Inexperienced innovators often cast their gaze far afield to amazing new markets and horizons, seeking interesting new innovation opportunities.  While those distant horizons seem valuable, they are often difficult to achieve and overlook more realistic innovation opportunities closer to home. 

Experienced innovators know that the best innovation opportunities are typically (and figuratively) right next door.  Marketers and strategists call this an "adjacent" opportunity, which we'll define as adjoining or next to your existing markets, products or solutions.

What adjacency is and why it matters

What's adjacent?  Customer segments, markets or technologies that are just beyond the bounds of your existing offering.  Good examples abound:  Southwest Airlines built a business providing air services to customers that the rest of the industry felt were going to drive or ride the bus.  There were customers adjacent to the typical business flier, but the airlines overlooked or ignored them. 

AirBnB is another example.  While the major hotel chains locked up properties along the highway or in downtown locations, they ignored customers who were interested in staying in other locations.  A map of New York highlighting the locations of major hotels and AirBnb properties demonstrates this.

Adjacent Blindness

Many businesses become blinded to their adjacent opportunities.  Major hotel chains sold specific locations, points, service, restaurants and business services to a specific audience.  Their business models blinded them to other adjacent customers - even though the major hotel chains control applications like reservations and payment mechanisms that AirBnB had to create.

Many times the easiest and most addressable innovation opportunity is just adjacent to your existing business. The proximity gives your offering credibility - customers and markets are already familiar with your presence and offerings, they just want them to be extended in a new or different way.

What's "Next Door" to you?

So the question becomes, what opportunities, customers and markets are "next door" to you that you've overlooked or ignored?  Because your customers and service capabilities are relatively close by, you have familiarity.  More than likely your existing customers and prospects overlap and share information.  These factors mean you have a good chance of solving adjacent problems without appearing to be a radical interloper.

Unless like the hotel chains you ignore the adjacent opportunity even while possessing all of the tools necessary to serve them, and allow an upstart to take control of what was your next door opportunity.  When you start an innovation activity, ignore the urge to seek distant, greener pastures.  Look next door, closer to home, for your next innovation opportunity.