Friday, January 01, 2010

"Disruptive Innovation" Gone Wrong

One thing about business books about cool ideas like "disruptive innovation" is that they naturally emphasize the successes of whatever approach they're interested and not the negative cases. In particular, it is hard to think of a failed "disruptive innovation."

Here's one that anyone working in the ed-tech trenches in the last fifteen years can probably relate to: ink jet printers. Talk about your down-market approaches competing with non-consumption! All of a sudden you went from one black and white copier (and a mimeo!) for the whole school, maybe a laser printer in the library, to a full color printer in every classroom, and the damn things were so cheap that after a while they were giving them away with every computer.

In retrospect (and at the time by many), this is regarded by consensus as a complete disaster. "Good enough" wasn't good enough, support was a nightmare, administration impossible, durability insufficient, overpriced proprietary ink quickly negated the initial cost savings. These are standard arguments against disruptive innovators by incumbent players. Sometimes the incumbents are right.

1 comment:

tellio said...

I agree that inkjets were disruptive in a bass ackwards, counter productive way, but I seem to remember getting quite a bit of good out of the evil little genies.

Having said that, I get your point--we are surrounded by experts who confound us with good intentions and worse advice. Even worse, those who point out the clothes-less emperor are held in less esteem than the scammers we blow the whistles on. So...keep on in your curmudgeonly ways. I am grateful for them as a temper to the bad steel of our time.