The British subway slogan,  “Mind the Gap,” may be as relevant to business thought leaders as it is to underground rail passengers in England.

Developing and growing a business in today’s economic climate has its challenges.  From labor costs to uncertain markets and regulatory requirements, business ownership is a balancing act.   Margins are low and demands are high.  And yet, for those who have invested time studying the playing field, gains can be made.  Some of the most considerable social and environmental challenges we face also present significant untapped opportunities for companies to develop new products, services and operating models.

Often, social and environmental issues are not as far removed from business interests as originally assumed. 

Successful leaders have capitalized in this arena through thoughtful consideration of the company’s internal challenges and prospects, and how they relate to those of their stakeholders. Taking a landscape view of the groups involved in company success can illuminate opportunities for shared value between business objectives and societal concerns–as well as potential weaknesses that may need to be addressed.  Often, social and environmental issues are not as far removed from business interests as originally assumed.

Using this broader perspective to inform company vision and goal setting can lead to “on the ground” improvements in product development, systems operation and external partnerships.  This may translate to new service offerings like weather-based risk analysis and planning, energy reduction goals in manufacturing (for CO2 reduction and financial benefit) or water conservation initiatives/partnerships (for lower energy costs or footprint reduction in water stressed areas).  The opportunities will be unique to each company, region and stakeholder set.

While it may sound daunting, the process is actually rather simple: start with applying focus to the big picture and define how the firm fits into that scheme.  Follow with broad thinking to identify new business value or risks, and define your competitive edge.  It needn’t all be done in house.  With broad corporate trending toward collaboration, the creation of partnerships between businesses and stakeholders is becoming a commonplace approach to leverage core skills and capitalize on strategic gaps.