Is disruptive innovation virtuous or vicious? You hold the key!

Invention refers to creation of a new idea or method itself. Inventions have come out of outright necessity and pioneering visions in order to make the world a better place.

Innovation by definition is a “new idea, more effective device or process” in order to meet new, evolved requirements of the market. This is different from invention in that it adds a “better” element to it. So, it’s about doing something different yet better to what we are exposed to.

I cannot have complaints about the inventions and rapid innovations that take place in every aspect of life as I am an absolute beneficiary all newer, better things I get to consume, enjoy, experience.

At the same time, I have a point of view that we need to critically examine the “Disruptive Innovation” that takes place in the market today. Disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

While adding new value and creating new markets are on the positive side of this particular innovation, it certainly disrupts existing markets and dependent ecosystems. We are seeing plenty of examples of this emerging force including

  • E-mail replaced newsletters and postal service.
  • Telephone and messaging replaced telegram and fax service.
  • Pen drives and hard drives replaced Floppy disks, CDs and DVDs.
  • Online marketplace gradually replaces brick and mortar stores.

(Again, I am a total beneficiary of all these newer products and services!)

However in the long run, one needs to understand that sustainable innovations go through a virtuous cycle and disruptive innovations go through a vicious cycle. It has to be complementary and not surrogatory. Let me give you a couple of day-to-day examples to justify my argument.

Example 1

Historically hardworking humans forgot physical work due to industrial automation and adopted exercise, sports, later excelled with extreme physical workouts using automated devices and gradually switching over to simple, sustainable exercises.

Example 2

Humans once used to eat homegrown vegetables, locally available food products started buying packed, frozen items with commercial preservatives and adulterants which resulted in a lot of side effects. Now everybody realize the emerging need for organically grown food products.

We can keep adding such examples of disruptive innovations and their vicious cycle.

Here are my concerns with such disruptive innovations.

  1. I am concerned about switching to 4G Connectivity before even making basic telephone facility available to everyone on the planet.
  2. I am concerned about disruptive attempt in finding second home to planet earth while not taking any effort to sustain life.
  3. I am concerned about building inter-continental ballistic missiles before creating peace with international border issues.

While Governments and larger regulatory bodies have the final word in tackling alarming complexities like above they have a larger role to play in educating every individual and justify why the actions being taken are important to the society.

But we as individuals could take a few measures to give this uncontrollable momentum a steady pace.

  1. Don’t support aggressive, artificial demand creating efforts that triggers rapid course correction measures by inventors, manufacturers and even the whole economy
  2. Participate in inclusive manufacturing efforts. Understand product roadmaps, offer your feedback to manufacturers, demand for sustainable products to come out of calculated efforts and wait to buy phased, robust offerings
  3. Support innovations that add true value to the market and consumers. Don’t encourage repetitions that merely fill the marketplace and dilute innovation in the long run
  4. Educate average consumers by joining hands with like-minded peers and spread the awareness on how to adopt and support sustainable innovations in life

Long story short, as a consumer you have the key to control disruptive innovation in order to have a sustainable life. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

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