Disruptive Forces: Why Didn`t You Think of That?

It?s an increasingly common scenario. Externally, a company wants to retain leadership in an industry segment or product line. Internally, that means the innovation team must try to influence business decisions through internal product development. But almost all efforts are directed at incremental improvements. Companies need bigger changes from disruptive technology to make it over the hurdle.

A key to that effort is the ability to recognize and assess emerging market-disrupting technologies long before they reach the commercial stage. But there are hurdles in the way.

1.You are unaware of the potentially disruptive technology because it is emerging from a very different discipline and your industry is unlikely to apply it. When the new technology does arrive, it comes from companies outside your industry with different business assumptions. This is the most ruinous case and causes the most upheaval for the affected industry. The only chance to spot this event is if someone outside your industry tells you about it. Consider the impact of MP3 technology on music CDs. CD makers did not develop MP3 technology, but they are certainly dealing with the consequences.

2. You are aware of the technology but do not understand its capability and potential. In this case, the technology is emerging from your industry, but it?s rejected because it flies in the face of entrenched business assumptions. These assumptions have created an industry-wide zone of stagnation. However, outside that zone, the technology is well-received. As an example, the Swiss invented quartz timekeeping technology in the 1970s, nearly wiping out its own watch industry.

3. You are aware of the technology, but it?s too late. The looming threat is past the point where you can be proactive. A ?best response? is needed. Do you develop a similar technology by chasing after the existing one, or do you find and deploy a different technology? In either case, a good understanding of the technology landscape would help that decision.

In response, Nerac has developed an Emerging Technology Assessor to anticipate emerging technologies before they disrupt business and while there?s still time to gain a competitive edge. The Technology Assessor Table tracks developments and helps decide when the timing may be right to evaluate specific applications or investments.

As an example of how the Emerging Technology Assessor works, consider printable electronics, a means of using common printing techniques to cheaply produce thin, flexible electronic circuits that can be applied to RFID tags, e-paper displays and photovoltaics, among other things. The concept was discussed for years before reaching the point of commercialization today.

Dow, DuPont and 3M, as well as scores of smaller companies, have large investments in the technology. Organizations in many industries should be paying closer attention to the progress and extent of this technology?s development.

David Fazzina is the Technology Solutions Development Manager at Nerac Inc., a Tolland, Conn.- based  research and advisory firm for companies developing innovative products and technologies.