Plunder Your Way to Innovation

Black Bart, Bluebeard, and you? We sure hope so. To assess how well you innovate, you have to think like a pirate. We'll explain.

"Merchant and pirate were for a long period one and the same person," said Friedrich Nietzsche. "Even today mercantile morality is really nothing but a refinement of piratical morality."

You don't necessarily have to agree with what the German philosopher wrote more than 100 years ago to concede that opportunities and threats in business occur more quickly and less predictably than in the past. As a result company leaders, like pirates, have to constantly reexamine where they hunt for treasure and to reinvent their approach to keeping their gold coins, customers, market share, and so forth out of the hands of competitors.

We are using the word "pirate" as a metaphor to suggest that you need a new mind set and set of tools to innovate continuously.

For pirates, survival—let alone victory—depends on the organization's entrepreneurial spirit and capacity to:

1) Explore itself and its customers objectively

2) Examine the existing hypotheses and assumptions within their current model

3) Create better models for the future

4) Constantly reinvent and enhance elements of business models to keep or capture advantage. To do this, you need to start with a shared language and strategic clarity by making absolutely certain that you're looking at the same model (the same treasure map, to keep our metaphor going).

Ahoy: Business Model Innovation

One way is to use a business model innovation tool such as the Business Model Canvas. This one-page visual identifies the nine sections (value proposition, customer segments, revenue streams, and the like) that make up your business model. The approach's simplicity and clarity allow you to effectively discuss, challenge, and examine each one in the broader context of the whole. It helps focus on the things that directly affect your company's strengths, competitive advantage, and bottom line. Business model innovation frameworks expose opportunities and simultaneously force you to prioritize innovation opportunities.

"Sometimes the most difficult part of innovation is stating the obvious. Business model innovation tools such as the Canvas mock unnecessary complexity—the stuff that seems to accumulate in businesses that struggle with innovation," says Doug Stone, a vice-president of innovation at our company. As a result, all the buccaneers on your team end up pulling together, looking at the best treasure map available (your redefined and refocused business model). This helps your team venture off in a common search for potential business enhancements, increasing the likelihood that your exploration will focus in a worthwhile direction.

Who usually finds the most treasure? Treasure hunters—the people committed to finding it and knowledgeable about where to look for it.

The commitment comes by sticking to a proven process. Our is simple. We believe that innovation occurs when:

1. There is a significant need or insight.

2. A product, service, or business model meets that need.

3. There is clear communication that connects No. 1 to No. 2.

To be more like a successful pirate (a rich one) it helps if you are good at leveraging these three steps while creating and using business model innovation frameworks. Together they can help you lead your team to innovation treasure.

No amount of foreign languages that Rosetta Stone or any other language tutorial can teach you will benefit your business and career more than learning to think like a pirate. Those who don't learn will experience growing symptoms of anxiety, uneasiness, worry, and nervousness—and most likely will get plundered by pirate-speaking competitors. Think like a pirate; never stop searching for treasure. Then you can communicate and create the future of your business: Arrrrrrrg.

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