I just finished Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal by Mark W. Johnson. It’s a strategy book about business model innovation. Business models are the core ways businesses create, deliver and realize value, and the idea is that in order to move into the future, and avoid obsolescence, many businesses may need to reinvent or change business models. A retailer might shift focus from moving goods to providing services, for example, or a software company might move to cloud applications. You provide new value, make money in new ways, and stay relevant in times of technological, consumer and social change.
Johnson’s “white space” is simply “uncharted territory beyond a company’s core business.” It’s that scary, untried, new stuff full of risks and potential rewards.
It goes without saying, of course, that the ideas of white space and innovation in general apply to more than just business. They apply to the public sphere, the non-profit sphere, society, culture and, well, life in general. It’s all interconnected. To chop it up is to miss both understanding and opportunity.
So, thinking very broadly of white space, the future, and opportunity, here are three “white spaces” I believe to be worth exploring (“seizing” seems a little too aggressive for these broad areas). These white spaces will provide opportunities for new models of all kinds, new products, businesses, and socio-cultural practices, and they may pay out for a long time. I realize I’m using the “white space” term loosely here, but if you’re looking ahead to find places to begin to solve problems, provide solutions, and build businesses, consider the following:
1. Empowering Individuals — Human beings live in a network of constraints on one hand, and increasing limitations, but we’ve never been more demanding. We want to control our lives and our destinies, from the very mundane aspects to the big picture. It’s just hard to do. New models, products, technologies or techniques that give individuals more power over our lives will never be more welcome than in the next 10 to 20 years. Education is a big deal here, but there’s so much more opportunity.
2. Connecting Organizations with Individuals — I don’t just mean advertising or one-to-one marketing here, but authentic, deep connections. As individuals become more empowered, and thus more individualized and fragmented, organizations such as governments and businesses risk losing meaningful connections (and thus relevance). Any model, technology, or product that can really bridge the widening gaps between individuals (as consumers, students, citizens, employees) and organizations (as industries, schools, governments, employers) will pay out in all kinds of dividends. There is risk here too: if we can’t make this work, we’ll see a lot of failed companies, governments, etc. It could get ugly, but it doesn’t have to.
3. Re-Engineering the Economy around Self-Actualizing Livelihoods — Forget about the old concepts of buyers and sellers, corporations and consumers, jobs and workforces. The two trends above, along with the alt economies that new technologies have spawned, will change the economic focus from jobs to livelihoods, and the individual’s focus from a wage to self-actualization. If you can develop models, platforms, technologies to re-engineer the economy, or parts of the economy, to facilitate the need for self-actualization, you’ve got something that will resonate.
So those are three big, broad white space areas. If you have an idea for a new business or organization, ask yourself if it can play into one or more of these spaces. Chances are, if it does, it’s worth working on.