Saul Kaplan’s Burning Platform

Editor’s note: if you haven’t been, Saul’s annual storyteller’s summit,  BIF2017, is a not-to-be-missed event.

Famous last words: this time it’s different. No really, this time it is. We have arrived at that Malcolm Gladwell tipping point. Well, at least I have, and I don’t think I’m alone. Let me make it personal. We each find our own reasons to reach for another gear, to reinvent ourselves, and to do work that matters. My burning platform is comprised of three things that are changing simultaneously: 1) The Market, 2) BIF, and 3) Me. It’s not about me or my three things, it’s about being informed by and engaged in what’s changing around you, being self-aware and intentional about what’s next, getting better faster, and being clear about what’s important and what you value. Whatever your reasons, please hurry up and figure it out, because we need everyone to play; transformation is a team sport and a generative act. It’s go time!

The Market is Catching On

When I first starting yakking about next practices and new business models at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) twelve years ago, it was clear that institutions of all kinds were about to face a tsunami of existential threats that would require leaders to focus much more seriously on what’s next, not just new products, but also next practices and entire new business models. We all saw disruption coming. But at the time, very few institutional leaders were ready. I’d say 1 out of 10 were. The truth is that BIF wasn’t ready either.

I learned to see opportunities through the lens of customer experience. BIF was a result of that inflection point in my life.

But over the last decade, an increasing number of leaders have figured out that disruption isn’t something to be defended against, but an opportunity for the institutions they lead to be proactive, to go from being a share-taker to a market-maker. More institutional leaders now recognize that business models don’t last as long as they used to, and that their current innovation efforts are, at best, producing tweaks. If transformation is the goal, more leaders now know they need a new innovation approach. BIF helps leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage because sometimes tweaks aren’t enough. Today, 3–4 out of 10 institutional leaders are ready and so is BIF. That’s what I call an addressable market!

BIF is Ready

Over twelve years, BIF has been imagining, designing, prototyping, and testing the next practices that enable us to help leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage. Our vision and mission haven’t changed, although we are always getting better at articulating it. BIF’s mission is to help institutional leaders design, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. Our vision is to influence systems-level transformation in areas of high social importance focusing on healthcare, education, and public services. We believe that human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement are at the heart of any successful transformation process.

What’s changed at BIF is that we have gone from conceptual next practices to actually standing them up: first for ourselves, and then for other motivated institutional leaders in the market. Because we did the hard work of standing up these lynchpin next practices (human-centered design, rapid prototyping, storytelling/engagement), BIF’s business model now delivers on our value proposition: to make transformational change safer and easier to manage. We’re ready.

The Third Thing that Changed is Me

As the Founder and Chief Catalyst at BIF, I have only myself to blame for what BIF has become and how fast it reinvents itself. It’s true that the market for what we’re trying to do is emerging and that our next practices and business model had to be developed generatively, but in the end, I too have to change for BIF to work.

Much like for many of you, September 11th was an inflection point, after which I pivoted and became an accidental bureaucrat, working as the leader of my home state’s economic development agency in Rhode Island after successfully avoiding government for my entire career. It changed my life and world view of the role innovation plays in transforming social systems, industries, and communities. I learned to think about innovation as value delivered to real students, patients, and citizens living and working in real communities. I learned to see opportunities through the lens of customer experience. BIF was a result of that inflection point in my life. I’m beyond proud of what Team BIF has accomplished together.

I’ve now reached the next inflection point in my life, precipitated by the 2016 U.S. presidential election result and turning 60 years old a month later! I’m not one to blog about politics, although everyone who hangs with me or follows me on social media knows that the election result has thrown me, and a lot of us, for a loop. On one hand, if you’re an innovation junkie, the election is an interesting case study in disruption, but I would argue that history will look back someday on this election as a case study of how not to disrupt. At BIF we know there is a better way to make much-needed transformation safer and easier to manage. It’s time to prove it.

I thought that turning 60 was going to be awful, but it wasn’t. Sure, I spent a few beautiful days with my bride hiding on an island, but if anything, turning 60 has energized and focused me with a sense of urgency to continue the work of scaling BIF to meet the scale of the societal challenges we now face. It’s work that matters.

The last chromosome in our BIF DNA is: a decade is a terrible thing to waste. I’m not planning on wasting this next one, and I hope you aren’t either. Let’s go!



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Saul Kaplan is the Founder & Chief Catalyst at the Business Innovation Factory. He is the author of The Business Model Innovation Factory. Follow Saul and his work @TheBIF 

Saul Kaplan




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