Innovations come in two flavors: continuous and discontinuous. The market decides. There is nothing inherent in the idea itself that discerns which is which. Market research determines the matter.
If you have a market, it is continuous. If not, it is discontinuous. Still, it depends on how you frame the innovation. You can frame a discontinuous innovation as a radical innovation, or a continuous innovation.
Object-oriented programming was once a radical thing. The release of the first object-oriented Windows API settled the matter, because it did little more than add gets and puts, a continuous framing from functional programming. Even today, much of the promise of objects has gone unfulfilled. That has led to a renaissance of the radicals pushing object thinking, with its inherent opposition to gets and puts.
What happened with these shifts from radical to continuous and back to radical was a change in the idea’s vector of differentiation. Every aspect of an idea has a vector of differentiation, which implies that an idea has many vectors of differentiation. In framing we pick, we prioritize, we package, we create a conceptualization, which evolves into a product, and an offer. Every aspect of an offer has a vector of differentiation. This takes care of business model innovation crowd.
Every vector of differentiation has a price-performance, or s-curve. Those business model innovations are a collection of s-curves. S-curves settle the matter of “disruption.” S-curves have been around longer than Christensen. He used them in his books on disruption. Disruption happens when the slope of the entrant’s s-curve exceeds that of the incumbent’s. Such an event happens only after a particular idea has been invested in and improved to that point.
Such an event can happen to an idea over and over. Why? Implementation matters. If you achieve disruption, but get stalled, so that your aggregate slope falls below that of a disruption, well, ouch! Then, you might just achieve disruption again. Time and money matter, but so does hitting the price-performance targets with the R&D.
I found myself asking when would an innovation achieve disruption, not in terms of when one would see the disruption, but on a timeline, in time.
Here I drew a single s-curve. The attacker is near the bottom of the s-cuve. The slope of the attacker’s s-curve is increasing. The incumbent is near the top of the curve. The slope of the incumbent’s s-curve is decreasing. Those two rates are going to intersect. But, when?
I decided to reflect the incumbent’s position around the s-curve’s inflection point and then project it down to the time axis. The time interval between the attacker’s current position on the s-curve, and the incumbent’s projected position represents the Time to Disruption (TTD).
This is a bit nuts, because there should be two s-curves, not one.
Here I’ve shown the two s-curves, their rates, and the disruptive event. The interval between the attacker’s present, NOW, and the disruptive event, again, constitutes the Time To Disruption. The relative positions of the s-curves is arbitrary, except for the expectations of where an attacker would be in their s-curve and where an incumbent would be on their s-curve. You would expect an incumbent to be in or approaching commoditization, which typically happens below the top of the s-curve, but beyond the inflection point of their s-curve.
The attacker and incumbent would likewise be in different positions on Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle. The disruptive event was projected into both lifecycles. For an attacker, disruption marks an important moment in its efforts in the early market. Disruption would happen before sales would push the market into the tornado, so I’ve just annotated the end of the tornado, and my expectation that disruption would occur as a trigger to a tornado. The incumbent would be in the early market, late market or the aftermarket (not shown).
The point here is that talking about disruption is speculative. A technology isn’t disruptive in the front windshield view of the daily do. A technology is disruptive in a retrospective manner. Use the word “discontinuous” instead.
Technology is the application of thought. Every discipline even street sweeping engages in thought, aka technology, not just high tech. Innovation is an idea, ok an idea undergoing commercialization, or adoption and sale. And, one last swipe at sloppy lexiconizations, only technology is adopted. Products and services are sold, or given away. Products are not adopted.
Yeah, I know, incremental, as in how we deliver it.
The words have their effects in the world, but that is a topic for another day.