Greta Thunberg, is She Relevant? Yes, and Why You Should Follow Her

Greta Thunberg, is She Relevant? Yes, and Why You Should Follow Her

Who is She

 

For those who are unaware of Greta Thunberg, she is a 16-year-old Swedish student credited with raising global awareness of the risks posed by climate change, and holding politicians to account for their lack of action.

A year ago, Greta took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament calling for bold climate action. Following Thunberg address to the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, on 24 November 2018, she spoke at TEDxStockholm. Also, Greta attended the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019.

The media attention her “school strike for the climate” attracted, resulted in other students undertaking similar protests in their communities. Together Thurberg and these different communities have organized a school climate strike movement. The first student strike was held 15 March 2019 and was the most significant climate strike in history with 1.6 million students in over 125 countries. Every week since, student strikes take place somewhere in the world. In 2019 two of the pupil climate strikes have involved over one million pupils. In Germany, the protest is under the name Fridays for Future.

Greta has argued that students should not attend school and study for a future that may never come. Thunberg observes that politicians, most of whom are over 50 years old, decide students’ futures which they will not experience. “If I turn 100, I will still be alive in 2103. Most of the climate targets are set for the time until 2050. With a little luck, I haven’t even lived half my life“.

Thunberg is not only protesting but is adjusting her life to her cause. Thunberg has persuaded her parents to adopt lifestyle choices to reduce their carbon footprint, i.e., forgoing air travel and meat. This fall, Thunberg is attending the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, and the COP 25 Climate Change conference in Santiago, Chile. Following her avoidance of air travel and limiting her carbon footprint, Thunberg traveled from the UK to New York in a 60ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines.

 

Her Message

When, at age 15, Thunberg began her protests, she had two simple messages:

  1. A sign stating “school strike for the climate”; and
  2. Leaflets which said: “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”

Since then, her message has evolved into four interwoven themes.

  1. The global warming crisis is so severe that humanity is facing an existential crisis, “that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.”
  2. Thunberg holds the current generation of adults responsible, saying, “You are stealing our future,” and she is especially concerned about the impact of the climate crisis on her generation. To the UK Parliament she said, “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.”
  3. We should all be panicking because nothing is being done to solve the problem. Change is required now!
  4. Politicians and decision-makers need to listen to the scientists because “according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.”

With her Asperger’s, Thunberg speaks bluntly to business and political leaders deriding them for their lack of action. At Davos, she told a panel, “Some people, some companies, some decision-makers, in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.” She added, “I want you to act as if the house was on fire — because it is“. In London, in October 2018, she said, “We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis, and our leaders are all acting like children.”

She also points out that various governments’ strategies as part of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C are insufficient. In addition, she has stated that the greenhouse gas emissions curve no later than 2020 needs to start declining steeply. She told the UK Parliament at the beginning of 2019 that Britain needs not to ‘lower’ emissions but think of eliminating them. In February 2019, she said that by 2030, the EU must reduce their CO<sub>2</sub> emissions by 80%, double the 40% goal set in Paris.

While, Thunberg acknowledges that she is not a climate scientist, but merely repeating what scientists have told the the public for decades, albeit, without much success. Thunberg says if everyone listened to the scientists and acknowledged the facts, “then we (students) could all go back to school.” On arriving in New York, she admonished Donald Trump to “listen to the science.”

 

Her Impact

In May 2019, Time magazine featured Thunberg on its cover, naming her a “next-generation leader” and noted that many young people see her as a role model. A 30-minute documentary titled Make the World Greta Again is on Thunberg and the school strike movement. Her impact on the world stage is called the “Greta Thunberg effect.”

Her impact on the world stage is called the “Greta Thunberg effect.”

In response, some politicians, mostly in Europe, have acknowledged the need to focus on climate change. A British YouGov poll, in June 2019, found that public concern about the environment had soared to record levels since Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion had ‘pierced the bubble of denial.

Reports in August 2019, stated that the number of children’s’ books addressing the climate crisis published, and sold, have effectively doubled. All these books aimed at empowering young people to save the planet. The “Greta Thunberg effect is attributed for this increase in publication and sales.

Inspired by Thunberg, US wealthy philanthropists and investors have donated over $0.5MM to the Extinction Rebellion, and school strike groups establishing the Climate Emergency Fund.

In February 2019, with Thunberg sharing the stage, Jean-Claude Juncker, then President of the European Commission, said “In the next financial period from 2021 to 2027, every fourth euro spent within the EU budget will go towards action to mitigate climate change“.

As a result of climate issues, in the May 2019 European elections, Green parties nearly doubled their vote to finish second on 21%, boosting their MEP numbers to a projected. The northern European countries where responsible for many of the gains where young people have taken to the streets inspired by Thunberg.

In June 2019, Swedish Railways (SJ) reported an 8% rise number of Swedes taking the train for domestic journeys over the previous year. This rise in ridership reflects growing public concern about the impact of flying on CO<SUB>2</SUB> emissions. Thunberg has highlighted the effect of air travel on CO<SUB>2</SUB> emissions by refusing to fly to international conferences. Being embarrassed or ashamed to take a plane because of its environmental impact has been described on social media as ‘Flygskam’ or ‘Shame of flying,’ along with the hashtag #jagstannarpåmarken, which translates as #istayontheground.

 

The Criticism

While there is worldwide support for Thunberg, there is also a great deal of criticism, primarily from the right and conservative groups. While many of these critics are Baby Boomers, who grew up during the Vietnam War movements, they seem unable to accept protests by a younger generation.

The most vociferous attacks on Ms. Thunberg have come from far-right politicians and conservative writers.  Having read many comments from articles about her in the US, the primary responses I see are:

  • Go back to Europe

  • Her parents should have disciplined her more

  • Too naïve to understand anything

  • Climate change is a hoax

  • If there is climate change deal with Asia first

  • She is mentally unstable

  • She should die/be killed

  • Knows nothing, so how dare she lecture us.

  • She is a Fascist, Communist, Liberal ****, or spoiled little girl.

Unfortunately, since she is reporting what the scientific community says most critics have “launched personal attacks,” “bash (her) autism,” and “increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence.” As Thunberg’s influence grows, more columnists have been making “ugly personal attacks” on her, and Germany’s Alternative for Germany party has attacked her “in fairly vicious ways.”

The New York Times journalist, Christopher Caldwell, claims that Thunberg’s simplistic to climate change will reveal climate protesters to the complexities of decision-making in western democracies. French philosopher, Raphaël Enthoven, argues that many people “buy virtue” with their support for Thunberg but don’t do anything to help. In July 2019, Mohammed Barkindo, OPEC secretary-general, “complained of what he called ‘unscientific’ attacks on the oil industry by climate change campaigners, calling them ‘perhaps the greatest threat to our industry going forward.'” Later he said he was referring to the recent wave of school strikes inspired by Greta. Andrew Bolt, a right-wing Australian journalist, questioned the validity of ThunbergÆs activism based on her Asperger’s. He wrote “I have never seen a girl so young and with so many mental disorders treated by so many adults as a guru… Her intense fear of the climate is not surprising from someone with disorders which intensify fears.” Also, Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the Koch-backed internet magazine Spiked, described Thunberg as a “millenarian weirdo” whose “cultish” movement is fundamentally “against people.”

Thunberg is relatively unknown in the US, and how the US will handle her arrival is uncertain. “It will be interesting to see whether there is any paid-for anti-Greta advocacy,” Richard Black, said, pointing to the funding for anti-climate action lobbying in the US. “There will be one tranche that absolutely does not welcome her.” The US remains the largest climate denial country in the West, primarily due to hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lobbying and paid media by climate deniers like Koch Industries.

Two of the reasons given above I would like to mention, the cost of dealing with climate change is too high. However, cost of the 9/11 attacks, which resulted in 4,000 dead and damage in downtown Manhattan is estimated at $3.3 trillion and rising. GIven that Maria killed 4,000+ in Puerto Rico and the cost of Hurricane Sandy was estimated at $65bn, I don’t think we can keep ignoring these costs with the claim that prevention is too expensive. I think the price of climate change denial is far higher, and prevention would be more cost-effective than cure. The second is to look at Asia first; however, while China is currently the largest emitter of CO<SUB>2</SUB>, the following shows the roles of all countries since 1750.

 

The people who hate her do so because she looks and acts like the sort person they believe is not supposed to speak and tell them to do things they don’t want to. Instead, they see children mainly as symbols of a protected innocence that can be passively invoked to justify whatever they choose, not as harbingers of a better world.

However, the misogynistic nature of the criticism towards Greta reminds me of the Taliban and religious conservatives’ attacks on Malala Yousafzai for wanting girls to have an education. I believe that these critics are trying to stop change and tilting at windmills to put the world back to some time when they had the control and more power.

 

Is She Relevant?

I would argue the following:

Climate change is here, and even if you don’t accept that humans are the cause, you need to plan for it, adapt and protect your business. Your strategy and plans need to consider the risks and impacts of climate change on your customer base, operations, supply chain, revenue sources, costs, and ability to deliver products and services. McKinsey identified the following risks:

Value Chain Risks

  1. Physical
  2. Price
  3. Product

External Shareholder Risks

  1. Ratings
  2. Regulation
  3. Reputation

Customers. Research by Cone Communications, a consumer brand PR agency, found that 87% of Americans said they would purchase a product because of a company’s alignment on an issue about which they care.

HiringNearly two-thirds of millennials said they take a company’s social and environmental commitments into account when weighing a job offer. This generation makes up the majority of the labor force now, and will make up half of all US employees by 2020, 

Your kids care, they expect you too.

Most Americans are worried about it, and especially millennials and generation Z, emphasizing the age gap in concern.  So lead!

Many major companies are starting to try to fight climate change:

  1. To help conserve the planet, Patagonia has pledged to donate 1% of its sales to climate change. Also, earlier this year, Patagonia stopped selling its apparel to companies that don’t align with its environmental values, including multiple large banks and Fintech startups.
  2. IKEA. IKEA intends to remove all single-use plastic from its global home furnishing range by next year, and use only renewable or recycled materials in all its products by 2030. Their goals are here.
  3. Unilever is seeking, by 2025, to replace all of its plastic packagings with reusable, recyclable, or compostable materials.
  4. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stressed the importance of speeding up the “advent of cars powered by electricity made from solar power,” like those from his company.

 

Why You Should Follow Her

There is the old saying, “Generals always fight the last war?” I think CEOs do too, even those who have read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Many CEOs are not familiar with many of the top social influencers and what they are doing in the market. Some of these, like Yuya and Jenna Marbles, have considerable influence on their audience and lead them where no one is expecting. While you cannot get ahead of these people, you should not get too far behind. Even if you don’t sell to them directly, they are influencing many. Climate change is an essential issue with the younger generation, your future clients. You need to understand their concerns when connecting with them.

 

Conclusion

While you may not agree with Greta’s views, a 16-year-old that has gotten millions of students to protest and has over 1.3MM followers on Twitter and 3.0MM followers on Instagram is an impressive force. Her YouTube video of her speech to the UN has had over 1MM views. Furthermore, someone who not only protests but is changing her life to live her message increases the strength of her message. So, if you don’t like her, I would ask, “When was the last time you believed in something so much you are willing to do something about it on a public stage, take on the major political and corporate interests, and that could cost you everything?” As Kirk Lippold said, “Integrity is doing the ethical thing regardless of the consequences.”

For a great piece on climate change, I would recommend Neil Kakkar’s article, A Guide to Climate Change

 

© 2019 Marc Borrelli All Rights Reserved

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The Business Roundtable is trying to redefine the role of business in society — and how an increasingly skeptical public perceives companies. Breaking with decades of the Friedman Doctrine, which holds that a firm’s only responsibility is to its shareholders, the Business Roundtable stated that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, companies must also invest in their employees, protect the environment, and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.

This shift in corporate ideology comes at a moment of increasing tension in corporate America, as big companies face mounting discontent over income inequality, harmful products, and poor working conditions.

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Personally, however, I think that this is a move in the right direction for the following reasons.

The Friedman Doctrine is backward.

Shareholder value is the result of corporate purpose and Mission and cannot be the purpose and Mission. Simon Senik’s “Start with Why,” in my opinion, best describes how to develop a corporate mission. An example of what happens when a company game up is mission and followed the Friedman Doctrine was Imperial Chemical Industries, who changed its mission from “We aim to be the finest chemical company in the world“ to “We aim to Maximize Shareholder Value“ in the 1990s. Prior to the change, ICI was considered one of the finest companies in Britain, today it no longer exists having been slowly sold off many parts to repay its debt before finally being sold to AkzoNobel in 2008.

 

Few stakeholders within the organization.

If the maximization of shareholder value is the corporate Mission, then there are few within the organization, other than some high-level employees, who have a stake in the Mission. Working to increase the wealth of others is not something most employees get behind. It reminds me of the old joke:

Employee: “Nice new car, boss”

Boss: “Well, if you set yourself targets, work hard, stay focused, next year I’ll be able to buy an even better one.”

Employees are only attracted to the company with this mission by what they will get, i.e., money or career advancement, so there is little commitment to the organization. If the expected benefits aren’t delivered or someone else offers more money, the employees will move on, increasing employee turnover. As a result, with few employees embracing the Mission and no other purpose, nothing is of importance to quality, service, and profits fall, decreasing brand value and shareholder value. Employees who embrace the Mission and are satisfied will serve customers better, increasing brand value. Employee happiness and business success are linked.

 

Few stakeholders outside the organization.

If the employees see no value in the Mission, customers and suppliers don’t. If the Mission is only to make money, customers and suppliers understand the Mission as a goal of extracting more value from them. Thus, they move from commitment to the organization (i.e., putting an Apple sticker on your car) to engaging with the company because there is no better alternative. If the company gets into financial trouble, they are less likely to support it, but rather let it fail. Working with suppliers is a relationship with the power moves back and forth and both parties treat it with care knowing they will be on the receiving end at some point. However, if shareholder value maximization is the only goal of the organization, suppliers abandon that relationship knowing the company has in its behavior.

 

Lack of Investment in Interesting products.

The Friedman Doctrine has led to many companies killing off research centers, which generated great benefits unidentified at the start. Ten years ago, the majority of technology products were offshoots from two places, Xerox Parc and Bell Labs, both of which no longer exist because of the Friedman doctrine. Between share buybacks and dividends, corporate investment in new areas has fallen. Google, SpaceX, and a few other companies have stepped into this space, but it is far more limited, thus limiting the future growth potential for the US.

 

Lack of Training.

Thirty years ago, when I graduated from college, many companies had training programs which took in graduates and trained them over several years. These programs knew that most of the trainees would leave the organization and thus canceled under the Friedman Doctrine. However, I would argue that these programs had three positive results:

  1. Well Trained Employees. A common complaint today is that graduates don’t know anything; however, I would say we didn’t know more, but we benefited from such programs.
  2. Loyalty to the Organization. Employees who moved on had developed a commitment to the organization that had trained them. Over the years they referred work to it and would engage with that company because of the feeling towards it.
  3. The camaraderie with their fellow trainees. Employees who went through the training program built a camaraderie with their fellow cohorts, which lasted a lifetime. I have met many accountants who came through the training programs provided by Arthur Anderson and still talk about their classmates and the connections they made. This camaraderie further built referral networks that benefited those that stayed behind and the training organization.

 

Lack of Integrity.

I recently heard Kirk Lippold‘s definition of integrity, which is:

“Integrity defines leadership. Without uncompromising integrity, failure becomes the natural default to success. It’s not just doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, even if no one is looking. That’s ethics. Integrity is doing all those ethical things regardless of the consequences.”

If the Mission is to maximize shareholder value, then I believe the organization develops a modus operandi of maximizing profit as the proxy for shareholder value. Since profit is measured monthly and quarterly, the corporate focus becomes more short term and undertakes anything to cut costs and maximize revenue. Thus, companies lose their integrity, sacrificing what makes them special for money, and losing customer loyalty and brand value. Recent examples of this would be Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal, and the Boeing and the 737 Max. An example of long term brand damage is the Sun Newspaper and Liverpool boycott, and many others. For a an example at what lack integrity can do see The Whistleblower (trailer is below) which based on a true story. Thus to quote Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

An example of a Mission leading shareholder value is Johnson & Johnson’s response at the time of the Tylenol recall. J&J’s Mission is to “. . . solutions that create a better, healthier world.” Living that Mission, created goodwill and tremendous brand loyalty within the US. A company’s brand is its reputation, and damage done takes a very long time to recover, destroying shareholder value.

Therefore, I think that the Business Roundtable is correct; Shareholder Value cannot be the purpose of the organization. If the company focuses on its Mission and engages its employees, customers, and suppliers, increases in shareholder value should result. Shareholder value should be measured, and companies should see how they are doing, but it is one metric and should not be the purpose. Further, in my opinion, the Friedman doctrine has done untold damage to the US over the years. Private Equity Groups, which own over $2.5 trillion of companies globally, primary focus on Shareholder Value has had mixed, if not harmful, results for their investment companies.

 

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World War II started 80 years ago today with the German invasion of Poland. It ended six years later, with over 70 million dead.

I would argue hubris was a significant contributor to World War II. Hubris is the wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or passion. It is the classic temptation of mortals who, finding themselves garbed in the unaccustomed robes of leadership or success, start imagining themselves bulletproofed against disaster — and so tempt the fates. Their own belief that they will prevail is enough to qualify as excessive hubris when they are defeated.
I believe that there is a theme of hubris in the cause of the war and the eventual outcome, as set out below:

  • World War I. Russian hubris started the war. However, the arrogance of the British, French, and Germans encouraged it as each believed in they were right, and they would win the war quickly. Four and half years later and 40 million dead was the cost.

  • The Treaty of Versailles, due to the hubris of the victors, included the War Guilt clause, which John Maynard Keynes referred to as a “Carthaginian peace.” Although there were anti-war rallies at the end of World War I in Germany, many Germans remembered the humiliation of the War Guilt clause. It was this humiliation that made it easier for Hitler to convince the German people that there was a need for more war in the lead up to World War II.

  • German rearmament, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, began shortly after the Treaty was signed, but exploded after the Nazis came to power in 1933. Despite warnings from Carl von Ossietzky, Winston Churchill, and others, Western leaders were willing to condone a rearmed and powerful anticommunist Germany as a potential bulwark against the emergence of the USSR. I would argue that their hubris, like those of the Weimar political parties, led them to believe they could control Hitler while needing him.

  • The Munich Agreement and Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” was done to stop the outbreak of war. However, Hitler was potentially weak because of a planned coup by the German General Staff; and as Czechoslovakia had a modern well-equipped army, a war would Germany many lives. Finally, not defending Czechoslovakia made Hitler confident that the Western powers would never effectively oppose him. I would argue that hubris once more played as a role. Chamberlain believed that through appeasement, he could prevent war, and as his main concern was the USSR, he ignored all evidence and information to the contrary.

  • World War II began, as a result, of the British “guarantee” to the Polish colonels, who were on the verge of returning that part of Germany that Poland had acquired from the Versailles Treaty. The Poles, not realizing that the British had no way of standing behind the guarantee, refused to return the lands to German. The refusal was an act of defiance that was too much for Hitler and the superior Aryan race, Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war.

  • The Battle for Moscow, the first significant defeat of the Wehrmacht at the hands of an ascendant General Zhukov, was a turning point in the Russian campaign.

  • The Battle of Midway was intended to be the knockout blow that Pearl Harbor was not, where the American carrier fleet could be lured out and decimated by the Japanese. However, Japanese indecision and American luck resulted in a significant victory for the Americans, decisively turning the war in the US’s favor.

There are many examples of hubris in business that reflect the destruction of organizations. The greatest to me in recent history was the Financial Crisis of 2008, where all the issuers of CMOs and CDOs believe that property values would always go up. Another recent example to me was the destruction of Sears and KMart by Eddie Lampert.

Thus in life and business, we need to stop hubris before it destroys us. The benefits of the Wisdom of Crowds is known to many. However, these benefits can turn to negatives when Crowds are: not diverse; there is no specific answer, and social influences impose too much pressure. Thus the adverse effects of crowds exist in most corporate environments. How do you keep it at bay? In Vistage, I tell members the role of Vistage is to question your assumptions and stop hubris. I hope you have a group that will help you prevent your arrogance before it destroys you.

 

© 2019 Marc Borrelli All Rights Reserved

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Do You Truly Know Your Core Customer?

Knowing the profit of your core customers is key to building a growth model. Many companies have identified core customers that are generating a sub-optimal profit and so they cannot realize the profits they seek. Identifying the correct core customer allows you to generate profits and often operate in “Blue Ocean.”

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The Greatest Own Goal or the Greatest Collapse

The European Super League collapsed within days of launch due to hubris and the founder forgetting the key parts of their business model, value creation, sales, and value delivery. The collapse might bring a high price.

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Does Your Financial Model Drive Growth?

Working with many companies looking to grow, I am always surprised how many have not built a financial model that drives growth. I have mentioned before a financial model that drives growth? Here I am basing on Jim Collin's Profit/X, which he laid out in Good to...

COVID = Caught Inside

COVID = Caught Inside

As we emerge from COVID, the current employment environment makes me think of a surfing concept: “Being Caught Inside When a Big Set Comes Through.” Basically, the phrase refers to when you paddle like crazy to escape the crash of one wave, only to find that the next wave in the set is even bigger—and you’re exhausted. 2020 was the first wave, leaving us tired and low. But looking forward, there are major challenges looming on the horizon as business picks up in 2021. You are already asking a lot of your employees, who are working flat out and dealing with stress until you are able to hire more. But everyone is looking for employees right now, and hiring and retention for your organization is growing more difficult.

Why is there not MORE common sense

Why is there not MORE common sense

“Why don’t they use common sense?!” You may have said this phrase yourself, or heard it with your managers, when discussing an employee’s actions. However, the frustrated appeal to “common sense” doesn’t actually make any meaningful change in your organization. We all make decisions based on the information we have and the guides we have to use. So if the wrong decisions are being made in your organization, it’s time to examine the tools you give decision-makers.

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

Do You Understand Your Costs to Ensure Profitability?

You can only determine profitability when you know your costs. I’ve discussed before that you should price according to value, not hours. However, you still need to know your costs to understand the minimum pricing and how it is performing. Do you consider each jobs’ profitability when you price new jobs? Do you know what you should be charging to ensure you hit your profit targets? These discussions about a company’s profitability, and what measure drives profit, are critical for your organization.

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

Sunk Costs Are Just That, Sunk!

If you were starting your business today, what would you do differently? This thought-provoking question is a valuable exercise, especially when it brings up the idea of “sunk costs” and how they limit us. A sunk cost is a payment or investment that has already been made. Since it is unrecoverable no matter what, a sunk cost shouldn’t be factored into any future decisions. However, we’re all familiar with the sunk cost fallacy: behavior driven by a past expenditure that isn’t recoupable, regardless of future actions.

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Do You REALLY Know Your Business Model?

Bringing clarity to your organization is a common theme on The Disruption! blog. Defining your business model is a worthwhile exercise for any leadership team. But how do you even begin to bring clarity into your operations? If you’re looking for a place to start, Josh Kaufman’s “Five Parts of Every Business” offers an excellent framework. Kaufman defines five parts of every business model that all flow into the next, breaking it down into Value Creation, Marketing, Sales, Value Delivery, and Finance.