The book, Seizing the White Space: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewalby Mark W. Johnson, is a rather quick read and primarily for people who have not read Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengersby Alex Osterwalder, Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevantby W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and Clayton M. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma.
For people who have followed the development of the business model concept, and read case studies such as Southwest Airlines, Hilti, Xerox, Kodak, DEC, FedEx, and Tata, this book is a bit of a disappointment. I looked forward to reading this book and wanted it to be a 5 star experience, but after reading it I have more questions about the author and the writing of the book, than about any new content or ideas.
The book in three bullet points:
- It presents the concept "White Space" defined as an area where new or existing customers are served in fundamentally different ways and there is a poor fit with the current (incumbent) organization; "The range of potential activities not defined or addressed by the company's current business model".
- It provides a business model framework, "The four box business model", comprising a customer value proposition, a profit formula and key resources and processes, very similar to the model presented in the 2008 HBR article Reinventing Your Business Modelby Mark W. Johnson, Clayton M. Christensen, and Henning Kagermann, with the focus point on the customers' job-to-be-done .
- It briefly explores the circumstances when a new business model might be needed, being when you must change your current profit formula (overhead cost structure, resource velocity or both), develop many new kinds of key resources and processes, and/or create fundamentally different core metrics, rules and norms to run your business.
A brief summary of the different chapters:
1. The White Space and Business Model Innovation
Introductory discussion on core vs. non-core business, defining the white space that lies far outside an organization's usual way of working, where assumptions are high and knowledge is low. In contrast to the Blue Ocean concept, described in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, (not mentioned in Seizing the White Space), the white space focus on what a specific organization can do, whereas blue ocean is about doing things differently than competition to be in uncontested markets. In the first chapter Mark includes a nice table on companies founded in the last quarter century that have entered the Fortune 500 in the last decade.
The book contains some questionable statements without references or discussion and chapter one is no exception: "Most successful innovative business models are forged by start-ups" (p. 18) - I would like to see the reference and discussion (and definition of "successful", "innovative" and "start-up") as most examples and discussions covered in this book are not on start-ups.
2. The Four-Box Business Model Framework
The chapter starts off with the discussion about the lack of a shared vocabulary, "No one to my knowledge squarely focuses on the elements in the business system that are central to value's creation and delivery and the way those elements work together to ensure or impede the overall success of the enterprise" (p. 23) I laughed out loud when I read the references related to the statement above, all from the same page: Peter Drucker (Harvard Business Review), Joan Magretta (Harvard Business School, former strategy editor Harvard Business Review), Henry William Chesbrough x2 (Harvard Business School Press). I would argue that the MAIN reason why there is a lack of shared vocabulary regarding business models is due to academics/consultants that ignore the work of other academics/consultants working in other schools/companies than their own.
The first element of Mark's Four-Box Framework is the Customer Value Proposition (CVP), an offering that helps customers more effectively, reliably, conveniently, or affordably solve an important problem (or satisfy a job-to-be-done) at a given price. In some versions of the model, such as Figure 9, 19, 20 and 24, there is no explicit customer mentioned in the CVP. In other versions, such as Figure 21 and in the model presented in the 2008 HBR article "Reinventing you business model", a target customer is included. The second element is the Profit Formula that defines how the company will create value for itself and its shareholders. It specifies the revenue model, the cost structure, target unit margin and how quickly resources need to be used to support target volume. The third element is Key Resources, the people, technology, products, equipment, information, channels, partnerships, funding, and brand required to deliver the value proposition to the customer. The fourth and final element is Key Processes such as design, development, sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, hiring and training by which a company delivers on the customer value proposition. Readers familiar with popular concepts such as Osterwalder's business model canvas recognize most terms and ideas.
3. The White Space Within: Transforming Existing Markets
Chapter three discuss business model innovation opportunities within existing markets by delivering new customers value propositions, something Mark argues often relate to predictable shifts in what customers are willing to pay a premium price for (at least the primary basis of competition). He presents an argument based on one example on how companies compete and differentiate with different forms of innovation according to the figure below. The references used for the "predictable shifts" are to colleague Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, and Geoffrey A. More's Crossing the Chasm, a book about selling disruptive products to mainstream customers. I would love to read more about these shifts, the research behind it, and how for example design and the use of brands affects the shifts in the basis of competition?
The chapter contains a nice case study on Dow Corning and Xiameter (mostly covered in HBR article from 2009), and the more classical case studies on Hilti, FedEx and IKEA.
4. The White Space Beyond: Creating New Markets
Seizing the white space beyond means developing new business models to serve entirely new customers and create new markets, often where large groups of potential customers are shut out of a market because existing offerings are too expensive, complicated or that the potential customers lack access. In the chapter Mark provides a table of archetypal business models and a nice case study on Hindustran Unilever and the Shakti Initiative together with some shorter versions covering MinuteClinic and SAP.
Obvious concepts to discuss in relation creating new markets are the tools, frameworks and methodologies presented in Blue Ocean Strategyby W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. Even though the Blue Ocean Strategy concepts are trademark protected, registered by ITM Research (INSEAD), other authors have been able to refer to the concepts and tools presented in the book.
5. The White Space Between: Dealing with Industry Discontinuity
Chapter five focus on the uncharted territory between what was and what is to be, after game changing events such as the commercialization of Internet technology or the push to address greenhouse gas emissions. Mark presents ideas in relation to unpredictable or radical shifts in market demand, in technology and in government policy targeted at the business environment. Examples are in the defense industry (transformative market shifts), Encyclopaedia Britannica (technology driven shifts), and Better Place (shifts in government policy and regulation). The chapter also contains a nice table including the industries and infrastructure of each technological revolution, from Carlota Perez' Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital.
6. Designing a New Business Model
In the chapter Mark discusses the business model innovation process from identifying a job-to-be-done to creating the customer value proposition, and compares the new business model that would be required with the existing model. When searching for unfilled jobs-to-be-done Mark puts emphasis on not only functional aspects of a job but also its social and emotional aspects, together with a short reflection on that Web 2.0 tools give businesses the ability to deeply understand their customers through increased interaction, with Threadless as an example. He introduces a way to use levers to contrast offerings, and mentions the reverse income statement to working up the projections for a business with a new profit formula. This chapter also contains an original and interesting case study from a project undertaken by Innosight with the customer name changed for purposes of confidentiality and a table with business model analogies.
7. Implementing the Model
For the implementation of a new business model, Mark describes three stages: incubation (1-3 years), acceleration (2-5 years), and transition (1-3 years). Incubation is the process of testing (early, cheaply and often) to identify and verify the assumptions most critical to success. Once the new model is proven viable, the Acceleration stage focus on setting up processes, together with rules, norms and metrics, to make the business model profitable. The final stage addresses the question if the new business can be integrated into the core or if it must remain a separate unit in order to thrive. Mark also discusses acquisitions and some successful and less successful examples.
8. Overcoming Incumbent Challenges
In the final chapter Mark describes three dangers incumbent face when implementing new business models: 1) Failure the allocate resources, 2) The Urge to cram new opportunities into the existing business model, and 3) Impatience for growth. He also briefly addresses the problem of the existing rules, norms, and metrics used by the company something that would be very interesting to dig deeper into.
My main questions after reading this book:
Why do Mark ignore existing body of knowledge and obvious references when defining the White space and his business model framework, and instead almost exclusively refer to his own or colleagues' work? Why does he focus so much on old examples, already covered in other books and articles, without using his frameworks to provide more depth into the cases? Why not look at modern examples of companies pushing its core business into new areas? Why are several included figures not referenced in the text, nor referenced for source?
A quick comparison with some other popular books on business models:
- Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Osterwalder and Pigneur is the obvious book to compare with. It also aims to introduce a standard language, a business model framework, and ideas on how to develop, test and implement new business models. In contrast to Seizing the White Space, Business Model Generation uses many sources and refers to popular management concepts, including Blue Ocean Strategy when looking at new market opportunities. Osterwalder focus much more on the customer and customer segments, and have that as a very explicit element of the business model framework. For me, Business Model Generation is a more original and content rich book. See my review here
- Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Modelby John Mullins and Randy Komisar focus more on the financials and the start-up situation. It defines the business model slightly different from the two books above but shares the idea to experiment and adjust the business model as you learn new things. See my review here
- The Profit Zone: How Strategic Business Design Will Lead You to Tomorrow's Profitsby Slywotzky, Morrison and Andelman, has a heavier focus on profitability and the changing areas in which high profit is possible to keep, it is a quick read. See my review here
- Open Business Models: How to Thrive in the New Innovation Landscapeby Henry Chesbrough has a heavier focus on technological innovation in the context of business models and also covers the important area of Intellectual Property in relation to open business models.
All in all, Seizing the White Space is a good book, containing many valuable lessons. It will not WOW you, and it presents surprisingly few new case studies. One of the most important (implicit) lessons from the book is that business models need to be consciously designed and that companies must always stay on their toes looking for new opportunities around their core business, but also in the white space.
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