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Disruptive vs. Sustaining Technologies,
This review is from: The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Hardcover)
Christensen clearly presents the reality of how disruptive technologies affect organizations. He reviews the business perspectives of large firms vs. those of small firms, and their issues with disruptive and sustaining technologies, i.e., resources, profit margins, customers, etc. Christensen explains that what to us, from the point of 20/20 hindsight, may now seem like blatantly obvious organizational faux pas, at the time seemed like the correct path for the organization to follow. He also reviews companies that have been able to not only survive, but succeed with the emergence of disruptive technologies.
Disruptive Technologies vs. Sustaining Technologies
One of the main reasons why great firms fail is that they attempt to market and manage disruptive technologies utilizing the same methodologies that are found to be successful for the management and marketing of sustaining technologies. These firms are essentially held captive by their customers, since this methodology is based on pleasing the established customer base. Disruptive technologies often are intended for different customer bases that may not have yet been discovered. Due to this, disruptive technologies are often not seen as successful or profitable by large firms that need to keep large profit margins. They are instead seen as successful by smaller entrant organizations with smaller profit margins.
"Resource Dependence - Customers effectively control the patterns of resource allocation in well-run companies"
Management, especially middle management, is very aware of the customer base their company holds. Their customers are the ones who keep pouring money back into their organization through the purchase of products. These customers have set their expectation on the sustaining technology the organization currently offers, as it helps them run their business. They usually have little interest in a disruptive technology that more than likely will not currently meet their needs. This, in turn, causes any new projects involving disruptive technologies that are kept within the same organization and held to the same profit expectations, which initially they will no be able to meet, to not be held at the top of the organizational priority list. The disruptive technology will be "shelved" until it comes into the mainstream, and by that time it may be too late.
"Small markets don't solve the growth needs of large companies"
When a disruptive technology begins to make its presence known, the disruptive technology needs to be viewed with serious consideration. From this, proper planning for its many possibilities should take place. These plans need to remain flexible, and development of the disruptive technology should take place within a department, organization, or subsidiary that has little financial bearing on the company as a whole. This is the necessary environment for the successful development of a disruptive technology. The larger organization can not expect this disruptive technology to command the profit margins of the organization's sustaining technologies until it has discovered its customer base.
"The ultimate uses or applications for disruptive technologies are unknowable in advance. Failure is an intrinsic step toward success."
A great example from the book is the introduction of Honda motorcycles in the U.S. in 1959. Initially Honda wanted to conquer the American market with their 50cc Supercub bike, but their bikes weren't built for running at high speeds for extended periods like Harley-Davidson and BMW. Honda discovered, after failing to market the bikes as road bikes, from actually watching how people used the bikes, that their bikes were best suited for off road dirt biking, a sport that had not yet come to fruition. Harley-Davidson attempted to take part of the new market, but tried to do so by marketing this disruptive technology as a sustaining technology. Their plan failed to prove profitable.
"Technology supply may not equal market demand. The attributes that make disruptive technologies unattractive in established markets often are the very ones that constitute their greatest value in emerging markets."
Honda was able to do this by creating a new market segment, off road bikers! These same bikes were not attractive to those customers interested in long haul road bikes such as Harley-Davidson and BMW, but Honda's bikes now hold a majority of the market.