For decades now businesses passed up opportunities that did not seem to fit with what they were doing well, says Mark W. Johnson in his book, Seizing the White Space.
He brings up Xerox as an example. Xerox owned the technologies that “helped catapult Apple, Adobe and 3Com to success.” Why didn’t Xerox exploit them itself Johnson wants to know. And what blocks so many companies from exploiting transformational opportunities?
His conclusion is that as a company matures it gets better and better at what has proven to work well. It refines systems, improves execution and organizes to produce and maintain its core business hence, ironically, becoming imprisoned in it. The danger is that when your perspective on the outside is shaped by your own products and operations, rather that the customer’s perspective, then you cannot even recognize opportunities that do not fit or look like them. New opportunities, however, especially today, look very different from your core. This is what Johnson calls “white space:” not so much uncharted territory as the “range of potential activities, not defined or addressed by the company’s current business model, that is, the opportunities outside its core and beyond its adjacencies, that require a different business model to explore.”
This is precisely the challenge facing association leaders today: How do they become something more than and different from their current membership models, products, governance structures or benefits—all of which are losing relevance and may be completely irrelevant in 2 months or 2 years from now for all we know. Are their organizations capable of: a) recognizing opportunities outside their core; and 2) willing and able to build the capabilities, cultures and organizational models that can execute them?
We have successfully helped a number of organizations and their leadership teams identify gaps, hidden member needs, untapped value in their assets and new opportunities in their markets. Where things invariably break down is when it comes to actually conceptualizing different solutions and business models. The reaction is often shock: "but we are not a consulting firm (or a trade association, or a commercial entity etc.)....We can't offer strategic guidance (or solutions or customized programs etc.)..." "We are not a professional association (or university or training company etc.). We may not even be legally allowed to offer training packages." "We already make research available in our journal and through sales or research reports. Why should we try research communities?"
It is hard to identify white space while equating "normalcy" with the way you currently do business.