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A time to reshape your business model

Coronavirus has got many people questioning their models and assumptions around work. Kirsten Gibbs, Process Expert, asks if it’s time to question our models of business too?

June 2020

Weeks of lockdown has many of us questioning our models of the world. This is a good thing. We should always be questioning the old and exploring the new.

For example, utility-maximising self-interest isn’t generally how most people work. As identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, money isn’t a motivator for doing work that really matters. On the whole, people are prepared to temporarily sacrifice some personal freedoms for the greater good.

Office-based businesses have discovered that their model of work was inaccurate as working from home hasn’t necessarily turned staff into skivers. On the contrary, given the right conditions, it helps people to be more productive, to take more responsibility and to enjoy work more. The boss doesn’t need to see them working to know that they are. Staff don’t need to be corralled into a single space and time to produce results.

Individuals have found that their model of success has changed. Many have found that the shifting balance between their work and home lives has highlighted that they want more time to spend, rather than more money. 

So, is it time to explore new models for business too? Does the idea of a business as factory, army, or machine prevents us from getting the best from our businesses or our people?

What could a more helpful model look like?

Let’s start by looking at some characteristics of a business that traditional models may have obscured.

A business is creative

Like many human activities, a business is a creative endeavour, a form of self-expression.

As a founder, you imagine a new world, your own utopia, and try to make it happen. That new world can work exactly as you want, for as long as you have the resources to keep it going.

The trick then, is to create a world that clients want to be part of so much that they are willing to pay more for the privilege than it costs you to provide it, leaving you with enough resources to keep it going and even to expand it.

A business is collaborative

Like many familiar creative endeavours (music, construction, film-making) a business is collaborative.

In music, construction or film-making, each and every performance is a collaboration between the originator of the idea with performers and enablers who interpret and deliver it to an audience.

The same is true of business. Its originators may have created the new world, but right from start-up they rely on other people as suppliers, enablers or performers to help them deliver that experience.

A business is complex and dynamic

Like all collaborations, a business is complex. To deliver a coherent and satisfying result to those who’ve bought into the promise of the world the business offers, multiple technologies must be deployed, multiple talents brought into play and multiple threads of activity orchestrated.

It’s also dynamic. Even music isn’t fixed in stone once written down. Instruments evolve and are invented. New interpretations reflect changing tastes. New orchestral configurations are formed in response to new constraints, or the release of existing constraints.

The same is true for businesses, no matter how large or how small. Adapt or die.

A business is a system

All this simply means that a business is a system. A complex, dynamic system for creative collaboration.

So far, so good. But there’s one more thing to consider before we arrive at a more useful model of business. 

‘The system is what the system does’, and what a system actually does depends on what it’s built around, its focus. 

For longevity and sustainability, that focus should be something that can persist through many shifts and changes in environment, implementation and interpretation.

It isn’t money. It’s what we recognise in Mozart’s music when we hear it on a synthesiser, or in every new device Apple brings out. Some people call it brand. But for me it’s the originator’s promise of a new world, embodied and produced by the system they started.

So here’s my sketch of what a business is. 


Building on this article, I will be writing a short series for London Accountant which will look at what this model means for practice owners looking to scale their business effectively.

Kirsten Gibbs is Owner and Director of Gibbs & Partners. 

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