Creating White Space Innovation: Interview with Bryan Guerra

Dave Knies

Bryan Guerra joined Breakaway's team in mid-2017 to help launch our Innovation Consulting practice. Since then, Bryan has led our team's work creating new products, services, business models and growth opportunities for Dunkin’ Donuts, Post Cereals, Baskin-Robbins, Bemis Worldwide, Velcro® Brand, Tishman Speyer, Oath Pizza and others. Before joining Breakaway, Bryan worked with renowned Harvard Business School Professor and author of The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen, to help design + launch HBX - the disruptive, online education platform of Harvard Business School; previously, Bryan worked at Fahrenheit 212 and American Express. A trained right brain / left brain thinker, Bryan holds advanced degrees in engineering from Stanford University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


First of all, what is "White Space"?

At its most basic level, White Space is a new market for a business to grow. Now, this sounds really obvious and underwhelming, but its actually incredibly powerful, particularly given the speed of today’s consumer and competitive threats.

The challenge with White Space is that its generally comprised of consumers that have unmet needs; that is, consumers that are either currently buying from incumbent players in the market – though not fully satisfied with what they’re getting– or, consumers that aren't buying at all – either because they can’t access the solutions (they're remote or expensive) or the solutions don’t adequately meet their needs. In either case, it can be incredibly difficult for a company to identify these opportunities, because on the one hand, the market looks completely saturated, while, on the other hand, it doesn’t look like there is a market at all. 

Without expertise, this is like trying to navigate a foreign city without a map versus having a smartphone. This is why most companies just stick to trying to grow in their current market – squeezing more out of current consumers with incremental innovations that just barely move the needle.

For companies that can successfully find and capitalize on white space, the competitive advantage is dramatic: consistent year-over-year growth, extremely satisfied and loyal customers, and new, exciting, and highly targeted innovations.

Of course, things don’t just stop at creating white space, you have to actually capture it – which could require anything from new product or service design to business model innovation. This is where Breakaway comes in.


What are some examples of companies who have created White Space to unlock new growth opportunities?

Of course the most famous examples are Apple, with the introduction of iPod and iTunes that completely transformed the company, and Netflix, who transformed from a DVD rental solution to a content streaming service. Domino’s has also done a great job of finding white space in a very crowded category by re-inventing itself as a quirky tech company that happens to sell pizza, rather than a traditional pizza restaurant.


There are tons of “innovation firms” out there. How does Breakaway approach Innovation consulting differently? 

Innovation consulting itself is in need of finding its own white space. From slick powerpoint decks to “concept car” innovations that go nowhere, the past ten years have seen the industry unfortunately gain a reputation as being full of  “snake oil salesmen.” 

We deliberately set out at Breakaway to be different – to create real impact.

Our difference starts with the core of who we are at Breakaway – entrepreneurs. We favor action over creating presentation decks. We’ve started our own innovative fast casual concept – Oath Pizza – and we take this entrepreneurial mindset and approach with us on every new engagement. Second, we operate alongside an expert network of advisors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders that adds expertise and insight to our team. This "Ocean's Eleven" approach helps us become instantly expert on any type of industry or problem, without having to rely solely on the experience of just those on our core team. Finally, we are fast. And when I say fast, I mean we are really fast. Our sprint process and innovation team have honed an approach that makes others look like they’re moving in slow-motion, in comparison. In fact, we’ve conducted entire engagements that have taken other firms months, in just a few weeks time.

We were so excited when Dan Wheeler, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Dunkin' Brands said,  "Hiring Breakaway was absolutely the right move for our team. They were able to help us jumpstart our transformational innovation capabilities and rethink our approach to solving major business problems in 90 days.” 


You must hear the word “Disruption” constantly! Tell us more about your work with Clayton Christensen and some of the key lessons you learned? 

I do hear “disruption" very frequently. You would think I’d get used to it, but it never gets old. Working with Clay was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. There was so much to learn, but two things really stuck out:

The first has to do with humility – approaching every problem with fresh eyes, no matter how familiar it may seem. As a consultant, this is contradictory: developing “muscle memory” through industry practice is meant to improve your strategic recommendations and make you faster, as you gain experience. However, this comes as the risk of falling into the “this situation looks an awful lot like that one” mindset. Through working with Clay, and seeing how he would apply a very clear-eyed analysis to every situation, no matter how familiar it seemed, I gained a real appreciation for the importance of humility in being a great innovator-consultant, and to assess every situation as a unique one, no matter how familiar it may seem.

The second lesson has to do with a sign that hangs on Clay’s office door that reads: “Anomalies Wanted.” In other words, as one conducts analyses and develops theories, learn to embrace those things that stand out and study why they exist. Challenge your thinking and your hypotheses, so that your strategies are as robust as possible and can withstand scrutiny. Anomalies are not problems, they are opportunities.


Which brands + companies do you admire most as innovators?

Peloton is a company that has done a fantastic job of creating a product and experience that really resonates with consumers, in a new and emerging market. I m excited to see what the future brings for Peloton. Likewise, Airbnb continues to reinvent the traveling experience, taking on huge incumbent players in the hotel industry.


What’s the best way for a client or partner of Breakaway to get started on an Innovation project?

Just reach out! (Email us). We’re always excited to chat about a problem or challenge that you or your business may be facing – whether that’s finding white space, launching a new product, or simply uncovering deep consumer insights to fuel strategy.

We work best when we operate as true partners, so understanding your business and specific challenge is key to framing the engagement. Typically, projects last anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months, depending upon your needs. The details of our engagements are also very flexible. Like your own personal commando team, our approach is designed to work under any type of circumstances. Our goal is simply to produce the best results that move your business forward.