I held the "Design Your Business Model on One Page" workshop at the 1701 Coworking Space in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

It was a two-hour workshop that provoked people to map their business onto a physical blueprint. This was also a great way for me to reiterate on the workshop's future structure.

The business communities in Virginia Beach and Norfolk were expanding exponentially, so I had thought about introducing new and current business owners to the fields of business creativity, design thinking, and inclusive innovation.

Alexander Osterwalder's Business Model Canvas was a great fit. It's often described as a "one-page business plan" comprised of nine components that make up the basic building blocks of any business.

Even if something was just an idea, all someone needed was a "statement" of their idea, and the rest of the canvas’s nine blocks gave them a solid platform to make a hypothesis.

So what was the big deal?

By now, the Business Model Canvas is a pretty common tool in a design practitioner's tool kit, so the content itself wasn't the key.

The secret weapon was focusing on how to read the canvas, fill it out, then tell the story within the canvas. I focused on simplicity and structure. Two hours of immersion really isn't a lot of time, but when it comes to constraints, you have to make it work.

This was also inspired by some big mistakes I was seeing from other practitioners who tried to convey this tool. The canvas has nine blocks, and there's absolutely lots of useful material to cover. However, people were giving too much in one sitting. So the objective was rapid fluency in the shortest amount of time possible. You have to know your audience, know how people actually learn, and know what's useful for them at the present moment.

Given that this was like a prototype of sorts, I've gained valuable data on how to further refine the future structure.

Most participants had zero knowledge behind this visual thinking tool, but within two hours they understood the essentials, plotted their story using all nine blocks, and then conveyed that same story to their classmates. Even I was astounded of how well they got it.

When you think about it, there's nothing entirely foreign about maps and visual storytelling. We process visuals faster than text alone.

Here were some new and existing business models that came to life that day:

  • A Turkish cafe
  • A Coworking Space (The 1701)
  • An Innovative Military Conference (Clever Talks)
  • A Digital Media Marketing Consultancy (J Diggs Media)
  • A Health & Wellness firm
  • A Travel Advisory firm

Many of them were already specialists and knew their business pretty well. But why would anyone bother making a map?

1. The moment you say "business model," your team is thinking different things.

The North Star isn't always clear to everyone.

Last thing you want to do is assume your potential investors, partners, and teammates know what you're talking about. You may know the narrative arc of the story, but chances are, your audiences don't.

As workshop participants told their story using the canvas, I could see everything unfolding in my mind’s eye. That’s the point of not just the canvas, but visual thinking and visual sensemaking, to make data come alive so that the problem can be truly understood.

2. Sometimes we're unaware of our own blind spots.

I implore everyone to take a ruthless attitude to what they think they know about where their time, energy, and money is really going.

By ourselves, we might think we have it all the facts figured out, but there's always a likelihood that we've overlooked our own blind spots. So, you can spend months with knee-jerk conclusions. Or, you can spend just a little bit of time creating a snapshot of what you think you know, and then see which assumptions must be tested.

Blind spots aren't inherently bad: They're the unanswered questions that have yet to be found and presented. Question-storming - finding the right question to solve - is often a strength to possess for innovation and breakthroughs.

This will be hidden away unless you have a map.

This was a broader foray into the realm of visual thinking and collaboration.

And like learning a new language, unless you immerse yourself and experience it, you'll just read about it forever.

One of the best things that happened that night was having participants see things they didn't see before, which led the way to priceless conversations about new ideas and potential areas to explore.

And as an outsider, I was able to understand their north star and have a deeper appreciation for what they do and why they do it.

Showing > telling.

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Design Your Business Model on One Page @ 1701