How to use the Business Model Canvas in a scientific article

Literature reviews show that increasing numbers of scientific research and publications are using, or are even completely inspired by, Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas (BMC, Osterwalder & Pigneur, 2010). There is no doubt that the BMC is one of the management tools of our time. However, when writing a scientific article, e.g. a conceptual piece about strategy and business model interrelations or an empirical investigation of your favorite company, start-up or NGO, you might have come across these or similar problems:

  1. While there is broad agreement on the relevance of business model research, your peers, supervisor or reviewers might be sceptical about the theoretical rigour of the BMC or any other business model concept used in your work. The conditions of acceptance vary significantly between practically-oriented and scientific communities.
  2. No doubt, the BMC offers a strong, complexity-reducing framework for analytical and discursive purposes (most scientific business model articles are either of an analytical or discursive nature, and not so much about business planning). Before applying the BMC it has to be introduced like any other methodical or theoretical ingredient. Explaining the BMC requires a lot of text, and the last thing you have in a research article is space for lengthy explanations.
  3. Even if you are able to communicate the BMC’s rigour (point 1) and explain the rationale behind it in adequate length (point 2), you still have to make it work for the purpose of your article. Analytical articles require large amounts of data to flesh out the BMC. Discursive articles (e.g. on the business model’s role for sustainable value creation) require some kind of reduction of the BMC’s complexity in order to stay focused on the articles’ main issues.
  4. Point 3, i.e. the challenge of balancing conceptual and topical complexity, might lead to a decision against the BMC. In some cases a verbal definition or a simpler framework (e.g. Johnson’s “Four Box Model“, Johnson, 2010) might suffice. But if you decide against the BMC, i.e. against the most successful business model concept of our time, will this put the acceptability and relevance of your article at risk? Even if reviewers are okay with this decision, will your work be perceived as relevant by other experts?

These four problems that might occur when using the BMC in a scientific article will be treated in a series of blog-posts.

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