Have Heard About My Disruptive Technology?

With increasing frequency, the technology crowd has liberally branded new products as “disruptive technologies”. I think it fair to say that most of these new offerings are not disruptive, or even interesting for that matter. They are new products, plain and simple.

The term “disruptive technology” was first used by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen in his 1997 book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. He actually divided new technologies (I.E. innovations) into two buckets: one called disruptive and the other called sustaining.

According to Christensen, a disruptive technology is unrefined and may not even have a practical use at the beginning. Or, ever. The invention of the innovation may be largely accidental and its value may not be recognized at first. In fact, these innovations are typically laughed at and tossed aside. He cites the example of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell which actually took decades before it was adopted for everyday use. Bell was considered an eccentric at best.

Sustaining technology is a different beast altogether. Christensen describes it as improvements to an existing technology or process that are made sequentially over time. You could say the Intel has made continued improvements to its microprocessor technology and, thus, is a maker of sustaining technologies. Intel is good example of the type of firm that is expert at sustaining technologies. Intel’s heritage encourages continuous improvement; additionally, this type of innovation is culturally consistent with Intel and its goals. On the other hand, innovation for innovation’s sake has little cachet at Intel since they hope to capitalize on all new research and development.

A true disruptive technology shocks the status quo and needs an evangelist who can withstand the laughter and ridicule. And, besides being tough skinned, this evangelist must be patient since disruptive technologies are embraced very slowly, if ever.

Beware the marketer that shouts disruptive technology, for it probably is just a pathetic cry for attention.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
My new book “First, Best, or Different” is now available at www.firstbestordifferent.com! Please buy my book!

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