This article introduces a new model to bring decentralized change+innovation to established companies. The model is the result of a 3 year R&D project. If you’d like to read the full paper, drop me a line. The paper is not yet published, but I’d be happy to share it with you.
Startups are nimble. Established companies aren’t. That’s a rule with few exceptions. Whitespace projects provide a simple solution.
There’s something special about solving problems we weren’t hired to solve.
Whitespace projects are self-directed projects that employees work on in the whitespace of their jobs. No permission. No funding. Just one tiny step, one tiny experiment at a time. The ground rules are simple: never create risk, and never let it interfere with assigned duties.
See a problem in operations? Great, go fix it. See a new market opportunity? Great, go unlock it. Think someone is fumbling product design? Great, go try a new approach.
Whitespace projects aren’t new. There has always been the occasional “maverick” employee who tackles problems they weren’t hired to solve. They don’t ask permission. They just do it, under the radar. They still do their regular job. But they also work on their whitespace project, whenever they can free up some time.
At 3M it’s called “bootlegging”. At BMW it’s called “U-boat projects”. These projects have a long history of success.
But most people aren’t mavericks. Whitespace projects are unauthorized. That’s usually the only way forward. It’s hard to sell ideas. Projects with traction sell themselves. Mavericks are the 1 in 1,000 employees willing to venture out alone like this, regardless of the obstacles.
Why make it so hard? Whitespace projects create big wins from unexpected places. They protect companies from blind spots and bad decisions. And they energize employees. It makes no sense to kill this off. Yet that’s what managers usually try to do.
Mavericks may be willing to risk their careers to do what they believe is right for their companies. But most people aren’t. And they shouldn’t have to.
In this essay, I’ll lay out a simple model to bring whitespace projects into any company, at scale. It’s a fast path to nimble, with four key advantages:
- No change to management model
- No risk or disruption to operations
- Clear boundaries for self-directed projects
- Opt-in model
> If you’d like to read the full paper, drop me a line. The paper is not yet published, but I’d be happy to share it with you. —Jim Verquist