The Opportunist – Disruptive Tech? Don’t Undershoot The Messenger…

Identifying the usefulness and business applications for some new technologies – particularly before they truly find their developmental scope – can set blank stares on even the best entrepreneurial sherpas out there…

By E L Emerson

Harvard’s Clayton Christensen writes: 

“Disruptive technologies are dismissed as toys because when they are first launched they “undershoot” user needs. The first telephone could only carry voices a mile or two. The leading telco of the time, Western Union, passed on acquiring the phone because they didn’t see how it could possibly be useful to businesses and railroads – their primary customers.”

Oops.

Identifying the usefulness and business applications for some new technologies – particularly before they truly find their developmental scope – can set blank stares on even the best entrepreneurial sherpas out there.

The safe play is to stick by The Unbreakable Start-Up Rules – but, as noted in that article, “there are no absolutes in life, love or business.”

It’s fine not to like a product or an idea. But to quash it without an exploratory can lead to stupid oversights.

Ten years ago a very technically-minded neighbour of mine approached me about the idea that we could now write our thoughts directly to the Internet for everyone to read and with no real filters on how we expressed ourselves through a thing called “blogging.”

I told him I thought it sounded like stupidest idea I’d heard in a long time.

So much for unbiased assessments of disruptive technologies.

In the words of Andrew Chen on avoiding bad calls, which he calls ‘Avoiding the Bad Product Fallacy’ – he writes:

“In the end, we all love to use our own personal judgement to quickly say yes or no to products. But the Bad Product Fallacy says our own opinions are terrible predictors of success, because tech is changing so quickly.

So instead, I leave you with a couple questions to ask when you are looking at a new product:

* If it looks like a toy, what happens if it’s successful with its initial audience and then starts to add a lot more features?

* If it looks like a luxury, what happens if it becomes much cheaper? Or much better, at the same price?

* If it’s a marketplace that doesn’t sell anything you’d buy, what happens when it starts stocking products and services you find valauble?

* If none of your friends use a social product, what happens when they win a niche and ultimately all your friends are using it too?

It’s hard to ask these questions, since they mostly imply nonlinear trajectories in product innovation. However, technology rarely progresses in a straight line – they grow exponentially, whether in utility, price/performance, or in network effect.”

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