Tools for blockchain thinking

Blockchain, Design Thinking, User-centric

If we want to unlock blockchain’s potential and if we feel decentralisation is important, we need to get more non-tech, mainstream people on board to figure out the why, what & how.

To achieve that, we need to make it easier to discuss concepts, impact and hurdles. We need to create a level playing field. My contribution to this space over the last few years has been lots of talks, a book (in Dutch) and some workshops, generally to create awareness and explain some key concepts.

But we also need:

  • more (workshop) tools
  • to create more refined input
  • from a more diverse bunch of people

Below I share some of mine.

In search of a problem

I have noticed that blockchain thinking does not always come natural to people. It can be quite different from the current way of operating. I recently got the chance to design a blockchain workshop for senior executives at a Solvay Business School program and even with very clever people, it can be a challenge to flip them into a more blockchain-perspective.

Challenge two: the tech can get in the way. Blockchain is a world where the tech development drives the change. So I see it as an added value to bring more focus on business and – more importantly – user problems. Often I hear “Blockchain is a solution, looking for a problem”. And while that’s an easy one-liner to say, there’s definitely a risk of getting carried away with all the possibilities of the technology.

Now, as a facilitator, I love tools, frameworks, methodologies, exercises. I’m a firm believer of “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. The interest in design thinking et al has supplied us with a plethora of these tools. So one of my objectives is to develop and finetune more and better tools for blockchain thinking, where design thinking meets decentralised thinking.

Obviously, as with all design processes, user research & validation are important aspects, but these are a few steps that I think can be more blockchain-specific.

Step 1 – Problem and opportunity spotting

Value Mapping for advertising industry at ADCE Conference in Barcelona

I have lost pitches, “because blockchain came into the process too late”. I tend to disagree with this approach. Any facilitator or consultant will realise this is the frustrating bit; that one needs to take time to take a step back and identify problem/opportunity areas, before jumping into solution mode.

One exercise I have developed to make this happen is Value Mapping. Based on Customer Experience Mapping, the objective of this simple exercise is to unravel the value chain. How is value being created? Who adds what? Where are you in that process? And where are the friction areas?

It could go like this:

  • Step by step, which contributor/stakeholder does what in the process of creating your product/service? This typically includes contributors outside your own ‘company’.
  • What would you call the unit of value (information, money,…)?
  • Find the pain points, with questions like: Who is frustrated with whom or what & why? Where do users feel a lack of trust? If you take away one particular step, would you create a trust issue?

The results of this approach have been promising. One attendant called it “all he needed”, because it made him realise how fragile the perceived added value of his company was.

Note: Kudos to Patara. Their Decentralisation Method Sheet helped me challenge my older versions of the Value Mapping exercise.

Step 2 – Framing opportunities

Once we’ve defined some interesting areas, we can develop How Might We statements around that. This is a proven technique from innovation and design thinking methodologies, enabling everybody to focus on key issues. Sentences like:

  • How can we make sure a logo designer doesn’t feel under-valued, by working for an hourly rate?
  • How can we help increase transparency with regards to the payout of bonus schemes?

Step 3 – Blockchain concepts

Only then, do I bring blockchain into the fray. It helps if people have some basic understanding, but I tend to break down the not-very-helpful term of blockchain into a bunch of key components.
The blocks I tend to use are:

  • Immutability/Verifiability (the basic of blockchains)
  • Programmability of business logic (i.e. smart contracts)
  • Tokenisation (representation of ‘something of value’)
  • Oracle (who/what says it’s true)
  • Alignment of incentives

Once people have that in their heads we rephrase the briefings.

How Might We /do x/, using concepts like Smart Contracts, Tokenisation,…

Step 4 – Ideation

Ideation tools are nice. Soon there will be a set of cards like this for Blockchain

While I’ve had some success with these approaches, I think we need to finetune the ideation phase and create more specific questions and triggers. That’s why I’m really excited to start collaborating with Alejandro Masferrer from Triggercards to design some ideation tools around blockchain.

He’s got a good track record of creating beautiful, well crafted inspiration cards for a wide-ranging set of subjects: from Advertising campaigns to Business Design and Artificial Intelligence. Getting questions right and using the correct wording can help tremendously with triggering people’s minds. So I’m looking forward to getting this produced in the next few months.

Extra Step – Token Canvas

Finally, I’m intrigued by concepts of token economies and how tokens (these weird new assets) can help align incentives, create new business models and new forms of organisations. To get a conversation around that going, I’ve developed a very basic Token Design Canvas.

It’s basic. Partly because it’s an initial version. But in this subject matter, I also see ‘basic’ as a feature. When engaging with a broader, non-tech, more diverse crowd, you often end up working with people who have basic blockchain knowledge. And getting them to warp their minds into the concepts of tokens, incentive alignment,… proves to be quite a jump.

So far I’ve had (initial) useful results with the following ‘framework’.

  • What could a token represent (right to work, proof that you did a task,…)
  • How could a token accrue value?
  • How could a token incentivise which stakeholder?
  • How could all this lead to a different organisation/business model
Token Canvas, the basic version

Feel free

I’ll be tweaking and fine-tuning as we go along.
In the meantime, add to the conversation. Give feedback.
Above all, feel very free to borrow, use and share. As long as you improve on it.
You can download PDFs of the sheets here.

Some references

Why I’m giving away free coins with my book about blockchain


Practice what you preach. Make things as tangible as possible. Get your hands dirty. These are guidelines I try to stick to, even though I’m in the business of strategy, talking, workshopping, consulting.

That’s also why I wrote a book on Blockchain, in Dutch (for now). One objective of the book is to make people feel more comfortable to dip their toes into the blockchain-world. In one way or another. And I’ve found that an easy way to do that is to get people to set up a wallet and put some crypto-coins in. That way people can experience what it feels like to send/receive money without the involvement of a central bank. I got my first fraction of crypto in the same vain. It made me understand a few things and triggered me to dig deeper.

So to motivate people to get involved, I’m giving away 500 euro worth of Ether to the first 250 people who can prove to me they bought the book.

Today, March 6, I bought ether on the Kraken platform. The exchange rate was 666.66€. Yes, I managed to set an order for that special, symbolic rate ;-). Which means my 500€ bought me exactly 0.75 ether.

My transaction at Kraken

That means that each valid claim will get 0.003 Ether in their wallet. At the moment that’s worth about 2 euro. It might go up, it might go down. But the important thing is: you’re involved.

When all is set, I’ll send the full amount of ether to a little smart contract. When the book is physically available (beginning next week), I’ll give further instructions on how to claim the crypto-discount.

Just to get people involved.

The network always wins? There’s a coin for that

(Dutch version of this post here).

Blockchain here, blockchain there, blockchain everywhere. While 2017 was going to be the year of the Enterprise Blockchain, the focus is currently on coins and ICOs. But do we get the real underlying value and function of some of those crypto-coins?

The most common question after my talks and workshop is: “where can I buy bitcoin or ether?”. The goldrush to benefit from this market is very real. Even the bigger hedgefunds are starting to invest part of their portfolios in crypto-coins. Coins as investment and trading commodity? Check.


One of the main drivers of this FOMO-feeling are the ICOs. Rather than raise investment in the traditional way, more start-ups or scale-ups choose the path of creating their own coin, their own token and offer that up for sale. Already now, there are 5 or 10 times as many cryptocoins than there are national currencies. And every day somewhere somehow another 5, 10 or more projects are launched, each with their own coin. You’re totally into dental care and want to buy Dentacoin? There’s an ICO for that. So, coins as fundraiser for companies? Check.

But VCs and other investment companies look at it. They try to study and assess the market value of companies that do an ICO. Do we jump? Do we stay? But what do they use to make a judgement? EBITDA and other smart models don’t work very well. So they’re looking at new ways to measure the value of these companies. But are these companies? Or are they economies, communities, networks?

The extra cow

Allow me to put out a little thought here. Can a coin also be a the glue that keeps a bunch of people together? Can it be a common, economic motivation, without central authorities (shareholders, governments,…) having to define the rules? According to the theory, it feels to me it might be worth looking at.

In the 60s, the academic world was tempted to state that the individual motivation was priority. Ecologist Garrett Hardin, in the essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, tells the story of a group of farmers who collectively maintain a piece of land for letting their cows graze. Everybody knew there was a maximum amount of cows allowed on the field. The grass was finite. Nevertheless, there was a farmer who snuck in an extra cow. He got the benefit in the short term, but for the collectiv the long-term consequences were negative. Conclusion: attempts at managing common resources were doomed to fail. One needed (centrally designed) rules and regulations for that.

On the other side, there’s someone like Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobelprize Economy in 2009 for her work around economic governance and the commons. She studied agrarian communities who managed to organise themselves without external control. She distilled a bunch of conditions. If people were to stick to these rules, they would have a bigger chance to reach consensus in an independent way. They would keep valuing the common importance of the (finite) resources higher, over personal gain.

Those conditions evolve around participation in the creation of the rules, conflict resolution, monitoring,… She didn’t define the ideal content of the rules, but just stated that the conditions need to be met. And if a group manages to clearly agree on those 8 to 10 points, that community reaches a form of self-governance that has a big chance of success.

Now, that works in smaller communities. But at scale, that’s obviously not easy. People don’t know each other. They don’t trust each other. Building or maintaining digital platforms is expensive. Etc etc.

Blockchain to the rescue?

At least, blockchain has a few parallels that stuck in my mind.

First, blockchains can be used to design scalable alternatives for governance criteria like trust, identity, clear agreements (smart contracts), conflict resolution, etc

But what struck me most is the parallel with Ostroms idea around common incentive, i.e. the scarce and finite resource. So, if such an organisational model can work for grass or water, can blockchain offer a digital, scalable alternative? Can a crypto-coin be a common incentive, unique and with a finite amount ever to be created? Can the coin be a driver of niche-economies, niche value systems? Question mark.

Interface of the Swarm City P2P app

Is this a model that can help make P2P transactions effectively more P2P? Blockchain projects that take this route are looking at new ways of organisational design. No more shares, no more dividends, just tokens. They’re not really companies, but communities, where founders, investors, users are all stakeholders, i.e. holding a stake. Just recently, Joseph Poon, one of the core developers of Ethereum, summed it up in a talk:

Payments are the foundational layer, to create financial incentives around computation, but I want to be able to literally have a social media platform like Reddit on the blockchain. No one really owns it, it’s the token holders that are incentivised to continue the operation.

Little thought closed

That’s it. In times of ICO FOMO, this potential function of cryptocoins, and the impact it may have sociologically, seems to get little attention.

And that’s why projects like SwarmCity and District0x trigger my interest. That’s why I’m looking at things like Basic Attention Token, Resonate, DataBrokerDAO even. That’s why I look at a big existing company like the chat-app Kik, where they’re changing tack and distrubuted their own token on 12 September. That’s why I sometimes think: if Facebook would be invented now, wouldn’t Zuck choose for an ICO, so he could re-distribute the the value of the network with the parties that create that value?

Innovation speaker Peter Hinssen often says: “The network always wins”, but will we also notice that in our coin-wallet?

Ik ben een book aan het schrijven over blockchain. Waarom is blockchain WTF (Waarschijnlijk Toch Fundamenteel)? En de eerste 250 aankopers krijgen zowaar korting in de vorm van gratis coins.

Daar wil ik meer over weten