meet / "Meeting Place"
     Finally,  if a group of alchemist's from different foundries get together at a mechanistic "hub"....( ....

    What's the name for the place where  eco, bio-inspired  or sociologically inspired strongly sustainable business model people get together?
    Post your ideas in the comments!   Cheers and thanks for the help...

    P.S.  Of course the next challenge is what is the business model for the strongly sustainable "foundry"... since this is the organization I am envisaging will run a project to create a Strongly Sustainable Business Model Toolkit with the "hub" as its community... one which can "change the world" without having to have massive carbon footprint to do so... need something very organic for that... but legally... hummm... co-operative?