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Letter of Motivation: Doctoral Research Placement

May 2022

Member News is a blog series introducing Systemic Design Association members and their work. SDA represents a community of academics, students, and practitioners leading pragmatic approaches to systems-oriented design for complex organisational and systems change programs. SDA connects members through various means, such as organising and hosting events and highlighting opportunities for collaboration.


Nicolas Roussignol

PSL Paris-Dauphine University | SDA Member Profile

I have read a lot about systemic design, bought, and read the book Design Journeys through Complex Systems (Jones & Van Ael, 2022). I recently became a member of the Systemic Design Association, and I will also submit my work to try to go to the annual RSD Symposium (RSD11). As you may see, I am passionate about those approaches, and it is very relevant to my work.

I am a PhD candidate in strategic management at PSL Paris-Dauphine University (France). I am working on a new way of describing and representing an organisation’s business model by applying the fundamental principles of systems thinking. The purpose of this concept is threefold: to improve the understanding of the company’s functioning by having a holistic and dynamic perspective, facilitating communication and collaboration with the organisations’ stakeholders, and innovating the way they create and capture value. In my third year, I am currently working with an organic food shop under the Biocoop brand on modelling its business model using the principles and methods of systems thinking through interviews and workshops with employees, customers, producers, and association representatives.

My plan to deepen my knowledge and skills in systemic design is to conduct workshops with organisations and entrepreneurs. Therefore, I am looking for opportunities for an unpaid placement at a lab that focuses on systemic design. I am willing to travel anywhere I can work in English, for instance in Europe or North America, and will arrange my own expenses, including travel and accommodation.

To better understand my PhD thesis project, here is a short summary.

Rethinking the business model concept in the Anthropocene era: Proposal for a systemic approach to the business model

The business model concept describes “how the enterprise creates and delivers value to customers, and then converts payments received to profit” (Teece, 2010, p.173). The widespread dissemination of the business model concept over the last twenty years or so shows that it is useful for both company managers and researchers. The concept proposes an approach that lies between strategy and operations (Magretta 2002), which moves away from the logic of competitive advantage and is closer to the understanding of the day-to-day business logics. Moreover, it has renewed the approach to strategy while relying on the fundamentals of the field before emancipating itself from it to become a field in its own right (Maucuer and Renaud, 2019). Finally, the empirical work that it has generated has made it possible to advance a great deal of useful knowledge on both a theoretical and practical level, such as the articulation of internal and external coherence (Demil and Lecocq, 2010), the functioning of platforms (Demil and al., 2018), or the strategic implementation of organizational hybridity (e.g. Yunus and al., 2010).

However, we are living in turbulent times, in which the economy has become globalized, with companies increasingly interdependent, and in which change is accelerating (Senge, 2006). Moreover, we are becoming aware of the impact of business on our society and more broadly on our planet, with the identification of positive and negative externalities, both social and environmental, and both locally and globally (ibid.). Therefore, we must move beyond a mechanical and isolated view of the economy and, more specifically, the functioning of companies, to adopt a more dynamic and integrated approach (Raworth, 2018), making it possible to respond to these challenges.

To this end, we propose to develop a systemic approach to the business model concept. Indeed, despite the adoption of a definition using the term “system” (e.g. Demil and Lecocq 2010; Lecocq andal., 2006; Massa and al., 2017; Morris et al, 2005; Zott and Amit 2010), as well as numerous fragmentary borrowings from a systemic vision of this object (e.g. Casadesus-Masanell & Ricart, 2010; Demil & Lecocq, 2010; Zott & Amit, 2010), few articles have so far mobilized a systemic approach to understanding the business model (Fehrer and al., 2018). However, systems thinking proposes to move from an analytical approach – based on the systematic decomposition of the whole into its components and on a linear relationship of causality – to an approach based on understanding – focused on the way in which the whole puts parts into music to achieve a given purpose (e.g. Capra, 1997; Le Moigne, 2007; Morin, 1977; Rosnay, 1977; Senge, 2006). Thus, we propose a decline of the systems thinking for the study of business models by emphasizing three major principles: the teleological principle – studying the purposes rather than casualties – the principle of conjunction through the interdependence of the parts, and the openness of the system to its environment.

This project is part of a PhD thesis in strategic management in PSL Paris-Dauphine University and funded by Biocoop, a cooperative that brings together various stakeholders: producer groups, shops and consumer associations, with the aim of developing organic farming in a spirit of equity and cooperation, particularly through its 750 specialized organic food shops across France. We chose to study the business model of a Biocoop shop located in the Jura region of France, through a qualitative and collaborative approach, with interviews, participant observation and collaborative workshops. Our contributions are twofold. Firstly, from a theoretical point of view, this work allows us to propose a new construct and a new representation of the way a firm creates and captures value, after the worldwide success of the Business Model Canvas elaborated by Osterwalder and Pigneur (2010). Then, from a managerial point of view, this work will allow Biocoop, and more specifically the foodshop(s) studied, to become aware of their functioning, and to consider ways of improvement.


Capra, Fritjof. 1997. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. New York, N.Y.: Anchor Books.

Casadesus-Masanell, Ramon, et Joan Enric Ricart. 2010. « From Strategy to Business Models and onto Tactics ». Business Models 43(2): 195-215.

Demil, Benoît, et Xavier Lecocq. 2010. « Business Model Evolution: In Search of Dynamic Consistency ». Business Models 43(2): 227-46.

Demil, B., Lecocq, X., & Warnier, V. (2018). “Business model thinking”, business ecosystems and platforms: the new perspective on the environment of the organization. M@n@gement, 21(4), 1213-1228.

Fehrer, J. A., Woratschek, H., & Brodie, R. J. (2018). A systemic logic for platform business models. Journal of Service Management.

Le Moigne, Jean-Louis. 2010. « Agir⬄ penser en complexité, le discours de la méthode de notre temps ». In Conférence Grand débat.

Lecocq, Xavier, Benoît Demil, et Vanessa Warnier. 2006. « Le business model, un outil d’analyse stratégique ». L’Expansion Management Review (4): 96-109.

Magretta, Joan. 2002. Why business models matter. Harvard Business Review, MA.

Massa, L., Tucci, C. L., & Afuah, A. (2017). A critical assessment of business model research. Academy of Management Annals, 11(1), 73-104.

Maucuer, Raphaël, et Alexandre Renaud. 2019. « Business Model Research: A Bibliometric Analysis of Origins and Trends ». M@n@gement 22(2): 176-215.

Morin, Edgar. 1977. La méthode – La nature de la nature. Editions du Seuil.

Osterwalder, Alexander, and Yves Pigneur. 2010. Business model generation: a handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers. John Wiley & Sons.

Rosnay, Joël de. 1977. Le macroscope: vers une vision globale. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Currency.

Teece, David J. 2010. « Business Models, Business Strategy and Innovation ». Business Models 43(2): 172-94.

Yunus, M., Moingeon, B., & Lehmann-Ortega, L. (2010). Building social business models: Lessons from the Grameen experience. Long Range Planning, 43(2-3), 308-325.

Zott, Christoph, et Raphael Amit. 2010. « Business Model Design: An Activity System Perspective ». Business Models 43(2): 216-26.

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