StrateTalk No. 1: Kevin Bolen, Partner, Innosight

StrateTalks (Strategy Talks) are summaries of my in-person exchanges with leaders at service and solution providers.

[05/11/10] It was a sunny Tuesday morning in Cambridge, Mass., when I met with Kevin Bolen, who is one of the eight partners of Innosight. Before joining Innosight in 2007, Kevin was the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Lionbridge Technologies.

It’s been a while since our last chat and I was eager to get an update from Kevin on Innosight’s business and his perspective on the innovation consulting landscape.

As with most of the innovation consulting services specialist firms, Innosight was born through the innovation of a new paradigm/model. In this case: disruptive innovation, introduced by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. He founded Innosight with Mark Johnson in 2000.

Ten years later, the firm employs about 50 people and is a publication machine. Why? At Innosight, partners/directors aren’t the only employees publishing articles and books such as Mark’s latest book, Seizing the Whitespace: Business Model Innovation for Growth and Renewal; even analysts (who are entry level at Innosight) are eligible to write.

For more than a year the firm has focused in particular on business model innovation (BMI) in publications and client engagements. BMI is certainly one of those buzz words that is slowly starting to annoy me. Why? All examples mentioned in this context are just a handful and always the same. Certainly, innovating a business model is as easy as grabbing an “Apple” from a tree.

So, I was curious to hear Kevin’s opinion when I challenged him on the hype around BMI. Would it just be high level, less focused on execution, but of course inspiring? No, I was surprised. Kevin convinced me. Why? Innosight’s approach is quite down to earth and very hands on. It is less focused on revolutionizing a business, but truly more focused on identifying growth opportunities in adjacent and “white space” markets. In its model, companies define the optimal business model to deliver on a new value proposition sought by the market and then determine the proper degree of integration to coexist with their core business. Adjacent markets operate closer to the core and can follow more deliberate development paths; true white space opportunities must allow their strategy to emerge through a series of tests and revisions as indicated by the market and thus often need to operate with greater autonomy. In addition, the approach is more like guidance/coaching in order to empower the leadership of clients to identify and execute these opportunities on their own.

What about BMI at Innosight? A new part of the business, Innosight Ventures, has already been established in Singapore a couple of years ago, but this business is now a key focus for Innosight in 2010. Especially interesting in my opinion is the idea of identifying and incubating businesses that work in emerging countries. For example, how would you offer a laundry or grooming service according to Western standards to the base of the pyramid?

Disruption seems to pay off: Innosight saw strong double-digit growth in 2009 and is expecting even stronger growth in 2010.