BA 850
Sustainability Driven Innovation

Introduction to White, Gray, and Black Space Innovation


Introduction to White, Gray, and Black Space Innovation

A Misperception of Innovation

black and white image of a striated cliff side
Credit: CEBImagery

There is a certain facet or theme of innovation that seems to dominate all others, and this is innovation as a new to the world, disruptive, revolutionary achievement.

Here is a representative sample of the types of endeavors typically associated with innovation, from a Washington Post year in review:

  • NASA's Orion spacecraft
  • Apple Watch
  • ZMapp (treatment for Ebola)
  • Lockheed Martin's aforementioned fusion concept
  • Samsung Gear VR (virtual reality)
  • Uber and the sharing economy
  • Heartbleed (computer virus)
  • HP Sprout (3D manipulation suite)
  • Google's cancer detecting pill

This is certainly part of innovation, but in practice, innovation tends to be far more quiet, incremental, and purposeful. Where the persona attached to the revolutionary and disruptive innovation may be rockstar, the majority of innovation may be far closer to engineer or scientist. Innovation in practice is a rigorous and methodical endeavor.

So where there is a misuse, or at least popular misappropriation of the term innovation, pairing sustainability with it tends to have a multiplying effect... not only must your innovation be revolutionary and completely new to the world, it must also save the world at the same time. Tidal power generation and residential solar cogeneration and the like. While these are certainly important projects, what is important to us is that there are far more opportunities to innovate than those massive undertakings. Incremental progress is progress nonetheless, and many organizations large and small have the opportunity to participate.

White, Gray, and Black Spaces

In our efforts to understand sustainability-driven innovation of others in order to create our own, it is important that we create an understanding of the incumbent offerings and organizations already occupying the spaces we seek to explore. These organizations may be existing competitors well known to us in the core business, we may be exploring new ventures into other competitive spaces, or we may be creating completely new spaces. In each case, there may be a compelling strategy for us to create and frame our sustainability-driven offerings, but it is important that we understand the space in which we will be working.

Our critical analysis of sustainability up to this point is important because it allows us to see the landscape in a clear and unbiased way. Like the image above, our goal now is to take that knowledge and identify seams, gaps, niches, and paths of opportunity.

In the following pages, we will discuss the three types of spaces and examine the strengths, weaknesses, and strategies of each.

Five word summary - Innovation is not always revolutionary