In many sports, there is a strategy called finding the gaps.
In volleyball, points are scored by placing the ball where the opposing team is not. Coaches often urge players to look for where the other team isn’t for serving and hitting opportunities to score points. If all of the opposing players are gathered close to the net, hit it to the back line. If your opponent is playing deep, tip the ball short .
In baseball, my colleague says players aim to “hit the ball where they ain’t!” in the style of his juniors coach.
With both of these examples, it requires skill to know where the ball is and simultaneously know where your opponent is not. Finding the gaps.
Finding the gaps in sports requires skill, practice, and communication with teammates. But finding the gaps in ourselves, our work, our industry, the wide world? Not so simple. Finding the gaps in these more abstract arenas requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and being cognizant of our allies and competitors. Vigilance is key – we must constantly be on the lookout for opportunities and openings for improvement.
Too often we get bogged down with the banality of life, specifically at work. Produce this report, redline these drawings, approve this submittal, respond to that email. Get up in the morning, go to work, head home, rinse and repeat. If we don’t disrupt this endless cycle, we might find ourselves living in the manifestation of Office Space, Workaholics, or some other pop-culture stereotype of a horrendously awful work environment.
But squint your eyes and come up 30,000 feet. Where are there missed opportunities? Where could a process be improved? What is missing from your operations or your client engagements that could be a viable product or service? Why not pursue the void – and do something about it?
Fifteen years ago, OPX began finding gaps in the market, our clients’ operations, and even our own. The first series of gaps were in commercial interiors , where we observed a disconnect between a company’s business priorities and space design. This ultimately led us to uncover more gaps in how companies operated. We even shifted our focus from commercial interior spaces to a more holistic strategy – we make good companies work better- through our Integrated Operating Environment (IOE) process.
The first series of gaps were external – we saw gaps in the marketplace and uncovered further gaps in how groups were operating. The marketplace gap was a question of value proposition – in a highly commoditized commercial interiors environment, how could we create value for our clients and ourselves – and simultaneously create demand in the marketplace? The sheer act of asking these questions is part of what would ultimately produce (and continues to produce) operational results for our clients and ourselves.
In order to better design their workspaces, we started more deeply analyzing how companies operate. Once we took that deeper look inside some of our clients, however, we saw a need to understand their operations more fully. We needed a clearer picture of the other components of work – not just space. Another gap. We found that they actually didn’t work very well. Their key components – people, tools, and place – operated more or less independently. At the time, we were designing the physical environment to address only those things that were directed to us by a client’s leadership, facilities, or real estate teams. But as design thinkers, we knew we had a mission to address their real challenge – how to operate better – from a human-centered approach.
We had this recurring sense that if People, Tools and Place were aligned more harmoniously, the people in the company would perform better. Instead of focusing solely on space as the main driver of change, what if we developed a system to integrate People, Tools and Place to drive organizational change? People would find more value in their work because integrating these three components would reduce much of the internal friction that had resulted from not intentionally designing their work with People, Tools and Place in mind.
At the time it seemed like a logical conclusion, but we couldn’t demonstrate it. The first way to close that gap was to build an analysis process and develop new expertise – which ultimately became our IOE process. We were both inspired and encouraged by the notion of the radically different (and new at the time!) Blue Ocean Strategy , a business philosophy on market creation and building organizational growth.
We saw our initial IOE offering as radically different, and we hoped, inherently more valuable to the organizations we serve. As it turns out, the market responded and we were able to produce a new offering, approach and value to both our clients and us.
By responding to the gap in service offerings for ourselves and our clients, our IOE process was born, and continues to grow. We’re inspired by the opportunity to seek out those gaps and develop highly effective and valued service offerings, all while producing operational results for ourselves and the organizations we serve.
It’s those openings that motivate us to continually expand our services, further committing to our mission — we make good companies work better. So next time something isn’t working or could use improvement… hit the ball where they ain’t!