Mobility Engineer: Chapter 16 - Transformational Strategy and Business Models
As an innovator and a strategist, one must describe the customer really well. The better the customer niche is identified, easier it becomes to plan the other boxes of the Business Model Canvas.
Prof. Murugan introduces the Business Model Canvas
Prof. Murugan was very impressed by the way Kavya and Pavan conducted the validation sessions on their new innovation. He could see the passion with which the two were explaining the innovation journey using the Design Thinking methodology. Prof. Murugan asked them to check the viability of the potential innovation. Kavya and Pavan did not know much about viability.
Prof. Murugan explained that Design Thinking is based on creation of value at the convergence of four tenets - User Desirability, Technical Feasibility, Economic Viability and Environmental Sustainability. Kavya remembered that while they were rating their ideas, they used these tenets as parameters to choose the top idea to implement. Prof. Murugan told them that Economic Viability is a key aspect for an innovator to understand in order to communicate the idea to the management and get their buy in. He said, "In a few months, both of you are going to join an organisation. You will require budget to implement your innovations. And for that you will require to show to the management the value that you believe your innovation will create for the organisation."
Both the students agreed to what Prof. Murugan said. He asked them to learn about the Business Model Canvas and meet him for the next review to discuss about it (Figure 1).
The Business Model Canvas
While reading up about the Business Model Canvas, they learnt that it is a Framework that is commonly used by entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs before starting up a new project or product line. It is a tool that helps to strategize business moves and aligns innovation strategies to business strategy. The concept of the business model Canvas was introduced in the book Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. 
Pavan giving a presentation to Prof. Murugan
During the review with Prof. Murugan, Pavan described everything he learnt about the Business Model Canvas. Prof. Murugan corrected him on one point - the first of the 9 boxes to be filled in a Business Model Canvas is the Customer Segment box. Customer segment is the box on the right most side of a Business Model Canvas. It is a vital box and whatever is going to be filled in the other eight boxes depend a lot on what is filled in this one box.
While filling the Customer Segment box, one must define the niche customer segment that the company is planning to serve. There may be multiple niches under one single customer segment. For example, a customer who will be looking to buy by a four-wheeler from a company selling used cars will be different from someone who would like to buy a high-end car. Though fundamentally both the buyers are buying a four-wheeler the customer profile is very different from each other.
As an innovator and a strategist, one must describe the customer really well. The better the customer niche is identified, easier it becomes to plan the other boxes of the Business Model Canvas. The typical questions one must ask while filling this box are:
· For whom are we trying to create value?
· Who are our most important customers?
· What are the customer archetypes?
While these questions are good enough to identify the right niche of customers to serve, a business based on platform strategy may require to define a few others than just the customers. Businesses following a Platform Strategy are those with multiple stakeholders. Ride sharing facilitators like Uber is one such business following a Platform Strategy. Businesses like Uber's need to identify the right partners as well in order to make sure value is provided to not only the end customers but also to all the stakeholders who are necessary to run the business successfully.
In case of Uber, the driver partners are key stakeholders apart from the end consumer. While ride sharing apps like Revv identifies car owners who are happy to put their cars on rent, as their partners, Uber's partners are very different - so are the values they look for. Thus, while filling the first box of the Business Model Canvas, Customer Segment, it is important to identify the various stakeholders involved in the business, identify the niche to serve and the values they look for.
Dr Sharma (CTO) discusses New Strategy with Team
Bharath was surprised to receive a call from the CTO’s office. Dr Sharma had called Bharath and a few senior leaders for an offsite meeting to discuss technology and R&D strategy. Bharath had observed that Dr Sharma’s meeting are always very short and focused. He wondered why he has called for a day long discussion. Bharath was neck deep in his project and he felt that he did not have the time to attend an offsite meeting for a whole day. He was also curious about what could be the reason for an urgent meeting on strategy.
Bharath and a few other senior leaders drove to a resort at a nearby hill station. Dr Sharma had reached the place ahead of them. He was sitting under the shade of a big peepul tree wand was deeply immersed in thought. He welcomed the team and they sat around him, under the tree. He kept everybody guessing what the agenda of the meeting is about. He made sure everybody had their coffee or tea and rested a bit after the long drive. He started speaking in a low tone and his very tone suggested that the topic is something confidential and strategic in nature.
He talked about how new technologies and business models are disrupting the automotive industry. He cited how different the design of an electric vehicle is as compared to an ICE vehicle. He also described how the manufacturing of EVs will be grossly simplified as compared to ICE vehicles. Then he quizzed the team on the changing preferences of the customers – like preference for shared versus owned vehicles, demand for smart connected features etc. When he asked what we should be doing differently, in response to these big shifts, the team realized the importance of this meeting. The offsite setting was conducive for the team to think fresh about these challenges at hand. Dr Sharma was known as a clear thinker and he had the uncanny ability to simplify complex topics. He picked a twig and drew five circles on the sand. He said that these five circles hold the key to creating sustainable mobility for the future. He posed five questions to his team:
· How do we reimagine sustainable mobility for the future?
· How do we refocus our R&D to enable the vision of sustainable mobility?
· How can we reskill ourselves to prepare for the future of Mobility and to serve the "post corona world“?
· How can we rebuild the entire ecosystem necessary for electric mobility in India?
· How can we recycle & reuse the critical materials needed to scale up and sustain electric mobility?
The 5R Framework for Reimagining Sustainable Mobility
He gave each team member one hour time to go for a long walk and think about these questions. The team members spread themselves across the resort. Bharath observed the pond and the rock formation at its center. He took the paddle boat and went over to the rock. He sat down and started thinking about the future of mobility, the future of his company and the future of his project. He felt that he could think with lot more clarity here on this rock as compared to his office. He did not realize that the one hour had passed.
He heard the shrill sound of a whistle – Dr Sharma was calling his team back. Bharath got into the boat and paddled back briskly to the shore. He wondered what kind of ideas that his other colleagues would have come up with. He was expecting everybody to start presenting their ideas to the CTO. But the CTO had a different plan. He had arranged for a Yoga instructor and a few yoga mats. They were taught to practice deep breathing and meditation. It was a refreshing experience to meeting under the shade of the peepul tree. The weather was cool and cloudy.
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By the time the discussion started, everybody was in a calm and relaxed state of mind. They were all served cool lemonades or tender coconut water. Then Dr Sharma asked each one to share their ideas. He requested everybody not to criticize any ideas but encouraged them to build on each other’s ideas. Each one spoke for about ten minutes and shared their views and responses to the five strategic questions posed by the CTO. Dr Sharma was making notes as each one presented their ideas. They had a very energetic and intense discussion following the presentation of ideas. Dr Sharma ably moderated the discussion and he was careful not to praise or criticize any of the ideas.
The power of storytelling
As each team member completed their point of view, Dr Sharma brought up the topic of storytelling. Business models and products have become so complicated today. Large corporates like General Electric, Microsoft and many more have a Chief Storyteller as a key role today! His team first felt amused to hear what he said. But as he started explaining it more, they realized how important the role was. Storytellers had to explain key decisions, strategies, approaches and incidents in simple terms even for their own employees and investors, stakeholders and board members to understand. Storytelling is a part of our culture. It begins with our parents or grandparents for most of us.
Storytelling has been identified as a key soft skill for professionals across sectors to pick up. The elevator speech concept which Pavan picked up from Bharath earlier is a small version of it. Paul Smith proposed a framework called the CAR framework for storytelling.  The CAR framework stands for Context, Action and Result. Context is the background for a story – when it is happening, where, why and who are the actors. Action is the ups and downs, the wins and losses and the lessons learnt throughout the story. The Result is the moral and the final outcome at the end of the story. Every story should have to follow this basic CAR framework for it to be complete.
Storytelling is used for rocket science too, at NASA! NASA uses several mechanisms to capture and share the lessons learnt from each project. When significant organizational changes were made in NASA in 1992, it led to a mandate to complete projects “faster, better, and cheaper”.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office or GAO acknowledged that NASA had initiated systems to capture and share lessons learnt. But there was a concern that NASA was not learning from its past mistakes and applying lessons learned toward future mission success. The GAO’s recommendation was for NASA to use storytelling for lessons learnt. Storytelling has been a component of NASA’s Knowledge Sharing Initiative founded in 2000.
MIT’s Sloan business school considers storytelling as the last mile in any analytics project and presentation.  As with any good story, a data tale needs a beginning, a middle, an end, and some actionable insights. “If you want people to make the right decisions with data, you have to get in their head in a way they understand. Throughout human history, the way to do that has been with stories,” says Miro Kazakoff, an MIT Sloan lecturer. Information is to presented without injecting bias and to recognize what’s important.
Steve Jobs is considered one of the greatest storytellers in the business context in our times. He was not a born storyteller - he learnt from his experience. When he launched the Lisa computer in Apple in 1968, it was a technically superior product. But the 8-page advertisement in Wall Street Journal did not get Apple significant orders. Jobs learnt from it and when the iPod was released, the tagline he used was
“1,000 songs in your pocket”
The product became a big success. The storyline was brief, it captured the imagination of the customers and addressed their problem. It was their own story.
The diverse examples Dr Sharma gave from NASA to Apple convinced his team about the power of storytelling. He made it a point to remind everyone that the next day morning, each one had to present their idea in the form of a story, keeping the CAR framework in mind! As Bharath and team went back to their rooms before regrouping for dinner, each one of them shared their thoughts on how they could put a story together. It was an interesting homework for each one of them, used to making presentations and spreadsheet calculations for senior management meetings! It took them back to their days as a school student and Dr Sharma was quietly smiling.
They stayed at the resort for the night so that they can continue their discussion on the next day. They had an early dinner and went out and sat under the starlit sky. They were exchanging stories, jokes and some of them sang their favorite songs. They had never had an offsite meeting like this before. Dr Sharma recounted the early days of the company when he started the R&D group. He even talked about his PhD work and his student- days. There was a sense of warmth and fraternity that was building among the team members.
1 – Business Model Canvas explained, Sep. 1, 2011, YouTube
2 - The structure of a story, Farnam Street
3 - Storytelling : If NASA can you can - Narrative: The Business of Stories, narrative.com.sg
4 - The next chapter in analytics: data storytelling, Beth Stackpole, May 20, 2020, MIT Sloan School
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