The 3 Ds of Innovation in Family Business

Family Businesses Aren’t Like Other Businesses — Embrace that Difference!

Francois Botha
Nov 7, 2017 · 5 min read

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)

The 3D Model of Innovation is a continuous process that should be repeated.

Why is innovation important?

By implementing a model using these three questions, the family structure builds a space for the incoming generation to find their purpose and to take the business in that (sometimes new) direction.

The innovation model can be implemented in various forms to help the process along and ensure that the meaning and purpose ascribed are important to all stakeholders.

Some ways to develop and implement the model include:

  • Hold workshops involving multiple generations
  • Design a trend management tool to stay abreast of new developments
  • Structure internal communication using a secure mobile application
  • Share insightful updates from the family office to the owners
  • Craft the right message about both business and family to send out to the world

Emotive decision making is integral to the running of a family business. There are pros and cons to this, of course, but it is essential to recognize this decision-making process and to harness it for maximum growth.


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.

Harald A. Møller

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.

The Future of Mobility — A Research report to help AARS explore the landscape and guide their strategy.

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.

A selection of the outputs for AARS — including the mobile app and the external web platform, telling their stories.

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.


Who’s Francois?

Francois Botha is the founder and lead strategist at Simple, a brand management and strategy consulting firm that finds simple solutions to life’s complex problems. He knows that even as life becomes more digital, sometimes the simplest solutions may be analogue. Using his unique set of skills, François is setting out to change the way family businesses innovate. He is from Cape Town, South Africa and is based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

More about +Simple

+Simple is a creative consulting firm based in Copenhagen. We have designed a simple set of tools for innovation within family businesses, including The 3 Ds of Innovation explored here, and the family business model canvas. Find out more at www.andsimple.co.

Francois Botha

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Living by Gandhi, Learning by Google. www.francoisbotha.co.za - I help family offices with brand strategy and innovation at www.andsimple.co