Facing your innovation fears

1 February 2017
Author: Koy Thomson

Koy Thomson, chief executive of Children in Crisis, shares his thoughts on creating innovative, future-fit business models and the current state of the sector.

Bond’s Business Model Innovation programme brings out all kinds of your “inner CEO”:

  • the self-interested CEO who unquestioningly equates growth with more impact and who wants to absorb innovations to grab more market share
  • the frantic CEO who hasn’t given enough thought to what they are delivering and who needs time and tools for more rigorous planning
  • the pensive CEO experiencing existential angst about our sector and wondering what they could do differently 
  • the fearful CEO who sees innovative new players moving in
  • and the saintly CEO who believes that business planning is not about us and rather about how to have better relationships with those who give us money and those we spend it on.

Okay, I confess, these are all aspects of my character that surfaced during the three-day course. If you are not disturbed by a programme that deals with future trends, many of which look horrifying, “disruptors” that don’t play by your rules, and innovations that you can’t imagine you could raise funds for, then I would suggest you are clinging too tightly to your own organisational narrative. 

Tools for harnessing new ideas

As CEOs, we need new ways of looking at our organisations. The Business Model Canvas is a useful way for structuring a personal analysis of what a peculiar and insulated sector we are, and what a radical new model might look like. When I have new ideas for the organisation I refer to the Canvas, but be warned: it is not a typical business model in the sense that your treasurer might demand – minimum reserves, cash flows, key cost ratios and so on.

During the programme a range of organisations spoke about their own organisational innovations, social enterprises, partnerships and mergers. I also found it very helpful to spend time in the company of fellow CEOs, hearing their perspectives on our collective challenges.

There was, however, a curious contradiction at the heart of the course. We heard about “disruptors”, organisations that change the rules of the game and threaten to make the rest of us irrelevant – the Ubers of the NGO world. We heard about innovations and innovative networks. We heard about the possibility of creative mergers and alliances. So what do we do? Restructure and change our business models? 

No, we simply ingest the innovations and disruptive ways of doing things and safely contain them within our flabby bodies. Often the intention in seeking mergers is not to create something of much greater value to those without rights or opportunities, but to asset strip, grow quickly, keep business going as usual. 

The sector needs to be challenged more. Maybe most of us can carry on for the next 5 or 10 years by leaning with the wind and not changing much. But it is our values that should force us to change right now.

The next business model innovation course will be held on 12 June.

About the author

Koy Thomson
Children in Crisis

Koy Thomson is currently chief executive of Children in Crisis, which works to protect children and shape resilient solutions to education in conflict affected environments.