Conceptual and Learning Tools in Business

The Business Model Canvas has been described as a conceptual tool. And, as I’ve mentioned here I love the idea of conceptual tools. I first came across it in a book by Gerry Rhodes called Conceptual Tool Making, but the term ‘learning tool’ I discovered from a piece of research on e.learning concerning learning object repositories.  A conceptual tool is an ‘instrument of the mind’, but like a real physical tool it can be used to act on something to produce something else of greater value. A conceptual tool works by being a learning tool. The BMC, then, is an instrument used to gain greater knowledge of a proposition around which one might want to start a business. It so happens that the business and management literature is packed full of conceptual tools, and in fact one of my favourite sites called quickmba.com clearly demonstrates that an MBA, or any other business course, is based largely on teaching how to use conceptual tools. Here I will further explain the use of conceptual tools in business and organisation development.

The logic of developing skills in the use of individual pieces of equipment such as computers and hand or power tools is well understood, as is the value of vocational training. Aside from a whole range of production, crafting, and information handling methods, enterprises also require methods of managing, of financial accounting, of marketing, of problem solving, and of product designing. Descriptions of such methods are usually obtained through an appropriate course of education, but by the very nature of formal training such descriptions are generalised, they do not pertain precisely to a particular situation, even when a training course is targeted at a particular industry. In this generic form, they are simply  templates or guides for more situated learning in the context of the real practices of an enterprise. Such descriptions of methods or specific  techniques, especially supported by diagrams and models, I consider to be conceptual tools, or  learning tools.

Learning Tools can range from the very simple, which are useful in personal problem solving, such as Mind Mapping (developed by Tony Buzan ) or a decision matrix or more complex tools such as the diagnostic tools used for auditing business processes. There are also very sophisticated and subtle learning tools, such as, how to organise and analyse storytelling, and the use of analogies and metaphors, e.g., the manager as  a match referee, the manager as the conductor of a symphony orchestra, the manager as captain of a ship, cash flow, the enterprise as a learning organisation, or an organism, or a psychological prison, and so on. For more metaphors for organisations see the work of Gareth Morgan and his book Images of Organization.

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