Art & Science of Business Growth

The Art and Science of Business Growth

Briefly, I’m going to make the case for using Business Model Innovation as the best approach for forming a competitive strategy. You’ll be pleased to know that the process is lean, imaginative, and uses a simple, but powerful method to analyze the business.  So, let’s debunk the myth that strategy planning is a dry, painful exercise that results in an elaborate plan, that’s outdated before it’s underway.  

Say what?

I recently presented a short talk on developing a winning strategy.  My goal was to convert a topic that gets lots of yawns, into an activity people actually look forward to doing. (really!) I wouldn’t be writing this post if it wasn’t a success.  Two things led to these ideas being embraced by the audience.  First, I made the process tangible and easy to understand. The one-page Business Model Blueprint that I created is a great tool for this. (download it on Align’s homepage)  Secondly, I used a creative thinking exercise to activate the imaginations of the people in the room, to produce a range of innovative ideas about how a particular business could create value differently.

It was the art and science of the process that worked for people.  Strategy can’t be abstract and shouldn’t be bogged down with business school jargon.  I also believe that because I start the discussion with Purpose, it establishes a personal and meaningful place to gain commitment.

The Science

To facilitate the analytical work, start with your business model. This represents the configuration of 12 key factors that work in synergy to create meaning for customers, and competitiveness and profitability for the business. The business model provides a high-level view of why and how the business operates, as well as the context in which it operates.  It provides a broader perspective and scope. 

Secondly, products need to be differentiated. There needs to be a compelling reason why customers choose you.  Providing generally the same thing everyone else does, will not lead to differentiation. Nor can you benefit from some kind of operational advantage if your business model looks like everyone else’s.  The business model helps you think about more than simply the product, operations and marketing.  

The Art

If you’re not tapping into sources of imagination, it will be hard to come up with something new and different.  This is the area where businesses often struggle, and it’s helpful to have someone facilitate creative thinking and provide some feedback on how to foster creativity on a regular basis. It’s not enough to come up with great ideas, they need to be linked back to the analytical process that pointed to gaps and weaknesses in your business model. Then it’s time to prototype and test your new ideas.


Strategy should be considered a theory of cause and effect. The Business Model Blueprint is simply a framework for seeing all the inter-related parts of the business, and how they work together to produce outcomes.  Innovating your business model is how your business says relevant and competitive. By assessing where your business is now, and envisioning a more vibrant future, you can identify the strategic objectives that appear to be the most promising approach for getting from A to B.

On November 2 and November 29, Jen Reiner, president of Align is hosting a webinar that will go into greater detail on these concepts.  Sign up here, or email to request a 30-minute conversation to explore how this process could help your business.

Human-Centered Strategy

In 2016, when I started Align, I knew strategy would be my core service, but there needed to be more.

At the heart of it, I want to help people reach their full potential and affect positive impact on the greater good.  At the time, I had a growing positive reaction to human-centered design (HCD)— a problem solving and creative development process used in product development and popular with many of the best product and services companies.  

Remarkable Ideas –  Well Executed  

Much of business is about influencing human behavior, which is why business needs to be more human-centered.  This means putting the individual at the center of the process— not technology, processes, or the thing you are selling.  Specifically, it’s a development process that focuses on the customers’ needs, from their point of view.  

This isn’t about using feel-good methods. It’s about creating home-run solutions, which happens when you use deep and unique insights about what's important to the affected audience.  This piece is about converting novel, ‘killer’ ideas into amazing customer experiences. It's the creative piece.

In addition, for me, being human-centered means factoring in human nature, like what motivates people, how teams work, and what holds us back.  This stuff shows up in an organizational culture and an individual’s work habits.  It can stop strategy dead in its tracks, if it’s not taken into consideration. This piece is about execution and accountability.  

A Strategy Process That’s Lean, Systemic and Innovative

At Align I’ve taken the HCD concepts and applied it to strategy.  Strategy starts with the humans it’s intended to affect—including owners, employees, customers and the community. 

I start with Purpose. 

·       Why does this business exist?
·       Who, specifically, are you serving?  Who can benefit from your purpose and expertise?

A business strategy should focus considerable attention on customers. Among other things, it should also factor in the marketplace, social trends, technology, industry changes, and your capabilities and resources.    

Align is a human-centered strategy company that helps businesses grow.  We employ strategy techniques and some lean start-up tools that lead to development of an innovative business model and a competitive strategy.  This applies to young companies, as well as established companies who are continually adapting and growing.  The approach and the outcomes are different and better than what you see in a typical strategic planning process. 

On Your Terms

Let me interject a separate idea. In addition to developing better business model strategies by making them human-centered—my process for working with a business on its strategy is also human-centered.  I’m flexible.  I know you have many constraints on your time, your resources and your mental space.  I make the process of working together enjoyable and productive!  I approach each client differently, depending on where they are, what they’re trying to achieve, and what they’ve got to work with.

In short, Align helps companies develop a ‘killer’ strategy, using an approach that doesn’t ‘kill’ anyone in the process.  This entails:

·       Taking pain out of the process.
·       Being curious about what motivates you and your team.
·       Walking along side you to overcome obstacles and regularly check for progress.
·       Being deeply customer-focused.
·       Discovering stand-out solutions by tapping into the creativity and unique insights of team members.

Together we can create a strategy designed for growth that addresses what customers want, what your people can deliver, and what you consider success.

An upcoming opportunity to learn more is “Designed for Growth” a workshop on Thursday, October 19, from 8:30 am – 10:30 am, at The Lancaster Chamber.  Learn more on Align’s event page.  See you there, or email me at for a time to talk specifically about your strategy goals.


What's in your Business Model?

The best businesses compete on business models, not just products.

What do Uber, Airbnb, Netflix, Amazon and Google have that allow them to dominate their market? -- Finely tuned and innovative business models.  In fact, their business models are so innovative they’ve created new categories by re-imagining the rules of how a business should operate in their industry.  Nespresso, Hilti, Dell, iTunes, Xerox and Dollar Shave Club are other examples of success born from a brilliant business model, not the product or marketing alone.

The business model is a blueprint for how all the moving parts of the business work together efficiently and in sync to produce social and economic value.  It’s the link between the business’s purpose for existing, and its strategies for operations and sales. All strategic planning should flow from the business model.

The book, Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, popularized the business model concept and gave us all their Business Model Canvas as a design template.  I’ve adapted their version to create one that I believe is more complete, yet nowhere near as dense and speculative as a business plan. You can download it from the homepage and use it to evaluate your own business model. It’s a high-level organizing framework to explore the main factors of how the business operates.

ALIGN’s Business Model Blueprint identifies 12 key components, starting with the purpose for the business.  Besides making money, there’s a reason the business came to be.  Hopefully it’s rooted in the founder’s passion, talents and understanding of a market need.  Among the other components, businesses also need clarity around the customer group(s) they aim to serve and the problem, need, or ‘job to be done’ this group experiences. Turning inward then, we seek to understand what your business is exceptionally good at, and what competencies can lead to a competitive advantage and differentiation in the market. The value proposition lives at the intersection of the customer needs and the business expertise. Finally, how your goods and services are monetized is key.  What product or service ‘bundle’ is offered that provides such a high value to the customer that the selling price greatly surpasses the cost of production?  

These are the key elements we look at in phase one of any project, whether it’s a growth initiative, innovation or strategic business development. So… what’s in your business model and what elements need updating?  Download the Business Model Blueprint, fill-in your information and target at least 2 areas where it could be stronger. Let’s talk about how ALIGN could help.