In Geoffrey Moore’s words, disruptive innovation occurs when something that was previously scarce and expensive becomes cheap and can be implemented on a wider scale.
Current examples of disruptive innovations in various stages of widespread adoption are cloud computing (simultaneous delivery and automation of any service), smartphone (communication with anyone, anywhere), social networks (collaboration at any scale), data science (optimization of any digital system), and the Internet of Things (optimization of any physical system).
Moore commented that disruptive technologies leverage basic human drives. For example, people like to help each other for free, so Air BNB started as a volunteer army. It owns no property and employs no property managers. It’s a natural community that digital gave power and a voice.
Moore observed that citizen development was not yet on the list of major disruptive innovations and considered what factors would make it “go big.” He shared that social groups engage with disruptive innovations in different ways and self-segregate into five general groups that comprise the bell-curve, technology adoption lifecycle.
5 Groups of Technology Adopters
These are the technology enthusiasts who love new stuff. They want to try everything first and they’re the only ones who will actually read the documentation. The trouble? They don’t have any money. Doc from Back to the Future is a classic example.
These individuals recognize that an innovation could change everything. They understand the technology and support their innovative friends that make it happen. They bet big and early. Apple’s founding duo – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – are examples of a visionary and his innovator buddy.
Pragmatists have a list of problems to solve and they don’t know whether to believe the visionaries. They want to know if their peers are “doing it yet.” This group moves as a herd, so even if a technology isn’t perfect, the market will now grow enough to improve upon it. Suddenly, we move from nobody’s doing it, nobody’s doing it, nobody’s doing it, to EVERYONE’S doing it!
Conservatives are nervous. They ask their trusted advisors: “Tell me the truth, is it really safe?” They feel that they don’t get as much value from technology as other people and will only proceed when the market is well-established.
This group will never be fully convinced that disruptive technologies are the way to go, even once they’re mainstream.
The Journey of Disruptive Innovation
In Moore’s experience, visionaries and the early market get a lot of publicity, but that publicity doesn’t necessarily help with adoption. Usually, there is a bit of a lull, which Moore called a chasm, as the early adopters struggle to gain a competitive advantage but early majority buyers insist on waiting.
As pragmatists acknowledge that an innovation can solve a business pain, a niche market emerges. Use cases pop up and word of mouth begins to spread. This is what Moore identified as the bowling pin phenomenon: one pin knocks over the rest and the market grows rapidly.
In some cases, it may even result in a tornado, when everyone suddenly proclaims: “Hang on, why aren’t we doing this everywhere?” Smartphone adoption is a good example of this trajectory. Originally, smartphones were for venture capitalists and drug dealers, but once the tornado hit, people were waiting outside Apple stores by the thousands. The market exploded and the demand for the technology vastly exceeded the supply. Today, the smartphone industry has moved into the age of the customer. Supply now exceeds demand and vendors have to up their service game.
For the rest of this post live from the QuickBase #EMPOWER conference, head over to the Fast Track blog.