Waddesdon Manor Christmas Carnival


Digital Strategy Breakfast: Headless Ecommerce


What makes the business models of innovators in the 21st century competitive?


Innovative 21st century business models contain many aspects that differentiate them from business models that are more closely associated with the pre-internet era.

Innovative organisations are able to utilise disruptive technologies and approach business strategy from a different perspective to traditional companies and use this to digitise their business and develop a business model that enables them better respond to the increasing pace of change in industries, and so create competitive advantage.

The ability to develop and utilise intangible assets such as knowledge, organisational routines, and intellectual property to achieve competitive advantage separates innovative businesses from physical asset focused organisations but is not without its risk, and so absorbing change and dealing with uncertainty become essential in maintaining competitive advantage.

Organisations with innovative business models are able to leverage the advantages of network externalities to achieve cost efficiency, customer lock-in, complementary value and first-mover advantage to hold a competitive advantage over companies that fail to utilise network effects in their business.

Purpose and societal impact can be sources of competitive advantage for organisations that contribute positively to environmental, societal, or human issues,

All of these elements impact modern business models and contribute to an organisation’s ability to achieve and maintain competitive advantage in the 21st century.

Digitisation, technology and strategy

The 21st century has seen a huge increase in disruptive technologies such as the internet, social media, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robots, and IoT entering almost every market including the music industry, banking and finance, engineering and manufacturing, and recruitment and HR. Organisations that make use of these disruptive technologies can gain a competitive advantage over competitors who are slower to appreciate the benefits and undertake the digitisation of their business. Whilst slower-to-adapt, traditional companies rely on functionality to beat competitors, modern companies beat competitors with speed and customization (Christensen, 2001).

The increasing speed of change in the digitisation (Kurzweil, 2004) of business places pressure on innovative organisations to be continually evolving in order to keep pace with the change and remain competitive. As Porter noted when describing how a competitive advantage is achieved through cost leadership and differentiation, “The ability to be both low cost and differentiated is a function of being the only firm with the new innovation” (Porter, 1980: 3). This suggests that competitive advantage viewed in this way is easily lost to companies that use the next newly available disruptive technology to differentiate themselves. However, those companies that approach innovation as a continual creative destruction (Schumpeter, 1934) of their own practices, products and services, and even business model can successfully utilise digital technologies in strategies that ensure they maintain a competitive advantage.

This pressure to continually reinvent any and all aspect of a business has driven a shift in how organisations approach innovation from closed innovation in which businesses generated their own ideas and develop them internally, to open innovation 1.0 in which companies combine internal and external ideas to accelerate their innovation process (Chesbrough 2003) and onto open innovation 2.0 in which ideas are developed within an ecosystem of industry, universities, government and communities (Curley and Salmelin 2013).

“BMW Group faces many innovation challenges for which it doesn’t always have immediate in-house solutions, so we choose to search globally for the technology that we need, particularly among the innovators who are running startup companies. That is why the BMW Group has, in conjunction with StartupFest Europe 2017, challenged startups from across Europe, working in all fields related to mobility products or services, to submit their pioneering technology, product or service ideas for a competition that offers a chance to become part of a pool that buy billions of dollars’ worth of products and services every year.” (Gimmy, 2017). Companies, such as BMW, adopt an innovation 2.0 approach in order to develop a broader range of ideas more quickly and without the resource constraints of needing to employee experts in all areas of development, and the company that does this better than their competitors can achieve competitive advantage.

Intangible assets and absorbing change

Whilst Porter asserted that competitive advantage comes from providing value to customers at a higher value than it costs to provide, Barney’s view was that competitive advantage is achieved by “implementing a value creating strategy different from the strategies of its competitors.” (Talaja, 2012). This advantage can be achieved when a company possesses and exploits valuable, rare, inimitable, and non-substitutable resources and capabilities (Barney, 1991).

For modern innovative organisations using business models that rely on intangible assets such as software, organisational routines and specialist knowledge, using this resources-based view allows for an understanding that excelling at creating and managing intangible assets is essential for establishing and maintaining competitive advantage. As new models of open innovation emerge that rely on developing eco-systems from partnerships across industry boundaries rather than exclusively within a business (Curley and Salmelin 2013), knowledge becomes more important and the challenge of retaining that knowledge needs to become an essential part of an innovative organisation’s strategy. Nonanka’s Dynamic Theory Of Organisational Knowledge Creation describes how in learning organisations knowledge moves from tacit to explicit in a continual dialogue where new knowledge is developed by individuals and transferred to organizations (Nonaka, 1994). This knowledge transfer is an essential part of companies ensuring they maintain the competitive advantage gained from creating and retaining intellectual property.

Teece and Pisano argue that “the competitive advantage of firms stems from dynamic capabilities rooted in high performance routines operating inside the firm, embedded in the firm’s processes, and conditioned by its history” (Teece & Pisano, 2003). However, there are risks to businesses in relying solely on their organisational routines and unique intellectual property to achieve competitive advantage. Over time, organisational routines can become settled and need to be refreshed in order to ensure they are indeed high performing given the constant change in today’s markets, and specialist knowledge and intellectual property can become locked in the minds of founders and employees which creates a risk to the business if those people leave the company.

More recently, Teece, Peteraf and Heaton have explored ideas around “fostering the organizational agility necessary to address deep uncertainty, such as that generated by innovation”. They point out the differences between managing risk in a traditional way and dealing with the deep uncertainty that is a characteristic of “interdependent economies experiencing rapid technological change and financial disruption” (Teece, Peteraf & Heaton, 2016). In order to maintain its competitive advantage an organisation needs to ensure it’s dynamic capabilities provide it with the means to absorb and respond to change quickly and use its response to change to improve its dynamic capabilities.

Network externalities and cost efficiency

For organisations following Porter’s Cost Leadership strategy (Porter, 1985) and so concerned with reducing transaction costs in order to lead on price within the market, digitisation enables cost savings (Lucking-Reiley & Spulber, 2001). For internet-era ‘digital-first’ organisations with digital-only products and services, transaction costs can be shrunk to near zero. Innovative organisations can utilise network effects to increase their customer base and so achieve scale faster and more cost-effectively than businesses with lesser digital business models.

Network effects can be expressed as the value that a product provides the customer, and so the business, increases as the number of users grows (Katz and Shapiro, 1985). Two examples of utilising network effects are interaction, where a product is only useful if a number of other people are also using the product, and compatibility, where customers purchase and use software that is compatible with other software that they are those they interact with are using (Katz and Shapiro, 1985). A study by NFX of digital companies that went on to become worth more than a $1 billion, estimated that network effects have accounted for approximately 70% of the value creation in tech.

These elements creates a lock-in effect where the cost (financial, but mostly in loss of value from interacting with and being compatible with others) of stopping use of the product is greater than the cost of continuing to use it (Farrell & Klemperer, 2007). Organisations that successfully leverage lock-in and so increase the switching costs for customers have the potential to dominate a market and make it very difficult for new entrants to gain market share, which becomes a key strategic advantage in maintaining competitiveness.

Utilising Internet technologies and network effects allows companies to increase the value offered to their customers by providing bundles of complementary products and services (Amit and Zott, 2001). These complementarities “are present whenever having a bundle of goods together provides more value than the total value of having each of the goods separately”, and those bundles may be made up from products and services owned by the business or by businesses offering services from other organisations that complement their own product (Amit and Zott, 2001). Whereas businesses that don’t leverage network effects may offer bundles in the form of ‘two for one’ or other such offers, companies with innovative business models are able to offer complementariness in a way that becomes a distinct competitive advantage. When customers recognise increased benefits they are likely to get from purchasing from a business that offers products or services with bundled complementariness in contrast to purchasing from business that don’t, the increased adoption can contribute to the innovative business increasing market share and maintaining competitive advantage.

Having already looked at three elements of Amit and Zott’s sources of value creation in e-business, Novelty is the fourth aspect that drives value. The “introduction of new products or services, new methods of production, distribution, or marketing” and ways of doing business enables innovative businesses to gain first-mover advantage (Amit and Zott, 2001). Where newness and first-mover advantage drives value for a business it can be leveraged to be a competitive advantage in conjunction with the other sources of value creation.

Purpose and societal impact

Although the role of business in society changes over time, society is expected to provide an environment that business can operate in whilst businesses provide products and services for the members of society in exchange for economic returns (Cannon, 1994). 21st century innovative businesses can build upon this relationship by providing an environment and work that is purposeful (Sgori, 2014) in order to help creative knowledge workers feel that they are contributing to a positive impact on the world.

Etsy, the ecommerce marketplace company selling handmade and vintage items, is an example of how a business can balance profit and purpose. Etsy holds a B-Corp certification, showing it meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance. It also runs a free entrepreneurship courses to underemployed and unemployed residents in collaboration with the US government (Hakimi, 2015).

Having purpose also has a positive effect on employee morale. A report by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that companies with strong sustainability programs had 55% better morale, 43% more efficient businesses processes, 43% stronger public image, and 38% better employee loyalty (SHRM, 2018). These reports all contribute to the idea that a business that has a positive societal impact can achieve attract and retain employees that have greater commitment and contribution to the company.

An article on the Moving Worlds blog lists nine innovative companies with a social purpose and includes lessons from them such as “customers seek out brands that align with their morals” from Patagonia, Salesforce’s donating of “1% of revenue, products, and employee time towards charitable work”, and Social Capital’s use of “data techniques to evaluate investments that contribute to social good by covering sectors including education and healthcare” (Barbu, 2018) as purpose-driven business models that demonstrate commercially success. These and a multitude of other examples show how having a purpose is more than just good public relations, it can be a source of differentiated competitive advantage for any kind of business.


Many varied things are involved in making the business models of innovators in the 21st century competitive. There are many theories that contribute a partial understanding to these various aspects of innovation and business but clearly there is no single dominant model or intellectual framework that provides an accurate lens for understanding what it takes to be a successful, innovative businesses in the 21st century. Disruptive technologies and the digitisation of every kind of business and industry have widened the gap between those innovative organisations that are able to respond to the increasing pace of change and those that are being left behind. Organisations that are able to utilise technology also need to be able to successfully manage their capabilities, intellectual property and other intangible assets such as employee knowledge in ways that create advantages over competitors. Having a clear approach to value creation through efficiency, complementarities, lock‐in, and novelty offers companies yet another aspect of successful innovation, and having a positive impact on society, offer yet more things for a business to consider as it invents its innovative business for competitive success in the 21st century.


Christensen, C. (2002). The Past and Future of Competitive Advantage. MIT Sloan Management Review.

Kurzweil R. (2004). The Law of Accelerating Returns. In: Teuscher C. (eds) Alan Turing: Life and Legacy of a Great Thinker. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

Porter, Michael E. (1985). Competitive Advantage – Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Inc.

Schumpeter, Joseph. (1934) The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. Harvard Economic Studies.

Chesbrough, Henry William. (2003). Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology. Harvard Business Press.

Curley, Martin & Salmelin, Bror. (2017). Open Innovation 2.0: The New Mode of Digital Innovation for Prosperity and Sustainability. Springer, 5 Oct.

Gimmy, Gregor. (2017) Who will win the BMW Startup Challenge?

Talaja, Anita. (2012). Testing VRIN framework: Resource value and rareness as sources of competitive advantage and above average performance. Management (Croatia). 17. 51-64.

Barney, Jay. (1991). Firm Resources and Sustained Competitive Advantage. Journal of Management. 17: 99.

Nonaka, Ikujiro. (1994). A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation. Organization Science, Vol5 No1 February.

David Teece. Gary Pisano. The Dynamic Capabilities of Firms. Handbook on Knowledge Management pp 195-213. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. 2003.

Teece, David. Peteraf, Margaret A. Heaton, Sohvi. (2016). Dynamic Capabilities and Organizational Agility: Risk, Uncertainty and Entrepreneurial Management in the Innovation Economy. California Management Review.

Lucking-Reiley, David & Spulber, Daniel F. (2001). Business-to-Business Electronic Commerce. Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 15, Number 1—Winter 2001—Pages 55–68.

Katz, Michael L and Shapiro, Carl. (1985). Network Externalities, Competition, and Compatibility. The American Economic Review Vol. 75, No. 3 (Jun. 1985), pp. 424-440.

NFX, (2017). 70% of Value in Tech is Driven by Network Effects.

Farrell, Joseph & Klemperer, Paul. Coordination and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects. Handbook of Industrial Organization. Volume 3, 2007, Pages 1967-2072

Amit, Raphael & Zott, Christoph. (2001). Value creation in e-business. Strategic Management Journal, 22: 493–520 (2001). The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Cannon, Tom. (1994). Corporate Responsibility. A textbook on Business Ethics, Governance, Environment: Roles & Responsibilities. Pitman Publishing.

Sgroi, Anthony Jr. (2014). The Innovative Lean Machine: Synchronizing People, Branding, and Strategy to Win in the Marketplace. CRC Press.

Hakimi, Sherry, (2015). Why Purpose-Driven Companies Are Often More Successful.

Zukin, Cliff & Szeltner, Mark. (2012). What Workers Want. Net Impact Talent Report. John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

BSR and Aurosoorya. (2018). Advancing sustainability: HR’s role. A research report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Barbu, Petra. (2018). Doing Well by Doing Good: What We Can Learn From 2018’s Most Innovative Companies.


Identity Management Conference


My go bag, my mind

As a minimalist, my go bag is central to effectively manage the use of my every day belongings. Lots of things that go in the bag are kits of other things, like wash kit and first aid kit, which means they can be easily added or removed. This means the contents are constantly changing, but at any point in time the contents of my go bag represent my recent past, known near future, some uncertain but predictable futures, and a small amount of unknown futures, with some degree of considered accuracy.

Its interesting to me to think about my go bag in this way. It almost represents my approach to thinking, and it seems positive that my mental and physical worlds have this alignment. To be continually clearing away the remnants of the past to avoid carrying unnecessary weight around, regularly reviewing what I need in order to be prepared for known near futures, and accepting uncertainty about the future rather than convincing myself that I can predict it, are all good practices for maintaining effective thinking and an effective go bag.

Recent past

There will usually be some things in my bag that are there because I’ve used them recently and haven’t reviewed the contents yet to remove them (or keep them if I’ll be using them again soon). I might have my wash kit in my bag because I had a shower earlier, so even though it isn’t useful right now or in the near future it’s still in the bag just because I haven’t yet reached a review point.

The thinking parallel to is might be ideas I’m considering but haven’t yet reached any kind of conclusion for.

Known near future

I know, for example, when I review my bag contents each morning I’ll more than likely want to drink water that day, so I include my water bottle because it meets a need I know is going to arise in the near future. If I’ve planned the things I’m going to be working on that day then I’d bring to mind what I know about that subject and think about what I might want to achieve with it.

Uncertain but predictable futures

As its autumn, rain is a predictable event. I can be fairly sure that at some point in the near future it’s going to rain but when and whether it will affect me are uncertain. So I’ve added an umbrella to the things that can be in my go bag. On days when I know it isn’t going to rain or I’m not going to be spending much time outdoors I’ll remove it, but on days when I’m less certain I’ll include it as carrying the extra weight is preferable to getting wet.

Holding on to some thoughts and ideas that may be useful for uncertain but predictable futures makes it easier to draw connections and progress those ideas if something related occurs.

Unknown futures

I keep a few items in my go bag which I know would be useful in a variety of unknown situations, things like a roll of sellotape, sewing kit and wet wipes. These things are not connected to particular situations but could help deal with lots of different situations in an unknown future.

I also carry some longstanding ideas that although I don’t know if or when some related thinking or discussion might occur where I need them, I know I want to keep those ideas close just in case.Turn Into@ColorMore


Heacham Beach


Aerobatics at Peterborough Flying School


Week notes #166

This week I’ve been studying:

Managing people in organisations

The week 2 lecture in the Principles of Organisational Management module was about managing people and the role of Human Resource Management.

I learned about how the employment relationship is both a legal contract and a social relationship. As a legal contract it establishes certain rights and obligations between the employer and the employee. As a social relationship, it is dependent on the existence of labour as a commodity, and gives rise to various social phenomena within and beyond the workplace. Conflict is inherent in the employment relationship but what is established is what Goodrich called ‘The frontier of control’.

I also learned about how HR is fundamentally individualistic, which means that the nature of the relationship between the organisation and the employer is one-to-one rather than one-to-many or many-to-many. It’s through the nature of this relationship that the employer

Business models for a smarter economy

In the intellectual capital and competitiveness module lecture I learned that innovation requires a number of things, and that these seven criteria of a good innovator form a useful model

Big Innovation Centre - Seven Criteria Of A Good Innovator

I found the idea of ‘agility and absorptive capability’ really interesting.

“For an innovative company in our fast-changing modern day business landscape, it is not enough just to be resourced by innovative employees and driven by a culture that encourages innovation. Dynamism is increasingly becoming a required attribute of innovative companies. In other words, an innovative company is one that is agile and flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions, and quick enough to capture emerging opportunities. Useful internal indicators of these usually include how fluid and flexible, or bureaucratic and encumbered, the company’s decision-making processes are, and whether the company feels comfortable exploring business ideas and opportunities beyond its comfort zone. Externally, these manifest in whether a company is able to capture first-mover, or at least early-mover, advantages, and the extent to which a company has been successful in projects or initiatives in a different market, or sector, that require different skills and competencies.”

The Big Innovation Centre has developed an online tool at to allow organisations to understand how innovative they are against the seven criteria.

This week I’ve been thinking about:

Feedback loops

How feedback loops and course-correction might be a better way to achieve a target than measurement alone.

The usual measurement approach seems like we start by setting where we want to get to, what measures we are going to use to monitor progress, and often leave out defining the actions to get there. This is understandable as we don’t usually know ahead of time what we’ll need to do. We try something but only know if its helping us reach the target at a measurement point. And as the measurement is the visible thing in this scenario it’s easy to game the actions to make the measurements look good but not really achieve the target.

Instead, we could approach it by setting where we want to get to, what the first action we can do to take us in that direction, and how we’re going to get feedback to tell us if we’re heading in the right direction, and if not course-correct by choosing a different action. I think this approach would give us a far greater chance of achieving the target because we can get an idea of whether we’re heading the right direction sooner and do something about it if we’re not. I guess this is a bit of a micro version of the fire control problem, which one day I’m going to write a book about.


ProductOps as a team/function/concept is increasingly becoming a thing. I’m starting to see it as a response to Product Management’s focus on building new things and consequently not being able to give sufficient investment to maintaining and sustaining product ecosystems (not just technical but supplier contract renewals, etc.)

Digital future

I’ve thinking a lot more about what a digital future looks like for organisations (and especially charities, partly prompted by Joe’s article below). I’ve been thinking about whether my idea of digital strata will help to communicate how profoundly digital is going to change our lives, our society and the entire world. It has philosophy at the deepest level (metamodernism replacing post-modernism), principles (such as platforms replacing pipelines for value delivery) one layer up, processes (such as centralised command & control decision-making replaced by decentralised and distributed decision-making) above, and then practices (like how we communicate in smaller chunks, faster, and more frequently) at the upper most level. I intend to write about my ideas in more detail some time soon.

This week on my Twitter people were talking about:

Digital leadership

Joe Freeman wrote a post on Charity Comms about Digital Leadership. I like how Joe writes. He’s very practical and offers some useful advice, which is in complete contrast to my random spouting of completely conceptual ideas. Joe’s stance on digital (if I can put words in his mouth) is that it is merely another tool for marketing and communications, something that charities need to invest in understanding and using better, but fundamentally just an enabler or channel for what the charity is already doing.

I see digital as requiring and even forcing an entire paradigm shift for charity. In order to stay relevant over the rest of this century and beyond charities need to begin to figure out how they will completely redesign themselves using digital concepts to replace the industrial concepts that most charities were built on. The future will require that they have completely new models for governance, decision-making, leadership, financing, managing staff and volunteers, etc., etc. I worry that if charities are convinced that digital is just a channel and so don’t do this necessary thinking they’ll get left behind as the pace of change increases more rapidly over the coming years.

World Mental Health Day

10th October was World Mental Health Day. Lots of people and organisations were tweeting about experiences they had had or calling for more funding for the NHS to spend of mental health. One of the mental health bloggers I follow on Twitter tweeted that this year’s WMHD felt different to previous years with more focus on calling for action rather than just raising awareness.

Innovation at charities

RNLI shared their approach towards innovation along with 98 slides of trends that see affecting their future. Apart being an awesome piece of work to guide their innovations what I found just as interesting was that they made it public. That feels like a big shift when most charities keep any kind of work-in-progress or direction-setting private. I think it’s really good to see charities like RNLI and Red Cross doing such good work around sharing how they are innovating ideas publicly.


Queen’s Award for Voluntary ServiceBucks Mind receives

On World Mental Health Day, Buckinghamshire Mind received our Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service presented by Sir Henry HM Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.

The event was held at Bucks County Museum and Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery and it was a joyous day celebrating our volunteers and this amazing achievement.

Presentations highlighted all of the vital mental health services we deliver and Buckinghamshire Mind’s continued priority to ensure access, prevention and recovery to those in need of mental health support throughout Buckinghamshire.


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