Sunday, April 3, 2011

Leadership, Dark Matter and the White Space...


Much has been made of the concept of white space in the last several years. Specifically from an innovation or new market identification and exploitation perspective. Mark W. Johnson's book "Seizing the White Space - Business Model Innovation"...(you can see his website here...Seizing the White Space) details how corporations and businesses need to focus time on the white space to speed innovation. He uses a series of case studies of where corporations like Lockheed Martin and Xerox ventured into the white space (Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works is a classic example) and created new innovative products, but their business models weren't ready. For Lockheed Martin this took the form of a new class of hybrid airship that was developed to carry heavy reconnaissance payloads or the U.S. Government. Yet, the hybrid airship created a buzz for use in a series of markets that Lockheed Martin's business model was not suited or prepared to execute in the new market.

In many respects, our efforts like leaders are sometimes like a successful business model. Because we think or perceive what makes successful leadership in the organization, we are unable to see new and innovative ways of leading because, much like Lockheed Martin, we are not operating in the white space of great leadership.

This topic is not new. Eric Schulz of The Occasional CEO blog wrote about this in 2008. He raises the concept of dark matter being discovered that binds the universe together and using the analogy to discuss what holds talent together in organizations. Of course that dark matter in this respect is leadership.

But for leadership to act as dark also has to operate in and out of the white space of teams and organizations. As a leader operating in the white space, you must look for opportunities to engage and align your team's activities in relation to the business strategy or mission. This requires using your skills to look at where potential connections within the white space need to be exploited. As I have led organizational restructures, my efforts operating in the leadership white space have been to look for these opportunities where there hasn't previously been value-added connections. These connections have increased efficiency and/or effectiveness of what the team was doing to support the organizational culture.

As a great leader, you have to recognize what these opportunities are in the white space, provide direction and then step out of the white space. This then provides the fertile ground for innovation creativity within the team. Now the leader watches and observes the white space. They don't tell people how to operate in the white space...they allow the team to experiment and learn.

So as you engage with your team this week...act like dark matter to keep the team together. Then think of the white space opportunities you can create and the type of environment that will allow your team to learn and grow. The benefits are enormous...engaged employees, learning employees, quality products, and satisfied customers.


J. Keith Dunbar is a Fearless Transformational Global Leader...Creator of Talent, Leadership Capability, and Culture Change…He can be found connecting and sharing knowledge on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Twitter: JKeithDunbar
DNA of Human Capital:

The opinions or views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Defense Intelligence Agency.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the mention, Keith. Nice post. There's a very good TED talk on dark matter here: