Papers in Brief (VIII): Geissdoerfer, Bocken & Hultink (2016): Design Thinking to Enhance the Sustainable Business Modelling Process

[Note: This is the eigth post in our “Papers in Brief” series. This series offers a special service as it explains the core ideas of chosen research papers in a nutshell.]

Papers in Brief (VIII) by Martin Geissdoerfer and Nancy Bocken

 Geissdoerfer M.; Bocken N. & Hultink H. (2016): Design thinking to enhance the sustainable business modelling process, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 135, pp. 1218-1232, doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.07.020.

The decisive competitive edge in an ever more complex and rapidly evolving world might as well be the ability to move from one business model to another quickly and successfully (Mitchell and Coles, 2003). But there are only very few tools available to assist companies in innovating their business model. In this paper, we present project results that are part of our ongoing research about the development of tools and processes that help organisations in business model innovation.


Figure 1: Overview over the Value Ideation process

The project combines ‘sustainable business model innovation’ with ‘design thinking’ to design a conceptual framework and workshop routine that we call Value Ideation. To do so, we looked in the literature, asked experts in both fields, and conducted a pilot at our institute. To be sure that it works, we tested our workshop with companies and students, leading to many improvements and refinements that fed back into the design.

The workshops showed us that the Value Ideation process helps companies to ideate better value propositions, because it helps them to consider a broader range of economic, societal, and environmental value and a wider range of stakeholder interests. Especially the elements we borrowed from Design Thinking stimulate the ideation process and help to harmonise conflicting stakeholder interests.

A step-by-step description of the process is shown in Table 1, with a detailed description of each step in an overall workshop setting of around three hours. Four to seven participants form one group, in which each participant represents one or more stakeholder groups – ideally by inviting stakeholder representatives, e.g. from NGOs or trade unions or proxies, like sales people or purchasing staff (Bocken et al., 2013).

Table 1: Detailed description of workshop steps

The workshop helps to design pragmatically improved business models with better integration of sustainability into the value proposition. By better considering stakeholder interests and additional forms of value, the method enables a company to make a significant difference in areas as diverse as resource consumption, emissions, or intra- and intergenerational equity, while also mitigating risk and utilising opportunities in its environment.

Our experiences show that the workshop is also a great tool for postgraduate and executive education. The participants reported that the workshop really helped them to understand sustainability and its implementation possibilities in companies, while being much more interactive and fun than conventional courses.

Please feel free to get in contact with us at We would be happy to provide tips and tricks and would love hear your experiences.


Bocken, N.; Short, S.; Padmakshi, R. & Evans, S. (2013): A value mapping tool for sustainable business modelling, Corporate Governance: The International Journal of Business in Society, Vol. 13, No. 5, pp. 482–497.

Mitchell, D. & Coles, C. (2003): The ultimate competitive advantage of continuing business model innovation, Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 24, No. 5, pp. 15–21.

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