A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Disruptive Innovation

Brian Wang discusses future disruptive technologies as if the disruptors of the past will also be the disruptors of the future:

Technological disruptors like Elon Musk, Google and Amazon will force industries and companies to accelerate or die. Companies will have to accelerate innovation and move to bolder innovation and attempt to shift to technological leapfrogging and shoot for far more aggressive productivity gains.

_____ https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2017/08/technological-disruptors-and-not-tech-singularity-will-force-companies-to-accelerate-or-die.html

Unfortunately, the “technological disruptors” mentioned by Wang are no longer the young eager disruptors they may once have been:

For all its talk about “disruption,” Silicon Valley is increasingly about three things: money, hierarchy, and conformity. __ Evil Google and Friends

They have become just another part of the power monolith that crushes opportunity and genuine disruptive innovation.

Historically, disruptors too often turn into elitist oppressors. This retreat from disruption often sows the seeds of their own destruction. Successful disruptors of the past become so big and entrenched that they become hesitant to do anything that will “rock the boat” that brought them to the top of the market. They are forced by their success to invest in staid and mediocre “incremental innovation” at the expense of potentially “disruptive innovation.” Radical new technologies threaten the very foundations of their present wealth-generating machines, and siphon off investment and personnel which might have gone to making their golden geese lay ever larger eggs.

No, these rapidly fossilizing giants are doing incremental innovation — no matter how impressive the size of the factory or the rocketship.

Disruption is Not Just Bigger and Better

The thing about disruptive technology is it has to actually disrupt something, not just be different. The internet was disruptive, smart phone was disruptive, social media was disruptive, they were because they offered actual capabilities not possible on traditional platforms and those capabilities made the old way obsolete: the internet offered interactive visual rather than just audio and opened up an entirely new form of communication, the smart phone enabled you to go online not just at home, and social media created a new framework for talking to others. Amazon was disruptive too, not because it put certain items on sale, but because it offered fast shipping and convenience not possible in traditional big box stores. In other words, they all offered new capabilities, not just did something differently.

You can’t just call something disruptive because it either aims to disrupt, or just do something differently, disruptive technologies has to offer new capabilities, something once you use you’ll never go back, not just something neat but otherwise you can easily live without.__ Comment at NBF

Formerly disruptive companies who are now on top, no longer have the freedom to risk it all on a disruptive approach. They have too much to lose.

Distinctly Disruptive

… The disruptive innovation can present an opportunity for startup companies since their resources are fresh and they can allocate it toward a new product development.

As one of the big barriers for startups is the competency with large and older enterprises, the disruptive innovation presents a back door for companies to enter the market with a new offering. According to the Performance/Time diagram, the disruptive innovation can achieve higher performance in shorter time comparing with the incremental innovation.

Conventional Wisdom on Disruptive Innovation

The standard mainstream “Clayton Christensen” conception of disruptive innovation is laid out clearly in the articles and websites below. It is a useful introduction to the idea. But if you look at the accompanying graphics within the articles you should notice a weakness within this mainstream approach:

more at Harvard Business Review

The HBR graphic above does not give an accurate picture of either incremental innovation or disruptive innovation. Notice how both “incremental” and “disruptive” innovations are represented by straight lines, have equal slopes, and that the incremental product proceeds merrily to infinity without being influenced at all by the disruptive product. This is not the real world being represented.

More background:





The graphic below combined with the topmost graphic on this page provide more realistic information:

In the real world, product growth trends are better represented by sigmoid curve — no matter how well the company implements incremental innovation. Likewise, in the real world, disruptive innovations cause old products, markets, and companies to crash and burn.

Historical Turnover in Fortune 500 Listings

The “survival curve” above demonstrates the accelerating turnover of Fortune 500 companies. It illustrates the effects of disruptive innovation — which is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.

… the Fortune 500 is turning over at a faster and faster rate over time. _ Wired


Companies such as Google can try to buck the trend and stay on top, but if their commitment to faux diversity as glimpsed in the James Damore firing is any example of Google’s “flexibility and innovativeness,” then the company is already in trouble. Google’s commitment to a range of green energy scams is another danger sign for the company’s future.

Companies tend to fossilize as soon as they achieve a certain level of success. Overnight successes based upon digital technologies appear particularly susceptible.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX stands apart from his other companies, as a company that provides a much-needed service in an increasingly reliable and affordable manner. It remains an “incremental innovator,” however, and is just as susceptible to disruptive innovations as any other economic enterprise.

Disruptive Innovation is Coming

Disruptive innovation is always coming. And it is a huge threat to the powers that be, and the way that things are done from top to bottom. The most monstrous of modern institutions — media, university, government, old guard corporations and foundations — are most in danger of being undercut. And that is a very good thing, at least for those who are paying attention.

A rabid and rampant postmodernism (video) has been systematically taking away all the things that western people have traditionally lived for: Religion, family, opportunity, freedom to associate, rule of law, property rights, and much more. Escapism via drugs, fantasy, porn, and delusional ideological crusades are all that is left for too many. The Dangerous Child Movement is a direct counter to these irrational and nihilistic trends.

The coming turbulence is not likely to be an opportunity to relax and rest on one’s laurels. Consider how much of your well-being is tied to large institutions, and devise a plan for a rational and measured disengagement. Change is inevitable.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood.

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2 Responses to A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Disruptive Innovation

  1. Abelard Lindsey says:

    The James Damore fiasco strongly suggests that Google no longer has the talent to realize successful development of their “moonshot” projects, including their self-driving car. Google has already started to quietly sell off their recent acquisitions including Boston Dynamics, which was recently sold to a Japanese company.

  2. Pingback: This Week In Reaction (2017/09/03) - Social Matter

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