Clayton Christensen described the concepts of Disruptive Technology and Disruptive Innovation in his business masterpieces, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and The Innovator’s Solution. If you are in business and haven’t read these, run out and purchase them now… you are behind.
If you don’t consider yourself a head-in-the-clouds suit, these books are still worth a read. The concepts covered impact just about every industry and consumer on the planet. Even if you shun ties, you fall in that category!
In short, we’re talking about how industries are routinely caught by surprise and turned irretrievably upside down. Some explosive new technology or product comes on the market and destroys the old way of doing business. Usually, this new player is ignored as “a toy” by the stodgy incumbent… and by the time that gray-haired behemoth notices the new market shift, it is incapable of reacting. Examples:
Remember the days of scanning the shelves for something new at your local Blockbuster Video? How often do you do that today? Can you say Netflix? Blockbuster wasn’t worried about Netflix in its first few months.
Horse & buggy used to be the primary mode of transport in the US. When horseless carriages first appeared, they were considered dirty, noisy, unsafe, and inefficient. How did you get to work today?
Disruptive technologies often gain a foothold by aiming at a new category of consumer: a person who would not or could not use the incumbent product. The new technology is usually cheaper and less capable than existing solutions, but appeals to a whole new kind of user. While rough in polish and maturity, the new product usually (but not always) includes the sprout of a revolutionary twist not found in traditional products.
The new kid is often ignored by the current market leaders, because it is usually less capable than the existing style of product. Time and time again, however, we see this disruptive product rise in popularity to the point of changing the game in that industry… later building in the capabilities to win over the customers of the old guard and owning the entire, larger pie.
My last company, CFdesign, and my new company, SpaceClaim, are great examples of this disruptive technology class. CFdesign was the first CFD tool to target frontline, multi-tasking Mechanical Engineers instead of full-time, PhD level CFD specialists. The product lacked high end functionality (like multi-phase, chemical reaction, and free surface simulation), but was priced radically less than traditional CFD tools and built to be usable by non-specialists. Similarly, SpaceClaim is a 3D geometry manipulation tool that primarily targets users outside of the CAD department who could be working in 3D but are allergic to the learning curve and purpose of a traditional CAD tool.
Christensen also talks about the flipside of the innovation coin, Sustaining Innovation. Sustaining Innovation is where most companies spend their mental capital. Essentially, it’s about improving your existing product for the existing market of users. Sustaining innovation rarely leads to a revolutionary market upending. Examples:
“In the new release of SuperCAD 2010, you can now open 2X larger assemblies with the same hardware.”
“Our chemical reaction modeling in CFDsim 2010 now allows for 8 instead of 2 reacting species.”
“FEApro 2010’s new meshing algorithm is 220% faster!”
What “disruptive” (or even earth-shattering “sustaining”) forces do you predict in the FEA and CFD world? Hoping to start a lively, forward looking discussion in the comments section below. All thoughts are welcome!