I recently wrote about the true meaning of innovation, (click to read ‘What is Innovation…really?) and my thoughts brought me to another topic along the theme of change—disruptive technology.
“Disruptive technology” sounds like an irritation. I guess change can be perceived that way. innovation-and-disruptive-technology
Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen identified emerging technologies as falling into one of two categories: sustaining or disruptive.
In his 1997 bestseller, “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Companies to Fail,” Christensen explained that sustaining innovations are those accepted ones that experience incremental improvements.
Disruptive innovations present a substantial detour that requires people to rethink the way they’ve used their technology.
The telephone, for example, grew as a sustainable innovation—from the old-fashioned rotary, to touch-tone, to portable to cell phone. When it reached smartphone technology, however, the phone became much more.
It transformed to the level of “disruptive technology.”
Disruptive products, Christensen says, are those that are “cheaper, simpler, smaller, and frequently, more convenient to use.” Christensen cited the evolution of computer technology. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) used to dominate the industry with its massive mainframe computers. Then desktop computers emerged, with disk-drives that shrank from 14 inches to 8 inches and to 5.25 inches, and smaller, displacing the behemoth systems, which could cost as much as $200,000 for a mainframe. The disruptive technology identified a new market—consumers, instead of businesses. Apple then focused on its disruptive innovation—a personal computer that was easier to use, but came at a higher price.
The “disruptive” part of innovation isn’t merely the need to adapt to change, but the jolt that unrefined technology delivers.
Remember when the first iPhone launched in 2007?
People lined up to pay an exorbitant price for the promise of something amazing.
The early adopters sparked the feeding frenzy, but Apple realized its price was prohibitive for the larger share of the market it anticipated, so they lowered it a few months later, a “disruptive” move that angered early adopters, but successfully lured others. Then they discovered that the new technology needed refinements, so they continued to release new versions.
People have a love-hate relationship with their technology. They love it when it works, and hate it when it doesn’t.
Disruptive technology isn’t a bad thing. It’s a sign that there’s a need to be met.
The fact that the innovation doesn’t launch with ease or perfection creates an opportunity for innovators to refine it. We have become conditioned to accept that our new technology comes with glitches. We are also trained to believe that those glitches will be fixed in upcoming versions.
Disruptive technology shakes things up. It prompts us to examine our lives, our actions, and our expectations. We want the cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient-to-use features that come with innovation. Are we willing to pay the price of disruption? I think it’s truly the only way we can benefit from the power of technology.
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