By Richard ArnesonThe Innovator’s Dilemma is a fascinating book written in 1997 by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard professor who coined the term disruptive technology. He considered it one (1) of two (2) technological categories, the other being sustaining technology. Christensen defined disruptive technology as any that, while being new, were so cutting-edge that they hadn’t yet been fully developed and thoroughly tested. As a result, he insisted, they might not be ready for prime time. Disruptive technologies create a lot of buzz and are rife with exciting possibilities, but aren’t viewed as being as “safe” as their sustaining counterparts. Imagine those days when consumers first heard about technology game-changers radios and televisions. They were highly disruptive and littered with issues. Christensen lists sustaining technologies as those ones that, conversely, are being utilized and have resulted in measurable, sustainable results. If you’ve worked in telecommunications (especially in sales), there’s a decades-old axiom in that industry―nobody ever got fired for using AT&T. In other words, AT&T has been around the longest, has been used the most, and is considered the safest choice. If a CIO questions you about why you selected AT&T to carry your voice and data traffic, it’s an easily defensible decision. Getting a Fortune 100 Company to dive into the world of disruptive technologies may prove difficult. They’ll be far less inclined to utilize something that promises, but hasn’t yet produced, quantifiable results. Once it has, the flood gates will soon open. Oh, and by that time it will have become a sustaining technology. The smartphone might be the most disruptive of technologies since the introduction of the telephone at the turn of the (last) century. Telephones disrupted several industries, putting a dent in paper manufacturing and the U.S. Postal Service. Now consider the smartphone. It has devastated an array of industries, including photography, publishing, music, GPS devices, even calculators.
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