On this blog, we often share examples of firms that have successfully innovated their business model. While most find these examples inspiring, we  often get asked if there is a toolkit or a step-by-step way for firms to innovate themselves along these lines. In our executive teaching, managers routinely want to take “home” a toolkit so that they could transform their companies in the same way as Rolls-Royce did. Our MBA students, often ask us for techniques so that they could become Renaissance Entrepreneurs, a la Michael Dell or Amancio Ortega. This is exactly what we have been working on in our research– the renaissance innovation method.

Business Schools have many classes on entrepreneurship and innovation, a vast majority of them tend to be based on experiences of individual entrepreneurs.  While there is definitely a lot to be learnt from individual experiences, but innovation and entrepreneurship are characterized by so much uncertainty that examining any individual experiences may be a bit misleading. In other words, what might have worked in one case, may just not work in your case. In our research, we have built databases on the successes and failures of a large number of companies to help us identify the basis of successful renaissance entrepreneurship or innovation. Based on this research, we have developed a new course on generating, evaluating and refining opportunities for renaissance innovation.

Last week, I had the chance to  present some of this latest thinking, to  students of the  EMBA program at INSEAD as part of a 3-day accelerated elective on the renaissance innovation method.  At the core of this method lie four key principles or departures from conventional practice:

1) In contrast with unstructured, serendipitous approach to the process of generating, evaluating  and refining new business opportunities, we advocate a iterative, structured, step-by-step approach. This approach was developed on the  empirical evidence on performance.

2) With respect to substance of new business opportunities, we strongly encourage participants to be sensitive to and searching for  all kinds of new business opportunities– including those that involve innovating the business model. We find that innovating the business model remains a blind spot for many firms and they needlessly focus their energies on ill-suited, riskier and expensive, technology or market innovation.

3) In contrast with the lone entrepreneur mythology, we strongly advocate a collaborative and communal feedback system. Typical participants receive  more feedback on each facet of the generated opportunities in three days than many conventional entrepreneurs get over a lifetime.   At the heart of this lies a  communal feedback system that leverages the wisdom of the crowd to identify entrepreneurial passion-induced blind-spots.

4) We focus on a risk-reducing  approach to refining business opportunities. This unique approach helps entrepreneurs direct their energies towards prioritization of key tasks that favorably change the entrepreneur’s risk-return trade-off.

In our experience with this methodology we have found that participants routinely develop many more opportunities than they imagined they would before starting the process and feel much more confident pursuing them.  This often converts many fence-sitting entrepreneurs to passionate entrepreneurs.

An outline of our courses on renaissance innovation is available here.