Business Models and Complexity


  • Lorenzo Massa
  • Viscusi Gianluigi
  • Christopher Tucci




Purpose: To offer a -necessarily non-exhaustive- analysis of the meaning and significance of the notion of a complex system for research on the Business Model (BM).

Design/Methodology/Approach: Conceptual paper

Findings: Drawing from early research in complexity and debates that have inspired work in General System Theory, system thinking and cybernetics, we identify four insights, notably i) modeling of complex systems, ii) interdependencies, iii) nested hierarchies and iv) information processing that, we contend, have the potential to shed light on novel possibilities for understanding BMs. We offer an analysis.

Research Limitations/Implications: Limitation: exclusive focus on early interpretation of the notion of complexity as referring to a characteristic of a system. The paper does not explore the implications of the more modern understanding of complexity as referring to the ‘behavior’ of a system (complex system vs. complex behavior)

Practical Implications: we may be attempting to represent a system which is very complex, the BM and the organization behind it, at the level of the anatomy, only reflecting its main components. This is subject to inherent limitations.

Originality/Value: To show that, within the line of inquiry understanding the business model (BM) as some reality existing at the level of the firm, a BM may resemble what students of complexity refer to as a complex system. To explore the meaning and significance of the notion of complexity and of a complex system for research on the BM.

Author Biography

Lorenzo Massa

Lorenzo Massa is faculty at the EMBA of École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne (Switzerland) and adjunct professor at University of Bologna, department of Management and at the Bologna Business School (BBS). He has been scientist at the College du Managament (CDM) of EPFL, visiting scholar at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (USA), visiting researcher at MIT Sloan School of Management, Boston (USA) and Assistant professor at Vienna University of Economics (WU), Vienna (Austria).

His research lies at the intersection between strategy, innovation and sustainability and has been published on outlets such as the Academy of Management Annals, the Journal of Management and the Oxford Handbook of Innovation Management among others. He has an interest in business models. His latest research explores the intersection between cognitive foundations of business models, conceptual modeling, and strategic decision making related to innovation. He is author of several teaching case studies on business model innovation and sustainability (IESE Publishing).

He completed his Master and Ph.D. in Management at IESE Business School, focusing on innovation for sustainability. During his Ph.D. he has been a researcher fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute (Boulder, Colorado, US) working on business model design for the diffusion of renewable energies. He holds graduate degrees, both with distinction, in Mechanical Engineering from the Dublin Institute of Technology (B.Eng.) and the University of Genoa (M.Sc. Eng.).