The 3 Ds of Innovation in Family Business

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Recently Simple founder, Francois Botha wrote a piece on our 3D approach to innovation. The original article appeared here on Medium.


Growing up in a business family myself, I have personal experience with some of the good, the bad and the ugly that goes hand-in-hand with family businesses. After finishing my education in Business, Communication, and Brand Strategy, I paid my dues in the family real-estate and luxury travel business. Here I learned that as rewarding as a family business can be, there are plenty of challenges.

Today, our consulting firm, Simple, analyses these qualities with the aim to reposition family businesses both internally and in relation to how the company interacts with the world.

Our mission is to change the way family businesses communicate, allow them to identify their unique assets and help them innovate while creating a space for their future generations.

Examining both the familial and cultural context of a family business is not only an excellent opportunity to strengthen the foundation of the business itself, is it crucial to create a clear direction for each generation of leaders to come.

With many family business empires launching in the first half of the 20th century, they are now faced with an ever-increasing disconnect between the original founders and the incoming generation of leaders. The strength in family business lies in keeping the family together; It is therefore crucial to ensure future generations find their unique place within the business.

So how do we do that? Let’s first ask ourselves some questions.

Where are we from and where are we going?

Understanding the familial and cultural histories of your business is the first step towards innovation. It is only possible to find renewed meaning and purpose by understanding your backstory.

Once we have clearly defined where you’re from and what the common ground is between past and current generations, Simple explores three questions along with a business to help them move forward:

  1. Discover — What are our unique assets, and what is happening around us?
  2. Discuss — How do we communicate, both internally and externally?
  3. Decide — What requires a decision? How do we make those decisions?

The 3D Model of Innovation

(The naming of this model was obviously inspired by models like the 4C’s of Marketing, Porter’s 5 Forces and the 6/1 Diet)

Case study: AARS

AARS is a family-run holding company based in Oslo. It all started in 1936 when Harald Aars Møller, the founder, was one of the first worldwide to obtain an import license for Volkswagen. Today, 1 million car sales later, AARS has a well-diversified business.

In terms of finding their place within their business, the second and third family generations had personal connections to their grandfather Harald, meaning that his ethos was easily passed from one generation to the next. The fourth generation, however, never had this access to the roots of the business. As the fourth generation was starting to come of age, it became increasingly important to find purpose within the family business while at the same time starting to communicate the right messages about the family with the world-at-large.

The goal was to set a new standard in the way families communicate in a business and personal context.

Simple helped them along their strategy process by using our Family Business Toolkit, including The 3D Model of Innovation, which eventually helped them explore their unique assets. Aars eventually defined “mobility” as their future-facing strategy — stemming from their unique assets and history within the car business. Our process entailed a research-heavy report focused on the future of mobility, and designing a mobile internal communication app to engage both active owners and more passive partners in both daily and larger-scale information about the company.

Finally, we crafted a public online space along with our online partners for them to share stories about the family, ensuring their outward-facing communication was in-line with their strategic ambitions.

Though every family business is different, many of their concerns are similar, particularly in terms of how to evolve in a way that honours the past and embraces the future. The 3Ds of Innovation is an essential part of understanding your family business so that you can grow in a way that aligns with your purpose.


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