Our world has been transforming fast at an amazing pace led by the changes in technology and the socio-economic environment. Businesses have to look for opportunities periodically and evaluate if their current formula is working well and will remain relevant for some more time. They need to institutionalise a process to review the opportunities and possibilities from time to time; identify the white spaces for their growth.
What are the white spaces?
We normally understand white spaces as virgin territories or market segments that other companies have not been focusing on. Sometimes, leaders extend the concept of white spaces to innovating new products and services, building additional revenue streams and acquiring new customers. However, the concept of white space not only includes there but also re-engineering operational processes and systems in such a way that the organisation will be able to improve its value delivery processes.
Xerox has been a highly innovative company; for example, they brought out the mouse first by taking the idea from Stanford Research Institute. Steve Jobs was able to use this concept to great heights of commercial success when he used them in personal computers. This is a brilliant example of identifying a white space by Steve Jobs and putting that into use.
How do we identify the white spaces?
Apple discovered the white space, not from any customer feedback or market research; rather it was the result of a well-institutionalised process at Apple that the top-most leader in the company ran himself. He was continuously looking around for new developments and opportunities; he used to actively think of ways to leverage the developments in the market.
When the top leaders continuously keep looking for white spaces in terms of customer segments, geographies, product ideas, customer engagement processes or other value delivery methods, it becomes a part of the organisation’s culture. It keeps staying ahead of its peers in capturing those white spaces.
What are the possibilities?
Apple launched its iPod in 2001 and the market had portable music players from many other brands. One might argue that the market was well-served by the existing players and how could Apple venture into it?
They spotted a white space in the way consumers experienced a portable music player and captured the imagination of the consumer. They said, “you could put your entire music collection in your pocket, take it wherever you go and enjoy the music on the go”. This messaging and positioning were unique. iTunes revolutionised the music industry subsequently and there has been no looking back. So, this brings us back to the earlier point that the organisation has an instituted a process by which it identifies white spaces time and again; executes them better than its peers. This is driven by the senior leaders and hence, is sustained over time.
Sometimes organisations and their leaders are too conservative to venture into new business models, deploy new tools, get out of their comfort zones and drive change. We have seen how global leaders in photography have faced mammoth challenges in leveraging the market opportunities of telecom. As a result, global leaders could no longer be at the forefront; rather they had to hurriedly find survival paths in the face of the fast-paced changes in user behaviour around photography. Demand for cameras crashed as mobile phones delivered convenience and comparable quality in their output. Though some of the best minds were at work in those global companies, they resisted change and reacted late.
Sometimes companies give up fast and cannot put together a vision. Xerox brought out the mouse at 300 dollars and faced a lacklustre response from the market. They thought that the mouse couldn’t be a success. However, Steve Jobs saw it and struck a deal with them, improved the product hugely and bundled it well with its computer at a much competitive price. Xerox gave up too early and lacked the vision.
Discovering white spaces and giving a shape to them is easier said than done. Wise and dynamic leaders need to be at the helm to be able to do this as a matter of practice than a one-time wonder.