Disruptive Technology – Part One

Just as CD's replaced tapes for storage, ultra small USB drives replaced CDs, Image source.

History provides us with countless examples of disruptive technology. Clayton M. Christensen of the Harvard Business School is credited with coining the phrase Disruptive Innovation in his 1995 book The Innovator’s Dilemma. In it, Christensen describes Disruptive Innovation as a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly move “up market”, eventually displacing established competitors.

Looking back a generation or two, the following are examples of products that through the innovation of technology are no longer with us.  That is not to say that the function of the product has gone away, just the product or company that produced it.  The music industry is a good example. Vinyl records were the media on which music was recorded and sold through to the 1980s.  The demise of the LP began in the 1960s with the introduction of the Cassette and 8 Track tape formats.  By the 1980s, “cassette” had won that battle but was under threat from the compact disc. CDs became the dominant media through the 1990s but to no surprise were displaced by digital music and the ability to download music from the internet. The ability to buy and listen to music never went away; it was the technology that disrupted how it was being distributed at the time.

There are other prominent examples of products becoming extinct due to disruptive innovation. The camera/film industry is a good example. How many of us today still actually use film? How many of us still have a separate camera or just use the 5mp camera on our smart phones? The filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy by Kodak in January 2012 drives home the point that digital imaging technology killed film.

The movie industry has seen tremendous disruption. The ability to watch movies at home on rented tapes saw VHS beat out BETA as the dominant format. VHS gave way to DVDs which in turn gave way to digital downloading from the internet or digital streaming from your television provider.  A big casualty in this innovation was your corner video store. The neighborhood video rental store succumbed to the big box store which in turn succumbed to the ability of people to digitally stream their content from their TV provider or online internet service.

Competition drives innovation. Better, faster, cheaper. Cars, electronics, manufacturing. Every industry on the planet thrives on innovation. Whether the innovation comes in the form of new disruptive products or by creating efficiencies in the ways that products are brought to market, it is clear that consumers are always looking for that something new, for less than what we may have paid before. Consumers are demanding, industries compete, and winners are those that innovate.

The comments above are intended to get you thinking about the concept of disruptive technologies.  As mentioned, every industry has experienced the introduction of disruptive forces. The examples above provide a quick reminder of some common products that have seen tremendous change through the course of a generation.  For part two of this blog, we will introduce an example of a specific technology sector that is undergoing a disruptive change due to the emergence of a new technology company that is changing the way that data storage is approached. Nimble Storage is a disruptive technology.