Come Make the 21st Century Happen

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Greg Bernarda. He is is co-author of Value Proposition Design, and a co-founder of the Noé Programme.

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We are in the middle of a cold January day, some time at the beginning of this decade. I am sitting in a workshop on the 15th floor of a Beijing hotel with a group tasked by the Government to imagine future development models for the country. The group is a mix of international business folks from a variety of industries. The discussions are not too different from workshops in other parts of the world: similar ideas, stories, exchanges.

Except one thing: the view from the hotel.

Looking out from the large bay windows, all I can see is a thick fuzzy cloud of pollution. It is not far from a scene of Mad Max, except the yellow dust has turned into a grey mist. Later that day, I read in the papers that Beijing has just broken pollution records.

This dramatic setting has a big impact on me. The problems are real. And so is, I realize, the possibility of the conversation in the room. All of a sudden, it feels like China is poised to become a pioneer of new models, simply because it has to.

On my way out of Beijing, I stop in Hong Kong and head to the airport bookstore. At the very top of the bestsellers shelf is a new book called Business Model Generation. Ah! This is the book my old college friend Alex Osterwalder casually mentioned he was working on!

I’m captivated. I start connecting the dots with my Beijing experience. And I become animated by a new curiosity for how innovative business models might hold a key to building our future. Maybe it is indeed possible to solve intractable societal and environmental problems at the same time as keeping the promise of prosperity alive for our organizations and our economies.

Since then, I have come across dozens of stories of inspired innovators who have done just that.

In China then, where Alibaba has, through its Taobao marketplace, singlehandedly built an infrastructure for e-commerce, introduced a whole new level of trust in the economy, and created 18 million jobs.

In Europe, where Michelin transformed its truck business by shifting away from selling tires towards offering a guarantee of performance that delivers superior value to customers, differentiates from competition, and reduces carbon emissions.

Less known, but just as interesting is Bright Farms in the U.S. The startup created a whole new value chain by connecting supermarkets with investors to install farms on the roofs of supermarkets and make the development of healthy, local agriculture possible at scale.

Just three stories out of an entire movement emerging in every corner of the globe.

Yet, more often than not, organisations still struggle with innovation. Marc Giget, the French observer (and a speaker at Noé’s inaugural edition) has this telling line: ‘No candle-maker has become a bulb manufacturer, no carriage-maker has become a car producer, and the post office did not invent the email.’

No easy feat.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Bernarda is co-author – with Alex Osterwalder, inventor of the Business Model Canvas – of Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want (Wiley, 2014). Based in Singapore and Zurich, he works internationally with teams and organizations of all sizes and sectors to design products, services and business models that sustain growth. To learn more about him and his work, please click here.

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