The Business Idea Canvas helps identify and prioritize real problems to be solved. It provides a systematic approach to problem identification and analysis, enabling a more effective problem-solving process. The Business Idea Canvas is a tool that assesses and validates business ideas, facilitating a deeper understanding of problems and generating innovative solutions.
Tool designer: Sergio Seloti.Jr
First publication year: 2017
Creative Commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Over the course of about 20 years between consulting and academic life, I have been working on – and teaching – new business projects. Many of them are based on innovative ideas.
I used to use the traditional Business Plan, then the Business Model Canvas, which I learned in 2010. Since then I have used several other tools, such as Empathy Map (which is already in version 6.0), Value Proposition Canvas (which was called also Customer-Value Canvas in its early versions), Lean Canvas (one of the first variants of BMC); BASE Board (one of my favorite tools) and many others in addition to various strategies and methodologies – like Silly Cow Challenge, for creativity; Wall of Ideas (which I use in a different way from the one presented in Design a Better Business); Battle of Concepts; Buy a Feature; Co-creation; Storytelling; Pitch; and others.
The chase for the perfect tool
There is no such thing as a perfect tool in business. The ideal, in fact, is to use a combination of tools and strategies, tailoring them to every reality (training, office working, consulting) and the target audience. That’s, at least, what I’ve been doing.
I’ve also been testing some other possibilities and strategies, as well as drawing some new tools. The Battle of Concepts, for example, is one of the techniques that brings better results when working with different groups in the classroom to provide a quality leap in project ideas.
But it was Problems & Solutions, another group-challenging activity I designed, that was the trigger to work on my first – public – tool in 2017: The Business Idea Canvas. It was actually not the first: before that, I worked already on 2 versions of Cut the Crap Canvas, but I still did not consider it ready to share. Or maybe I should.
The Tool – The Business Idea Canvas
The Business Idea Canvas v 1.0
This tool aims at the first stages of the ideation process while assessing the problem itself. Very often, the (actual ) problem-to-be-solved is not, in fact, the problem. I.e.: I recently heard about a project that would work as a platform to find friends to play football in Brazil. This is not a problem – at least not in Brazil. In this case, the real problem is to prioritize these football gatherings instead, so that there is room in the agenda.
In other cases, there is a complete misunderstanding of what the problem really is. Ex: heavy traffic in a big city is not the problem itself, but the result of some other problems (living far away, for example, or a poor transport infrastructure). Or the problem is just the symptom of the actual problem-to-be-solved, such as being late for work or some commitment.
There is still a third situation when it is expected that a particular public needs a solution that, in fact, they do not want (or even need). Ex: queues to enter a nightclub are actually attractive to a nightclub, so the owner would not have much interest in solving it.
To deal with situations like these was the reason to design The Business Idea Canvas.
You can start working from the idea (Proposed Solution, central block) or Problem (first block from the left). Personally, I believe it makes more sense to deal with the problem, but there is no restriction on that.
This initial block should explain and specify what problem you are trying to solve. Assuming value creation comes from solving some kind of problem, it seems reasonable to start designing the solution from that point on. The definition of the problem may arise from observation or from the data collected on the Empathy Map, which may work together with the BIC.
Thus, this block seeks to understand what is, in fact, the problem: its causes, origins, effects, and implications.
The delineation of the affected public can also be obtained in conjunction with the Empathy Map.
Thus, it is important to know who is directly affected by the problem and in what way. How many are these people? Where are they?
From this block, the Empathy Map no longer helps us and we need to delve deeper into the problem to understand some of its nuances. Besides those directly affected, who else suffers the impact of this problem? Relatives, friends, other stakeholders? This information can help us determine sales strategies, and communications, and more clearly define what should be central to the solution and what is secondary but important.
Vampires are usually ignored people when designing a solution proposal, but they are able to undermine the chances of business success. They are those stakeholders who, somehow, benefit from the existence of the problem, as in the case of the dance club queue. So, is it important to know who benefits from the existence of this problem and possibly act against the solution?
I think this is a big blind spot in most of the initial business modeling and building tools.
Nowadays, it is difficult to say that a problem is not solved, partially solved, or even treated in a palliative way. It is virtually certain that currently this issue is resolved in some way, although palliative way. I.e .: Someone who suffers from flooding probably installed a gate to function as a deck in front of the house; or another case, an incurable disease whose symptoms are treated with a cocktail of remedies.
It is very unlikely that anything has even been attempted to solve the identified problem. So how do affected people deal with this problem today?
Now, how much?
The current solution, even if it is palliative, represents some kind of cost to the affected public. How much does it currently cost to solve – or at least threaten – this problem?
It is necessary to take into account that the client when considering adopting the proposed solution, will compare it against the current alternatives in terms of costs and offered benefits. This relationship needs to be positive in some way so the customer may consider your proposal.
Trend & Pattern
The last two blocks outside the central block will give the first clues about the proposed solution.
In the TREND block, the business analyst should point out to which trend (global, local, social, technological) this problem (and a possible solution) belongs. This indicator will be important when assessing the future potential of the business idea.
In turn, the PATTERN block is directly related to the solution that will be proposed (and, therefore, can be filled after the proposal). This block relates to which business pattern, and archetype of business model known to this proposal aligns. It serves to facilitate the understanding of the solution proposed from an analogy of a known model. I.: the Uber of the painters of house; the professions Tinder; the AirBnB of the boats.
The solution block is the most important and will provide the basis for migrating the work to tools more focused on Business Models (such as BMC, BASE Board, Lean Canvas, etc.), but it can only be built after a clear understanding of the problem, its costs, those affected by the problem, and those who benefit from it. After this understanding, the business analyst or the entrepreneur can begin to propose a solution that is appropriate to the problem.
Once the solution (or solutions) is proposed, the tool allows to indicate the level of the proposed innovation (DISRUPTIVE or INCREMENTAL) and the focus of this innovation (PRODUCT, PROCESS, MARKET, and/or BUSINESS MODEL). These elements will also facilitate an understanding of the technical and market feasibility of the solution.
Last, but not least
The tool aims to be one of the first steps in the process of ideation while taking a deeper approach to the problem being worked on. It is not a tool for building business models, although it is a very useful support tool in the early stages of construction. In addition, because it is part of an iterative process, one can go back to it and reconfigure the proposal according to the progress of the project and as new relevant data emerge in the context of the innovation in question.
To facilitate the understanding, I set up a commented example of the application of the tool in this post.
To download The Business Idea Canvas
PS: The Battle of Concepts, Problems & Solutions, Wall of Ideas tools and methods cited in this text, and other strategies I use for designing innovative businesses will be published at a later moment.