Disruptive Technologies for Personal Innovation

I am now taking Management of Technological Innovation class here at NUS, and it’s a very interesting class. There I learn how companies innovate, succeed, and fail, and how innovation works. There are many new concepts I learn there, and I think many of those concepts can also be applied to personal innovation.

One concept I learn is disruptive technologies which is proposed by Clayton Christensen in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. There he gives an example in the hard disk drive industry, how established companies continously fail to anticipate the emergence of new generations of technology. In case of hard disk drive industry, the new generation were the new, smaller size of the disks. For example, market leaders in 14″ disks failed and lost their market to other companies promoting 8″ disks. These companies who lead 8″ market in turn lost their market to yet other companies promoting 5.25″ disks.

The phenomenon here is the incumbent firms always fail in the face of new generation of technologies, and thus these technologies are called disruptive technologies.

I think the same idea can also be applied in personal level. There are disruptive technologies out there that can make our current individual “technologies” obsolete. The “technologies” here can be:

  1. Personal productivity method
    There may be a new kind of personal productivity method out there that we aren’t aware of. We keep working with our old method which yield much less results in any given period of time compared to the new method.
  2. Expertise in certain field
    There may be a new method of doing something in our field that makes our current expertise obsolete. In computer technologies for example, we may be an expert in Fortran programming language. That’s a good old language, but the world is now moving to new generation of programming languages such as Java and C#. Those new languages have different paradigm that makes our expertise in Fortran largely obsolete.
  3. Technology to help us do something more efficiently
    For example, people who are trying to collect information as part of their job but fail to realize the emergence of the Internet will be very much left behind by those who do. There is always new tools and technologies, software and hardware, that allow us to do our current job more efficiently.

In all cases, it’s likely that we fail because we are too busy cutting trees with our axe until we don’t have time to sharpen the axe.

So how can we prevent this from happening ? Here are some ideas:

  1. Always follow the newest developments
    This is the first step. If we are not informed about anything new happening out there then what can we do ? So subscribe to relevant magazines and feeds, join mailing lists and forums, and read books. Just make sure that we won’t miss something new that may be relevant to our circumstances.
  2. Don’t underestimate small developments
    Many of the disruptive techonologies have humble beginning. In the hard disk drive industry for example, the 8″ disks when it first came out had small capacity and was so expensive that the leaders in 14″ industry underestimated them. And indeed, their customers didn’t want it either. But later, the 8″ technology improved and the customers suddenly realized that the 8″ could better meet their needs. So they moved to 8″ and left the 14″ leaders in the dark. So don’t underestimate small developments out there. They may seem small, but they may be the next disruptive technologies.
  3. Be dare to experiment
    Now that we are aware of new developments, it’s time to give them a try. Be dare to experiment (I’ve written a post about it in term of personal productivity). Try to figure out whether or not the new developments can really benefit us. Experiments are actually an integral part of our “growth engine”.
  4. Be flexible and be willing to change
    After experimenting, we may have found new things that can really be useful for us. Now it’s time to change. We should always be ready to change, and thus we must have flexibility in whatever we do. Don’t make any boundary that can limit ourself. Of course, change is among the most difficult things to do, but it’s absolutely necessary in our fast-pacing world these days.

Hopefully, these ideas can help us thrive in this world. Who wants to be disrupted anyway ?