Friday, January 14, 2011

How do you time the introduction of disruptive technology?

How often does a farmer plow their field?

I know very little about agriculture, but my guess would be either once at the end of the harvest or once at the end of harvest and once at planting time. Why? - because plowing is DISRUPTIVE. If you plow during the growing cycle you gain no benefit from the growth of the stuff you plowed under – unless it was meant as fertilizer!

The same applies for new disruptive innovations in a company. You don’t want to plow under a crop that is going to earn you money. Because of fear, the big argument is that in the end you may never disrupt the growing because a short growing cycle remains and your disruptive innovation won’t have time to mature enough. This is the real meaning of disruptive. You need to have to guts to see your field producing way more value with your new crop than with your old one. And it may take more than one growing cycle. (That’s why corporate strategy is hard and making the tough decisions is why the CEOs get paid so much!)

Probably the intelligent thing would be to follow a portfolio strategy, to do is divide your field in two and plant one with your core money making crop and the other with your disruptive crop. A definite amount of stable cash flow is always necessary to incubate a disruptive crop. Then as your disruptive crop gains in value over the years, you convert more of your field to produce it and you eventually stop growing the other stuff.

This idea is entirely similar to the Boston Consulting Groups Growth-Share Matrix. The idea that the cows aren't growing but they bring in the cash, the dogs are just a waste of time, and the stars grow their market share and bring in the cash.

To summarize: timing is important in introducing disruptive technology, but it takes guts on the part of the CEO to introduce it when it appears to be the wrong immediate choice.

Good Luck CEO!

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