“There is a wide difference between completing an invention and putting the manufactured article on the market.” — Thomas Alva Edison
In this week’s New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about innovation and how Xerox PARC failed to profit from the many incredible inventions that came out of its lab. (You can read the summary here.)
PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), located on the Stanford University campus, was founded in 1970 as a division of Xerox Corporation. They were an R&D lab that Xerox planned to use to both create new products and augment their current ones. They were tasked with creating “the office of the future.” In the mid-1970s, almost half of the world’s top 100 computer scientists were working at PARC. Within five years of its founding, PARC had developed a wide array of important computer technologies, including the following:
- Xerox “Alto”– the first personal computer with a mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) that included windows, icons, and pull-down menus.
- A WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor.
- Computer generated graphics.
- An Ethernet local-area-network.
- Laser printing.
In Everett Roger’s book Diffusion of Innovations, he uses Xerox PARC as a case study in the “commercialization” phase of the innovation-development process. What led the engineers and scientists at PARC to such an amazing track record? Rogers breaks it down as follows: Continue reading “Fumbling the Future at Xerox PARC” →
Apple is an incredibly creative, innovative company, and is usually at the top of people’s minds when it comes to new consumer technologies. So for the rest of this post, I’ll examine if and why Apple’s products are disruptive.
Disruptive Portable Music?
Before MP3 players, the only real option for portable music was a CD player. The first MP3 players were introduced in 1998, and had very low capacities. They could hold at most one or two CDs worth of music. In 2000, Creative released its NOMAD Jukebox, which had a capacity of around 1,200 songs. However, it was expensive and had limited usability.
The first generation iPod (5GB) was released in 2001 and could hold an average of 1,000 songs, or about 79 CDs at an equivalent quality. The cost of music (content) was low at first: consumers who already had a CD collection could transfer their songs to the iPod, or download them from the (usually illegal) filesharing programs on the internet.
The total cost per portable song for an iPod 1G was $1.48 or $0.39 if users converted old songs. This compares favorably to a CD player’s $1.95 cost per song (assuming someone can carry around a maximum of 10 CDs without it becoming too much of a burden – see notes for details). Despite this ability to carry more music for an incrementally cheaper cost, like earlier players the high total cost of the device—and the lack of convenience to use its capacity—confined sales to “fist adopters” and high-end users who were willing to convert their old music collection.
So at first, the iPod was a sustaining innovation relative to other portable music devices. Although it wasn’t made by a current industry leader, it was a breakthrough improvement upon other portable music devices and the performance metrics that customers valued (quality, capacity, cost per portable song, etc.).
Continue reading “The Innovations of Apple: Part I” →
Although the phrase disruptive innovation is used often, it is best described by Clayton Christensen in his books “::amazon(“0060521996″,”The Innovator’s Dilemma”)::” and “::amazon(“1578518520″,”The Innovator’s Solution”)::.” Most new technologies are sustaining—they improve the performance of current products along dimensions that the market already values. Rarer disruptive innovations result in products that are worse than current offerings in the near-term, but offer a different value proposition and are directed toward a different set of customers.
There are two types of disruptive innovations: new-market and low-end. New-market disruptions create a new value network (the context in which customers and firms within an industry define what attributes are most important), with different performance attributes. They usually serve customers who would normally not be using the product at all (i.e. personal computers, Bloomberg terminals). Low-end disruptions attack the least-profitable and most overserved customers along attributes that the market currently values (i.e. discount retailing, steel minimills). Both types of disruption eventually end up overtaking or completely replacing current offerings as their performance improves.
There are also two types of sustaining innovations: incremental and breakthrough. Most sustaining innovations are simple, incremental year-to-year improvements. Others are dramatic, breakthrough advances that surpass all current offerings (i.e. contact lenses replacing glasses, airliners replacing other long-distance travel). Many people confuse the terms disruptive and breakthrough. Christensen further distinguishes them by pointing out that disruptive innovations usually do not entail technological breakthroughs. Instead, they package current technologies into a disruptive business model.
Just going through the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen. I have a few posts I’ll likely write that relate to the book — this is one of them.
::amazon(“0060521996”, “The Innovators Dilemma”):: talks a lot about a company’s culture, and why incumbent leaders of a certain technology are restrained from participating in a disruptive technology’s upside. Christensen names these attributes as the incumbent’s downfall: (1) Current customers aren’t served by new market; (2) New market is too small for large companies; (3) Use of new technology isn’t fully known yet; (4) Processes that help them with current business hurt them with new business; and (5) New technology isn’t good enough yet to meet higher-end market demand.
One solution to the above issues is to acquire another company that can take advantage of the disruptive technology. If done correctly, this can solve numbers 1, 2, 4, and 5 above.
Christensen breaks down the factors that affect what a company can and cannot do into Resources, Processes, and Values. Resources are people, equipment, brands, technology, customers, etc. Processes are how companies transform those resources into products or services of greater value. Values are standards by which employees make and prioritize decisions (think of a company’s “Core Values” of the Jim Collins variety).
Continue reading “Berkshire’s Intelligent Acquisitions” →