BA 850
Sustainability Driven Innovation

Lesson 5 Overview


Lesson 5 Overview


In this Lesson, we will be spending our time learning some practical and tactical means by which we can understand "space."  Understanding space and where peers and competitors function is a bedrock concept in terms of understanding opportunity and potential differentiation.

In my experience and observation, much time and effort is wasted in trying to create "synthetic innovation," whether a product, service, or campaign.  What I specifically mean by "synthetic innovation" is a syndrome of which people struggle to create something in the ether, without meaningful stimuli or underlying rationale, attempting to alloy raw creativity and mental horsepower into something new.  Ironically, it is the type of innovation on display when you ask a child to "invent something," and they mash together a few nearby concepts to create something new to the world.  Perhaps "Unicorn toothpaste" or "Corgi saddles."

If you consider real, successful innovation in the sustainability space (or any space), they very commonly take the form of a stepwise and logical improvement on an existing concept.  Even if that improvement is 'new to the world,' I would argue it is many times still anchored in some existing function or translating function from another domain.  I challenge you to take the most innovative new service or product and reverse engineer it: The magical success of Uber becomes a 'decentralized taxi service with driver ratings,' and there were actually quite a few smaller iterations of that concept long before Uber.  Airbnb is basically 'decentralized hotel service with host ratings' a la Uber for hotels, and so on.

So, with the goal of improving our 'toolset of innovation' during our time together in this course, this week we will spend time understanding the building blocks of differentiation.  By understanding those building blocks and how they are combined, we can then rearrange the blocks and add meaningful innovation, as opposed to failing around to create differentiatiion around an effort of questionable value.

We could spend millions in advertising and marketing to cement your reputation as 'the world's foremost Corgi saddlery,' but you might be less than satisfied with the financial performance of that endeavor.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • frame the importance of "expanding from center" to create sustainability-driven innovation, strategic integration, and brand equity;
  • articulate White, Gray, and Black space and how each can be of strategic interest;
  • deconstruct sustainability strategies and Corporate Sustainability Reports into White, Gray, and Black areas for innovation;
  • conduct research to gain detailed understandings of White, Gray, and Black spaces.

Lesson Roadmap

To Read Chapters 9 and 10 (Keeley, et al.)

Documents and assets as noted/linked in the Lesson (optional)
To Do Case Assignment: Sketching WGB spaces
  • Case Post
  • Case Response
  • Peer Voting


If you have any questions, please send them to my Faculty email. I will check daily to respond. If your question is one that is relevant to the entire class, I may respond to the entire class rather than individually.