So what is disruptive technology first of all? It’s any technology to causes a shift from a position of knowledge to a position of ignorance within the knowledge production community. That’s not exactly clear. No it isn’t. It’s difficult to define disruptive technologies in a manner like this. However, we all have used disruptive technologies. In the music industry there have been a large number of disruptive technologies. One is as simple as sheet music. Another is the Gramophone and vinyl records (and later turntables and receivers), then 8 tracks, cassettes, CDs, and then finally MP3s. Each of these technologies impacted society in a greatly unpredictable manner. The gramophone and records gave greater access to an amazing array of music to a wider audience. It created an entirely new market, new technologies were created to improve sound quality and increase the production rates. When the 8 track was introduced it had an impact both the home audio and car audio. It gave people access to their own music while driving. You couldn’t do that with records. Most of the knowledge that was generated with records and record players was nontransferable to 8 tracks.
What does this mean? Well it means that through disruptive innovations/technologies, we are able to create dynamism within our economy. A disruptive technology can allow for new firms to break an incumbent’s grip on a market. For instance, in consoles video games there are disruptive technologies every 5 years or so when each of the big players release a new video game system. Over the 30 some odd years of video games and console systems we’ve seen a wide range of entrants and exits. NEO GEO, Atari, Sony, Nintendo, Sega, Microsoft are some examples. Microsoft was able to take advantage of a period of disruptive technology introduction during a generation change in the technologies. This allowed Microsoft to come in at nearly a level playing field. While there was a lot of skepticism within the consumer market and within the technology industry, they were able to take advantage of their technology and get enough game producers to sign on to make games for them.
For consumers disruptive technologies lead to a chance to make a break with a previous technology producer. For instance, when new versions of Apple OS X and Windows Vista were released around the same time a consumer has a much easier time switching to a new OS when buying a new computer. If Windows Vista hadn’t come out around the time of a purchase then it would be very easy to stay with the previous Windows OS. There’s not nearly as much learning required when switching to a new computer with the same OS. However, if you have to learn a new OS, you are free to learn either OS as there are likely similar levels of learning required to actually use that OS.
In my next post I’ll discuss how these can disruptive technologies can impact firms in other ways.