"You say you want a revolution, yeah we know," Lennon sang drily, "We all want to change the world". Disruption is relatively easy, it's coming up with a lasting replacement with mass appeal that's hard. It takes foresight, for a start.
Christensen observed that established companies, often built on the back of an innovative technology, have a tendency to be 'blindsided' by the growth of a disruptive technology which they have previously dismissed for being flawed. This is one of the fascinating aspects of the rapid innovation cycles that we are in: seeing a technology introduced that may initially appear unsustainable, and then realizing that while it has been operating in the market, it has, almost accidentally, stumbled upon its killer use case, developed a value proposition and achieved a position to bid for market leadership.
Many people dismissed the potential of Uber
to succeed in New York City, where you can, most times of the day and in the center of the city, walk out the front door and stick out your arm and get a cab in a matter of minutes. But after years of iteration and product optimization, Uber organically evolved and improved, and now no one would contest that it offers New Yorkers something radically better and more convenient than the old system used to, in certain distinct ways.
Your blogger can recall scoffing at Open Table
as some unnecessary embellishment of the simple act of calling a restaurant to make a reservation. Yet it is now hard to imagine life without it, given how painful it can be to call restaurants and wait to speak to a human being, and how quick and simple it now is to bag the available space online, or get a recommendation of alternative times and similar establishments.
Many inventions at first seem laughable, indeed the current buzz around the Internet of Things has thrown up plenty of eyebrow-furrowing material. The 'connected belt
' springs to mind, which will tell you if you're eating too much and suggest a healthier diet. Who knows?
One could equally well question the value of the much-vaunted 'connected thermostat' such as those made by Nest
, because 'you can use the internet to turn it on and off when you are not there', when of course the battery-operated timer has been doing that perfectly well for decades.
People also once queried the value of SMS on the basis that it is more arduous for a teenager to write a message than say something into a phone. However they had not appreciated how convenient it would be to send a message without someone having to be on the other end of the line to receive it, aka the direct but asynchronous connection, or the emotional shelter afforded by indirect, real-time communication.
The point here is that it's hard to predict how an innovation will behave. Of course, it all comes down to user-friendliness. A common denominator of most disruptive innovations is that they were introduced by someone who wanted to use them personally, rather than being struck by some flash of heaven-sent genius. Aside from the occasional, mind-boggling original inventions, it is not until you have put something out into the market and received feedback from users as to what they like most about it, that you as an innovator are likely to know what a given product or technology is going to be most useful for, and hence the degree to which it may disrupt an industry — or not.