I Love the Exploration/Execution Curve

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I love the Exploration/Execution Curve for innovative ideas and business models that I offer in my book and my workshops. Once you’ve figured out that exploration precedes execution, that discovery precedes delivery, and that the ten stages of the Business Lifecycle suggest a gradual shift from exploration to execution (and from discovery to delivery), suddenly various other models easily fall into place.

The ten stages of the Business Lifecycle suggest a gradual shift from exploration to execution.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker is known for saying, “Leadership is doing the right things, and management is doing the things right.” Looking at the Exploration/Execution Curve, we can see that, in the beginning, an innovative new business model mostly needs leadership (doing the right things) and just a little bit of management (doing the things right). But over time, when the business model matures, what is needed to keep a successful business running is mostly management (execution), and less time is required for exploration (leadership).

Shiftup - Business Lifecycle

In his books The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual, startup expert Steve Blank offers his Customer Development model, which consists of four phases for successful startups and scaleups: Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation, and Company Building. Not surprisingly, the four steps map nicely onto Shiftup’s ten Business Lifecycle stages. The only difference seems to be that Steve Blank’s model is more straightforward and less granular.

Note: in my next blog post, I will discuss Kent Beck’s 3X model, which also maps quite well to the ten Business Lifecycle stages. The 3X model, the Customer Development model, and the Shiftup model all agree that business ideas go through various stages of maturity. The only difference between them is the level of detail of the lifecycle stages.

Shiftup - Business Lifecycle

In his book Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore uses the Technology Adoption Lifecycle Curve to explain that many new products have difficulty crossing the “chasm” between the innovators/early adopters and the early majority. On our own Exploration/Execution Curve, this chasm correlates with the transition between stage 5 (Stabilization) and stage 6 (Acceleration). In stage 5, the business prepares for scaling up while still marketing mostly to the early adopters. In stage 6, if the preparations are done well, the business can switch to the early majority.

Note: it should not be difficult to map the entire Technology Adoption Lifecycle Curve to the ten stages of the Business Lifecycle. But I will leave this exercise to you. 🙂

As an example, in the next picture, you can see the full lifecycle of Apple’s iPod business model. It is easy to imagine the various stages of the Business Lifecycle in this picture. The entire lifecycle, from Steve Jobs’ first idea for a well-designed MP3 player (stage 1) to the death of the whole iPod business (stage 10), took around 15 years.

Shiftup - Business Lifecycle

As I said, I love the Exploration/Execution Curve and the ten stages of the Business Lifecycle. The model seems entirely compatible with various other models while at the same time offering more detail and more opportunities for stimulating discussions and comparisons.


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