Episode 352 – Business Model You with Tim Clark

Tim Clark‘We as individuals are systems ourselves, aren’t we?… And so when we diagram ourselves using a work model, we often see for the very first time how these elements interrelate.’

You may be familiar with the Business Model Canvas – but have you ever thought about using it for yourself, rather than your business? Dr Tim Clark did, and discovered that this simple but powerful visual tool had astonishing power to help move his own and others’ thinking forward. 

Words are powerful, but visual thinking can help us see things differently, and in their totality. 

In this fascinating conversation we talk about what it’s like to adapt someone else’s model, the difficult of creating a highly visual book, and the inescapable fact that writing is Really Hard Work. 



Business Model You community site: https://community.businessmodelyou.com/

Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge April 2023: http://proposalchallenge.com/

WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Power Up Your Writing Workshop, 23 February: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/power-up-your-writing-workshop-tickets-473591162917

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Dr. Timothy Clark, who began his career as a Japanese to English translator, and subsequently founded a marketing research consultancy that served clients such as amazon.com, Bertelsmann Financial Services, and Intel.

Tim’s own work model was transformed when his firm was acquired by a NASDAQ listed corporation, an experience that inspired him to formally study and teach entrepreneurship. He became a Professor of Business and authored, co-authored or edited eight books on entrepreneurship and personal development, including the global bestsellers Business Model You and Business Model Generation.

A Stanford graduate, Tim also earned MBA and doctorate of business degrees and became a NEXT-certified entrepreneurship trainer.

So first of all, welcome to the show, Tim. If you are watching this on video, you will see he has the whole business model matrix behind him. It’s quite the thing. If you’re not watching on video, maybe trot over to YouTube and have a look.

Anyway, it’s great to have you here Tim.

Tim Clark: Oh my pleasure, Alison. Thank you for letting me join you and your listeners.

Alison Jones: I want to know, first of all, about the whole business model idea. I have used the business model canvas. I love it, but there will be many people listening who’ve never heard of it, so just introduce us to it.

Tim Clark: Sure. The idea behind the business model is dead simple, Alison, it’s basically that you must use a diagram to depict or describe how an enterprise works. And enterprise is a system. And systems thinking, formal systems thinking, is just too difficult for most people, and so it’s so helpful to have a picture, a logical picture of all the interdependent elements in a system so you can see how they relate to each other and how they work together to create benefits for a customer.

Alison Jones: And one of the reasons that that is so powerful, you say about you need to be able to see it. We are visual people, aren’t we? And there’s something I always think if you can’t explain something to a sort of bright 11 year old, you probably don’t understand it well enough . And if you don’t understand your business model well enough to map it on that template, just talk us through the little bits of the template, then there’s probably something missing in your understanding of the situation.

Tim Clark: Yes, that’s exactly right. I think at a personal level, all of us are thinking about our careers, aren’t we? We have thoughts kind of spinning around in our heads constantly and, oh, what am I going to do next? And what’s happening at work and so forth. And it’s really important to get those thoughts out of your head and into a form where you can see them and organize them and then start taking action on them. And the reason it’s so important to have this logical diagram is because just as an organization has interdependent elements and works as a system to develop and create value or benefits for customers, we as individuals are systems ourselves, aren’t we?

We have interests and personality and skills and abilities and certain channels that we’re better at using than others. And so when we diagram ourselves using a work model, we often see for the very first time how these elements interrelate. And once you’ve defined an element in your work model, you’ll see how it is affected by, and it affects every other element in the model.

It’s really quite an inspiring and transformative experience simply to visualize the work you do.

Alison Jones: I love the point you made there about it being for yourself as much as for a business because what you have done effectively is take a model that has previously been used to apply to an enterprise and applied it to yourself as a self-development tool.

So, was there a neat fit there, have you adapted anything?

Tim Clark: Yes. This all started when I was working as a contributing co-author and general editor for the bestselling book Business Model Generation, which went on to become the 35th bestselling business book in United States history. And while…

Alison Jones: Alex Osterwalder, isn’t it? I’m going to say the name wrong.

Tim Clark: It’s Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur who invented the Business Model Canvas.

And while we were working in that book, it just occurred to me, why don’t I apply this to myself? And when I did, I just had this amazing moment of insight and after diagramming what I called my personal business model, it just seems so obvious what my next steps should be. And I was very excited about this and I said, Alex, I told him about this idea of a personal business model and he said, Wow, that’s great.

But he was in the middle of becoming a worldwide celebrity and he didn’t have time to work on this new book. So I said, well, I’ll write it, if you know, if you can just feed back on it. And that’s how it all started.

Alison Jones: There’s something wonderful there about, from Alex’s perspective as well, is that you write a book, you put it out in the world, and suddenly it’s its own thing and people take it and they do astonishing things with it that never occurred to you before.

Tim Clark: Yes and of course the business model canvas has been used and adapted and I think Alex is… he’s probably has lost track of all the permutations of his model that have come into the world, but the personal business model canvas seems to have some staying power and we’re now calling it the work model canvas because we estimate that somewhere around 35% of the entire global workforce work in non-commercial occupations. They work in government or in healthcare, education, social ventures, nonprofit ventures, and these are people who don’t use the traditional metrics of business or even language of business. You know, they’re interested in literacy rates or water quality or other measures.

And so we’ve basically just modified the language to reflect any occupation, that’s a universal work model, but the logic as represented in the original business model canvas is exactly the same. So we’ve kept true to the spirit of that. Just tried to make it accessible for non-commercial workers.

Alison Jones: Yes, and let’s touch on the nature of work because 50 years ago, nobody would’ve needed to do this really, would they, for themselves? You got your job and you stayed in your career. What is it about the way that we work now and our aspirations for our work, that makes this so valuable?

Tim Clark: I think that you’re exactly right, Alison. There’s a, I wish I could remember it, it’s another great business book, but I think it was 150 years ago here in the United States at least, 90% of all professional people were self-employed, okay? Whether you were a solicitor or a blacksmith or a sheriff or whatever, you were generally self-employed, and that meant that you were deeply connected to the product of your work and you created it and delivered it directly to customers. And so you had this deep connection directly with customers and pride in the product or service that you offered.

And of course, what’s happened with the Industrial Revolution and the, well, the machine age, so to speak, is work has become disintermediated: we are growing farther and farther away from the benefits we provide and farther, farther away from the end customer.

So most of us today work for internal clients. We don’t deal with the ultimate end users of what we produce. And my son is telling about a colleague at university who went to work for Google and he said, well, he sits in a cubicle writing code that checks other code. So if you can imagine…

Alison Jones: Very meta, isn’t it?

Tim Clark: So I think that what the business model idea and the work model canvas enables you to do is to see the entire system of your workplace, including the end customer, and allows you to identify with, you know, to whom you’re providing benefits and the inter relationships that are required with not only your colleagues, but perhaps with your suppliers and of course your supervisors and so forth to deliver those ultimate benefits to whoever you serve.

Alison Jones: So there’s a sense of personal mission, purpose, connection, back to the things that really matter in that. How does it help you move forward?

Tim Clark: Well, I think the most important thing is that it by visualizing your work and creating so-called permanent objects, in other words, you know, words… with all due respect to words. I love words. I use them often, but words alone are just not enough to grasp the totality of what we’re doing, right?

And so, if you can diagram this, for the first time often, you can see, oh, well this element in my model is not working, or this element has unexplored opportunities that I might pursue. So it enables you to start, well actually, modeling, moving elements around, changing some elements, realizing, for example, that you might be able to serve a completely different group of customers, either internally or externally within your organization or if you’re working on your own.

And it just gives you, it opens your mind to a lot of possibilities that you wouldn’t have imagined if you were trying to just organize this in your own mind, using words alone.

Alison Jones: And one of the things that really struck me looking at the book was how visual it is, and that I know from experience how hard it is to envisage a book in that way at the beginning. So I’d love to talk to you about the kind of the interplay between what you knew it had to be visually and the words that you were writing.

How did you work with the designers and how did you block that out?

Tim Clark: Well, very closely. We worked very closely with the designers, and I’ve been fortunate because my wife’s a designer, so I have a fairly decent understanding of design, but this book took that to a completely new level. And the main point I’d like to get across here is that you’ve got to work… the designers are not people who make things look pretty. A real designer will actually change the nature of a book. And for example, you know, Alan would sometimes say to me, you know, we need to have 50 words cut off of this paragraph and so we did, because he was right. You cannot separate design from text in a book like this, at least because it’s all about visual thinking.

The methodology is about thinking visually and acting visually and about modeling, iterating, testing and iterating again. So it’s a very intensive, time and energy intensive process. Completely different from writing an all-text book. And I’ve written a number of all-text books, so I would say that it’s a completely different animal.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I agree, I’ve done it myself. I’ve sat alongside a designer and we’ve sort of worked on it. And you as an editor, you can get quite precious about your words and when you’re working along with a designer, it’s a very good counter to that, isn’t it? Because the image is everything and how it works on the page is everything.

But tell us a bit more about what writing is for you, because as you say, you’ve written several books now and this is perhaps more visual than the others, but why do you do it? What does it do for you?

Tim Clark: Well, that’s a great question. I mean, when I started writing I was writing because I had things I wanted to say. I started many years ago, I wrote a weekly, or rather a monthly newsletter called Japan Internet Report because I was very interested in the Japanese Telecommunications market and how it was being transformed by the internet.

And I was reading Japanese newspapers and news stories and basically just started commenting on the trends and the developments that I noticed, and it was just fascinating to me. It was really kind of a way of recording, for myself, the things that I was seeing, because it really was a change in history in a way.

So that was my first professional writing I would say. Although before that I had translated tens of thousands of pages in writing translations, summarized translations of Japanese technology news stories. So that’s where I really developed my writing skills, but my first effort at original commercial writing was the Japan Internet report, and I continued that with Japan Entrepreneur report.

So to me I just wanted to record these things that I was noticing, that I thought were fascinating. And I guess I developed a bit of a style, by 1996 I had 5,000 subscribers, which today sounds like nothing. But back in 1996, having 5,000 email subscribers was quite something. A lot of people were still not really using the internet that much.

So that’s how it all started.

Alison Jones: But in terms of what it does for you when you are writing, what do you enjoy about it? What do you find frustrating about it, and how does it sort of move your thinking forward?

Tim Clark: Well, writing is hard work, and…

Alison Jones: Everybody is nodding along right now. Tim. Oh yes.

Tim Clark: I think in the earlier days when I was just kind of able to freewheeling, you know, document what was happening around me, it was more enjoyable. These days, I think what I wanted to do really was make a statement about things that I had learned, and especially about entrepreneurship and what it means to be an entrepreneur. And the lessons I learned from the sale of my own company which is something I never imagined would happen. Following that, I met a lot of entrepreneurs and I wanted to understand what had happened to me as an entrepreneur. And I discovered there’s a huge body of literature that was actually very good.

There was an established body of knowledge about entrepreneurship, which I had never been aware of. And then over the years, I discovered that I had something to say about this. And I wanted to write a book about entrepreneurship for, I tentatively called Entrepreneurship For Everyone, specifically for undergraduate students who are in, you know, chemistry or english literature, whatever. They would never be in the business school. But I felt they really needed to understand the basics of how organizations work and how people get paid. You know, how do you earn a living? What does work actually mean?

And I started working on a doctoral thesis about business models. And I encountered the work of Alex and Yves, and it really struck me as the most practical and powerful way to conceive of how organizations actually work. So I went all in on that and eventually I became more and more interested in what I call personal entrepreneurship. In other words for example, students who came to my classes, they were interested in entrepreneurship, but less so in necessarily starting their own enterprise, but just being more entrepreneurial about their own career.

So that was the big insight that I had, and I recognized that career development and entrepreneurship are really the same thing. As an entrepreneur, you are searching for a viable business model. As an professional, you are searching for a viable work model. And just as with an organization, every organization’s business model has a shelf life.

And we as professionals, our careers have a shelf life. We need to iterate and we need to develop new models over time in order to be, to keep viable in our chosen professions.

Alison Jones: Which brings us right back to the beginning, doesn’t it?

Tim Clark: I guess so.

Alison Jones: And it’s wonderful because it’s, you know, it is that sort of, I’ve understood this and there’s this cycle of writing, isn’t there? I apprehend this, when I write it, I fully understand it. When I draw it, I fully understand it, and then I can share it with other people. And then you become part of that body of, as you say, entrepreneurial books that are out there.

 It’s wonderful.

If you were to give a single tip, Tim, to a first time business book author, what’s one thing that you, you know, one thing you wish you’d known before you started?

Tim Clark: That’s a great question, and my answer is be crystal clear about the reason that you are writing a book. And I say that because a lot of people want to have written a book.

Alison Jones: Yes, having written is brilliant.

Tim Clark: Yes, having written a book is great. I’d like to say that a book is the most expensive business card you’ll ever create for yourself.

And maybe some listeners may not know what that means, but what it means is you will not, most likely you will not be rewarded financially for your writing. You will spend thousands of hours. If you’re doing a good job, you’ll spend several thousand hours on your book and it’ll say something important.

But the truth is, it is very unlikely to ever sell more than 3000 copies and you’ll never make money on it. What is important though is that you’ll have a statement or well a business card, so to speak, that you can use for consulting, for teaching or for at least cocktail party conversation.

Alison Jones: If all else fails.

But yes, the return on investment is not in the direct sales of the book for most business book authors. It’s in the business, isn’t it? It’s in what it enables for you. Yes, brilliant.

Tim Clark: Absolutely.

Alison Jones: I suspect I know what you’re going to say here, but I always ask my guests to recommend a business book that they think everybody else should read.

What would you press into the hands of everybody listening?

Tim Clark: Business Model Generation

Alison Jones: I thought you might say that.

Tim Clark: Yes, well, it was a landmark book. I’m really proud of it. I had, you know, I had a modest but significant role in its creation. I’m really proud of the writing but most of all the concept and yes, many of your readers have probably read it.

Every business school around the world worth its salt requires this now. So absolutely Business Model Generation and then of course, Business Model You. I hope you’ll read that.

Alison Jones: You’re not allowed, you’re not allowed to recommend that one, I’ll do that for you. It’s very, very good. Yes, brilliant.

And if people want to find out more about you, Tim, more about the work that you do, where should they go?

Tim Clark: Well, go to community.businessmodelyou.com. The business model you is business model Y O U.com. So community.businessmodelyou.com, or just businessmodelyou.com and you can learn more there.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. Thank you so much. And it is really worth having a look at the visuals here. You know, we are talking about it and you can get a sense of what it can do for you, but until you actually see it and see the beautiful simplicity of it, you don’t really get a full picture.

See what I did there.

Brilliant. Great to talk to you Tim. Thank you so much for your time.

Tim Clark: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Alison. Thank you for inviting me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.