Doc Searls has been reading one of my favourite books. He differentiates nicely between two technologies.
I’ve been re-reading The Innovators Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. It’s a popular bigco book, because it’s spot-on about the difference between sustaining and disruptive technologies, and how disruptive technologies threaten the sustaining ones that keep bigcos alive. (Witness what Linux is doing to Sun’s Solaris right now. And even to Windows in some cases.)
Sustaining technologies are what big companies sell. They innovate gradually and grow at the same pace. They don’t take many risks, especially when the returns aren’t compeltely apparent. They depend on customers and investors for money, and they obey those market forces. They avoid small markets that don’t solve their large-scale growth needs. They don’t believe in markets that don’t yet exist. Their marketing imperative is Necessity is the mother of invention.
Disruptive technologies are what small companies sell, or what companies of all sizes might give away in hope that they’ll achieve ubiquitous adoption at no cost and change the world for everybody. Disruptive technologies often start out in forms too simple, small and trivial for big companies to take seriously. They appear in markets that don’t exist, can’t be researched, and therefore don’t interest big companies. Their marketing imperative is Invention is the mother of necessity.
The 5KPC (that I’ve been writing about in the Tech Talks) is a disruptive technology.