Disruptive Technologies and Disruptive Innovations

Question: What is a disruptive technology?

Christensen:    At the beginning of almost every industry, the available products and services are so expensive to own and complicated to use that only people with a lot of money and a lot of skill have access to them.  A disruptive technology is an innovation that simplifies the product and makes it so affordable that a whole new population of people can now have one and use it at the beginning for simple applications, and then it improves to the point that it makes the old technology obsolete. 

Question: What is a disruptive innovation?

Christensen:    Well, every disruptive innovation is powered by a simplifying technology, and then the technology has to get embedded in a different kind of a business model.  So, if I could illustrate that, the early… the first two decades of digital computing were characterized by these huge mainframe computers that filled a whole room, and they cost $1 to $4 million, had to be operated by PhD Computer Scientists.  It took the engineers at IBM about four years to design these mainframe computers because there were no rules.  It was an intuitive art and just by trial and error and experimentation they would evolve to a computer that worked.  The personal computer was a disruptive innovation relative to the mainframe because it enabled even a [poor fool] like me to have a computer and use it, and it was enabled by the development of the micro processor.  The micro processor made it so simple to design and build a computer that [IB] could throw in together in a garage and Michael Dell could assemble one in his dorm room.  And so, you have that simplifying technology as a part of every disruptive innovation.  It then becomes an innovation when the technology is embedded in a different business model that can take the simplified solution to the market in a cost-effective way. 

Question: Which is more important and why?

Christensen:    The innovations are far more important because the technology itself has now way to impact the world for good until it’s embedded in the business model.  And it’s a great question because in innovation it’s the combination of the simplifying technology and the business model.  A great example of this is through the ‘70s and most of the ‘80s, there was this huge mini-computer company in the Boston area called Digital Equipment Corporation, and at the time they probably was the most widely admired of all the companies in the world economy.  When the personal computer emerged, Digital had access to all kinds of micro-processors, but their business model could not profitably build and sell a computer for less than $50,000, and so they were killed by the personal computer.  IBM had access to the very same processors, but they went to Florida and created a business model that could make money at 25% gross margin, selling millions of units a year, which was a wildly different business than selling hundreds of mainframes a year with 60% margins.  And it was the coupling of the technological enabler with a business model innovation that allowed IBM to change the world.

Question: Should certain industries focus only on disruptive technologies even though innovation is more important?   

Christensen:    Generally, the technology that enables disruption is developed in the companies that are the practitioners of the original technology.  That’s where the understanding of the technology first comes together.  They usually can’t commercialize the technology because they have to couple it with the business model innovation, and because they tend to try to take all of their technologies to market through their original business model, somebody else just picks up the technology and changes the world through the business model innovation.

The personal computer is an example of a disruptive innovation that allowed a whole new population of people to use it. Eventually it was improved to the point that the PC made the old technology obsolete.

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Listen: Scientists re-create voice of 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy

    Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.

    Surprising Science
    • Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
    • With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
    • The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
    Keep reading Show less

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Credit: Maxime Aubert
    Surprising Science
    • Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
    • The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
    • The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast