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Business Model Epistemology : Support for a Semi-Structured and Inclusive Approach to Business Modeling in Established Firms

Affärsmodellsepistemologi : Stöd för en semi-strukturerad och inkluderande ansats till affärsmodellerande i etablerade företag


Summary, in English

The world is facing a climate crisis and established firms are set to play a critical role in the societal changes that are needed to defeat it. At the same time, digital technologies are advancing to enable many of the technological solutions that will be required. Together, these two trends, toward greater environmental sustainability and digitalized business, superficially suggest opportunities for business development in established firms. Nevertheless, more substantial change in these directions has appeared difficult to accomplish, and many established firms remain in their current tracks of ‘business as usual’.

In search of instruments for business development initiatives such as those related to sustainability and digitalization, much attention has been focused on business models. The business model term came into popular usage around the turn of the millennium and signifies possibilities to do business in fundamentally different ways, as demonstrated by the many internet-based firms that emerged during this era. Since then many different formalized frameworks for working with business models have been proposed. With the aim of guiding practitioners in this work, a large part of these has sought to establish exactly what kinds of conceptual components need to be considered to construct a working business model. A prominent and widely used example of this ontological approach is the Business Model Canvas; a tool that is based on the idea that business models can be defined in terms of a finite set of components, and instantiated as a standardized framework for universal reference in modeling activities.

However, although there are several benefits to this ontological approach, it does not directly address some of the critical challenges that business modeling in established firms often faces. In the established context, business model innovation is not simply a search for a new business model, but often also a transitioning from an established and often historically successful business model. Moreover, when initiatives such as those for environmental sustainability and digitalization are assumed, more substantial and path-breaking changes are often required. This effectively means that a transitioning is often also required on the level of the innovation process itself; from a mode of continuous innovation into a mode of discontinuous innovation.

The research presented in this thesis directly addresses these challenges by interpreting the overall process of business model innovation in established firms as an epistemological process of situated conceptual change. This interpretation, which takes inspiration from both previous management and cognitive science theory, contributes to a more interpretive and natural view on business models as instruments for learning, and, as mediators of cognitive change at both the individual and organizational level. As discussed in this thesis, from both an empirical and a theoretical basis, this view takes on particular significance when business model formulation is conducted as a delegated practice, separate from decision makers with authority on their eventual implementation. Overall, from a practical perspective, the proposed epistemological view is found to critically change the conditions for the design of business model tools—suggesting a more semi-structured and inclusive approach to their design.


  • Innovation Engineering

Publishing year




Document type



Lund University


  • Economics and Business


  • Business models
  • Cognition
  • Innovation
  • Strategy
  • Management tools
  • Established firms
  • Affärsmodeller
  • Kognition
  • Innovation
  • Strategi
  • Verktyg
  • Etablerade företag




  • Affärsmodeller och teknologistrategier


  • ISBN: 978-91-8039-437-6
  • ISBN: 978-91-8039-438-3

Defence date

18 November 2022

Defence time


Defence place

Lecture Hall Stora hörsalen, IKDC, Sölvegatan 26, Faculty of Engineering LTH, Lund University, Lund. Zoom:


  • Kristian Sund (Prof.)