Creating White Space Innovations – Using innovation maps to create white space innovations

Segment 1: White Space Innovations

Create an innovation map to find the white space opportunities by mapping this history of your products, markets, industry or customer segments against two dimensions

  • Vertical dimension: convenience/experience
  • Horizontal dimension: quality

By mapping the history, you will start to see the rut that you are in.  Identify white space opportunities by looking for open space beyond the trend line one the innovation map you just created.

Segment 2: Killer Question Of The Week

  • What is inconvenient about purchasing my product
  • What is inconvenient about using my product
  • What is inconvenient about disposing of my product?
  • What could I charge if I improved the quality by 5X?
  • What single component, if re-designed, could significantly improve the quality?

Segment 3: Closing Thoughts

“Do not follow where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”  Muriel Strode

Podcast Transcript for Creating White Space Innovations

[Start of Audio]

Sometimes it’s a struggle to find that one thing that will separate your idea from the pack.  By using such tools as innovation maps you can find that new idea, that one that falls into the white space where nobody has gone before to create the next killer innovation.  I’ll be right back.


This is the Killer Innovations Podcast with Phil McKinney.  Keep in mind that the information and opinions expressed in this podcast are Phil’s and Phil’s alone and they don’t necessarily reflect those of his past, current, or future employers.  Now, here’s Phil McKinney.


As I’ve said many times before, truly new innovations are extremely rare.  In most cases, innovations are built upon some concept that has already existed.  Some kind of an improvement.  And let’s face it; the iPod was not the first music player.  Ford was not the inventor of the automobile and Edison was not the inventor of the light bulb.  Now, I know I’m bursting a lot of your bubbles on perceptions of people who have really gone out there and created those breakthrough ideas, but neither the iPod, Ford, or Edison really created something new.  They built upon concepts and ideas that already existed.  What each of these innovations did was find the white space, an established area that allowed them to dominate their market.  Well, what do I mean by white space?  A white space is a unique set of attributes, not an existing product that customers truly value.  A white space being some place totally new where your competitors currently aren’t focusing.  So, again, it’s a unique set of attributes not in existing products that customers will truly value.  The term comes from the concept of an innovation map.  An innovation map is really a two-dimensional graph that I use to identify white space opportunities.  Now, in order to find these new opportunities you need to lay out the innovation map of your market, your industry, your customer segment, whatever is meaningful to you in your markets.  Now, keep in mind, don’t get caught up in looking at it the same way that everybody else does, you need to do it differently.  So, how do you do these innovation maps?  First off, define two characteristics that are meaningful to you, whatever they might be.  Now what I tend to use is on the horizontal axis I lay out quality.  On the vertical axis I lay out either convenience or experience.  Now sometimes I’ll intermingle the two and in some cases I’ll actually use one word that means both characteristics.  Horizontal axis there’s quality and vertical axis is either convenience or the user experience.  Why do I pick these two?  Because if you look at most of the breakthrough innovations (the iPod, the automobile, the light bulb) they focused on changing one or both of these two characteristics.  And what you tend to find in most innovations and most companies, especially the established leaders, is they have focused on one, they have focused on quality or they have focused on convenience.  It’s very hard to focus on both.  If you lay out your competitors, you lay out your industry, you can find the white space where all of your competitors are focused on one area, you can focus on the other area.  Next, draw a chart.  Horizontal is convenience; the vertical axis is quality and lay out kind of a history of your industry.  What you need to do to get started from, where is it today and where could it possibly go?  So in this case let’s talk about music.  There’s been a lot of focus on the iPod as really being that killer breakthrough idea for the last couple of years but if you looked back and laid out the innovation map could you have been Steve Jobs and identified the white space area that the iPod dominated?  So, again, quality vertical, convenience on the horizontal starting in the lower left-hand corner what was the first thing that really kind of brought music – that kind of portable space?  Well, I would put there the AM radio.  Let’s face it, the battery-powered, transistorized radio of the late ’50s really was kind of the starting point when you think about being able to take your music with you and make it portable.  Next up, you could think of things like cassette tapes, LP vinyl, whatever the next link you think it is.  Next up would be CDs.  Now these are kind of getting a little bit towards the convenience side so they’re kind of going up and to the right.  They’re improving in quality from the original AM radio, which is only a mono.  And then what happened with CDs?  Basically you saw a jump to the right with the advent of the Mp3 player.  In many cases, you know, Mp3 does not even give you really the CD quality, so you could actually put it a little bit lower on the quality line, but it clearly made it more convenient in the fact that I could burn, I could put it onto my PC, my laptop, with the advent of Mp3 players I could carry it with me.  And then what was next?  Well, what Steve and the team at Apple uncovered was the fact that convenience had a huge opportunity to the right.  Meaning that there was a huge white space in the fact that it was still very hard.  You had to burn your CDs, you had the whole issue of the record industry and copyright protection and DRM and all of those issues – and what Steve identified was the fact that there was this huge white space opportunity to the right in order to create a significant improvement in the convenience factor for you being able to carry your music with you.  And that white space turned into being the launch of the iPod.  So, again, the key here was that rather than just focusing on just the quality meaning, okay, you could argue which audio compression, whether it’s Mp3 or any of the other compression technologies that are out there are going to deliver you better quality, Apple really kicked in was the issue of convenience.  And not just convenience for the user, but also it created a convenience for the music industry in their ability to sell their music in new ways to customers and hopefully combat against the issues of copy protection, etc.  So the key there was the fact that by laying out that map starting with the AM radio going to cassettes/vinyl/LP going to CDs – we jumped from CDs to Mp3s.  Then what happened was that you could see the white space to the right where convenience radically changing the convenience factor is what launched the iPod and the success that you’ve seen from that.  But don’t stop there, what are some other kinds of roadmaps or innovation maps that you could lay out from the standpoint of when you think about music?  Well, one is just to think about quality from the standpoint of mono to stereo.  So, again, if you laid out an innovation map that said lower left-hand corner is AM radio coming up is FM. radio with the advent of stereo then the stereo high quality stereo that you now have in your homes and in your Mp3 players.  With the advent of 5.1 surround sound and now with the emergence of 7.1 surround sound and hi-definition radio you can start to see the launch of the quality curve coming with the quality of the music sound that’s being delivered to you both in your home, your office and in your portable players.  But if you laid out this innovation map of AM radio mono, FM radio, stereo, 5.1 surround sound, 7.1 surround sound, what are the white space opportunities here?  Everything is focused on quality, the white space is to the right on the convenience, but what innovatio
ns or what ideas could you come up with to create a killer innovation in the area of stereo or high quality audio sound.  So for instance could you invent a way to have 5.1 surround sound without the hassle of the wires?  Now for any of you who hooked up 5.1 surround whether it’s in your desk or in your office at home or in your living room off of your new hi-definition TV you know it’s a hassle.  You’ve got to run these wires along the baseboards.  So could you create some kind of significant innovation to the right that would improve the convenience factor of having 5.1?  Quality is marching along; the white space is to the right, on your innovation map, with regards to convenience?  So could you invent a way to have 5.1 surround without the hassle of wires?  What about 7.1, which is the new emerging surround-sound experience?  Don’t settle for doing the same as everyone else.  You need to find those new white space areas.  And don’t look at your industry or marketplace in the same way; don’t think about it the same way that everybody else does.  Come up with your own characteristics.  In my case I tend to find that quality and convenience are the first step at trying to identify what are some of the unique characteristics.  Now in some cases it may involve me coming up with some additional characteristics to get down below to the next level of detail.  But start someplace.  Start with the fact that you need to find where is everybody else marching, what’s kind of the trend line for the next level of innovation?  5.1?  7.1?  What are we going to do, go to 9.1 surround sound?  What the heck does that mean?  I don’t know.  But you can see the trends that the industry is going on.  Go to the white space, find something different and by finding these white spaces and by finding these innovations and ideas in these white spaces you can discover the possible unmet needs and create the next killer innovation.


This week’s “Killer Question” is tied to the whole concept of white space innovations.  So if you agree with me that quality and convenience are the right characteristics, then what are some of the right killer questions to ask yourself and your team?  Look beyond the obvious, so here are a set of killer questions tied to convenience and quality to force you and your team to think differently about how you win in white space innovations.  First, what is inconvenient about purchasing my product?   What is inconvenient about purchasing my product?  Now I can speak from personal experience given the holiday season and some of the absolute horrible shopping experiences I’ve had over the last couple of weeks.  Believe me, if anybody can come up with a better shopping experience I’m all for it.  So what is inconvenient about purchasing my product?  What is inconvenient about using my product?  Now I’ve beat on this horse many times in previous podcasts; I’m not going to beat on it here, but simplicity is the key.  It’s very easy to make a product hard to use, it’s very hard to make a product easy to use.   So what is inconvenient about using my product?  Next, what is inconvenient about disposing of my product?  Now this is becoming an increasingly important area, it’s becoming increasingly important for certain consumers in certain market segments; electronics being one is what is the entire lifecycle of the product?  Meaning if I buy it I use it, what do I do with it when I’m done?  You just can’t dispose of them normally but can you create a unique experience for your customer to where you’ll take that product off their hands and properly dispose of that in order to make it an entire lifecycle from the standpoint of managing the experience.  It’s a unique area, some place you should look into.  And the other area is on quality.  What could I charge if I improve the quality by 5X.  Whatever the measurement is for your quality, what could you charge if you can improve the overall quality of your product 5X?  What would a customer be willing to pay for that?  Think about high-end automobiles, high-end electronics, high-performance computing.  Whatever.  If you could increase the quality of your product 5X what could you charge?  And then in addition to that what single component, if you redesigned it, could significantly improve the quality?  Now be honest with yourself, go look at your product, go look at what your competitors are doing in those product areas, and find that one area that if you made a significant amount of improvement whether that’s a new design, new innovation, entirely new way to do it, but it would significantly improve the quality of your product, what would it be?  And then what would some ideas in order to solve the quality issue with that one component?  So again I’m going to run through all these questions:  first, what is inconvenient about purchasing my product?  Two, what is inconvenient about using my product?  Three, what is inconvenient about disposing of my product?  Four, what could I charge if I improve the quality by 5X?  And what single component if redesigned could significantly improve the quality?  Now use these answers to find those white space opportunities.  Look at your product; look at your market segment differently than your competitors and others in your industry.  Use the answers to these questions to come up with that white space innovation and to develop that truly innovative breakthrough and to come up with that next killer innovation.


This week’s closing thought again is on the whole concept of white space innovation.  Now as I said before, innovations build on each other.  The iPod was not the first music player; Ford did not invent the automobile.  What Ford invented was an economical way to manufacture the automobile to improve the quality and to improve the experience from the standpoint of making the product more affordable to a broader market segment.  Same thing with Edison.  He did not invent the light bulb.  What he invented was the overall system of electricity generation, electricity distribution and improve the light bulb from the standpoint of its ability to last longer meaning convenience from the standpoint that you wouldn’t have to change it sooner.  But again innovations build on each other and in each of those cases you can look at early entrance into the market that broke through onto new areas and the real winners are the ones that can look at the current leaders, look for those white spaces and therefore be able to dominate by moving into the white space areas.  So, again, innovations build on each other, but sometimes this creates a path that becomes overly crowded.  Everybody is going along the same path – stereo, 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround.  To win you need to find a new path.  You need to find a path out into the white space, out into the areas where others are not going and find those things that customers truly value.  Muriel Strode said it best, “Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”


Thanks again for listening to this week’s podcast.  Please send your feedback to  You can also skype me at phil_mckinney.  You can also connect our networks via LinkedIn.  Send me an invite to  Please note that you are a listener.  I get a lot of invitations fr
om LinkedIn and unless I see that you are a listener I normally don’t accept, so if you notify me via your invite that you are a listener to this podcast, I’ll go ahead and accept that invite and we can connect our networks.  The Killer Innovations CD project is underway for those of you who are new listeners, I’m getting a lot of requests over the last 18 months since I’ve been producing these podcasts about putting together kind of a “best of” or at least put together the content from the podcast into kind of a CD format, 60 minutes, that you could then share with managers, your executives and your team members, people who normally maybe don’t listen to a podcast or who don’t download music, etc. but put it into a format that you could share that kind of gives them kind of a overview, background and the whole philosophy behind the Killer Innovations methodology but also why innovation is important for a corporation today.  So, the Killer Innovations CD project is underway.  Please continue to send me your thoughts and your ideas.  So the questions I’m looking for you to answer are would you share the CD if it were available and who would you share it with?  Keep in mind that the cost will be zero for all intents and purposes.  What content do you want to see on this CD?  So you’ve listened to these podcasts, many of you have gone back and listened to all these shows and now I think – I’ve lost track of how many shows there are.  Probably up to, what, 70 shows now, which means there’s 35 or 40 hours of podcast content out there on innovation now.  But what content, what were your favorite shows that you would want to make sure that the basics of that content made it onto the CD?  So, again, let me know, send me your feedback at  Also I’m looking for feedback on the audio quality of the podcast.  This last week I’ve made some significant investments in new microphones, new equipment to do the recording, etc., in order to try to improve the quality.  I’ve gotten a couple of e-mails on people with some suggestions to improve the audio quality so I’m looking for feedback on how this sounds so let me know.  Also, we’re at the first of the month since this is the first podcast for 2007.  At the beginning of every month there is voting that goes on amongst all the podcasters based on the listeners so this is the best opportunity for you to kind of give feedback to the producers of your favorite podcast that you appreciate all the time and effort they put in to producing the best content out there.  So go out there, go to PodcastAlley, Podcast Pickle, and vote for your favorite podcast and let other listeners know that you do – what you listen to and why.  So, again, thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to listen.  I know it takes time out to do the downloads, to listen to the content, to provide feedback, to participate in the Killer Innovations Community; if you’re not a participant in the Killer Innovations Community, go out to, click on the community tab, go on out there, participate in the conversations, contribute, learn – there’s a lot of really top-notch innovators that participate in the KI Community Site, there’s an opportunity for you to learn beyond just what you hear here in the podcast. So again, thanks.  I really do appreciate you taking the time out to download and listen to the podcast.  And remember, pay it forward.  I get a lot of questions as to why I produce these podcasts – it is my way to pay it forward for mentors early in my career who invested their time and energy into me and I’m doing this podcast as my way of fulfilling an obligation that I made to those mentors to pay it forward to others.  And for me to pass on my experiences and my expertise and my knowledge to others.  So here’s your opportunity, all I ask is that you pay it forward.  If you find the podcast beneficial and helpful to you, pay it forward by telling others.

Again, thanks for listening; we’ll talk to you real soon.  Bye-bye.


[End of Audio]

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