The Concept of Disruptive Innovation


Disruptive Innovation is a term that is used so commonly and probably everyone have their own definition of disruptive. But professor Christensen's definition is quite specific and is the crux of his innovation framework.

He thinks of innovation as disruptive versus sustaining. Sustaining innovation is about improving the features of the existing solutions in the market. Whereas disruptive innovation will be a fundamentally new solution that either opens the solution to use by a completely new customer segment or brings a fundamentally new value proposition for an existing customer segment that would not be viable for existing players to match using their existing resources in the space.

Let me illustrate with a simple example of offset printing. Sustaining innovation would continue to improve quality of printing and reduce cost of printing.  

Now Inkjet printers can't compete for customers requiring large number of copies. However there are customers who require just a couple of hundreds or even tens or single digit copies. People who need just couple of hundred copies have to pay a much higher price per copy with offset printing. And no one would even think of printing less than a hundred copies with offset printing - so they are a segment that did not exist. However with Inkjet printers can make it much cheaper for the first which can't be matched by any sustaining innovation in offset printing technology. And it also opens up the market for those looking to print less than a market. For instance the publish on demand market.

Further Christensen points out that while disruptive innovation enters the market through limited segments, it will continue to progress up the other more lucrative segments through sustaining innovation to the solution till it captures the entire market. For instance, once there is revenue in inkjet printers, R&D will continue in the technology till it can probably be able to print even thousands of copies in a more cheaper and convenient manner than offset printers.

Also while sustaining  innovation favors incumbents, disruptive innovation favors challengers.   

Let me try to apply this model to Generative AI in the space of writing. We hear of how artificial intelligence will write and publish fiction making authors redundant. But that is the most lucrative end of the writing eco system. And it will not happen immediately. The technology is not sufficiently developed to match the creative ability of human authors in something as complex as writing a complete novel. Where I see immediate disruption is in the area of proof reading. Next would be research as these engines develop greater accuracy. Authors who use these technologies for research rather than spend their own time would be able to spend more time on value adding activities and get ahead of those who don't.  The next step would be to move to space of copy editing helping with aspects such as tone and structure. The big leap after that would be the space of developmental editing, looking at the overall plot structure and giving ideas on the same. The technology today is nowhere even near to doing that. The way the technology works today is to give some mish-mash suggestions drawing from any content of relevance that it has been trained on. After that it may enter into the author's space entering into some of the mass produced formulaic genres such as romance, action potentially replacing writer syndicates and ghost writers. And then maybe one day in the distant future the space where the 'real' writers play. 

So there is no real cause for writers and artists to get alarmed. This technology will impact them some day but probably not in the life time of writers in their forties. If anything it will only help them slowly replacing the supporting ecosystem. By the time it gets to them they will be dead and gone.  


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