Friday, October 22, 2004

Five Steps Forward

A recent article by Sean McGrath Five steps forward, four steps back, ( October 2004) proposes a kind of innovation triage. He argues that around 80% of any technological leap forward will later be discarded, leaving 20% to become part of the established State-Of-The-Art (SOTA).

This seems to be a great argument for the late adopters. Why invest in the great leap forward? This looks like a pretty poor ROI, with high risk. Why not wait until other people have wasted energy and resources separating the wheat from the chaff? Let us know when everything has sorted itself out, and maybe then we'll start to consider it.

The early adopters have several possible responses to this argument.
  1. Just because some of the stuff fails to achieve widespread adoption doesn't mean it's of no value. We shall be getting technical learning, business benefits and competitive advantage - while you're still reading the brochures.
  2. The timing of the consolidation is uncertain. By being in at the start, we shall be hot and ready when the consolidation occurs.
  3. Early participants get to influence the outcomes. So there.
If the McGrath hypothesis is true, it raises interesting questions about timing and dynamics. How long does it take for a large set of technological novelties to settle into a smaller set of technological givens (or "black boxes")? And how does this interact with the broader dynamics of technological development and adoption?

One Small Step? One Giant Leap?

By the way, if you can have 20% of a change, it cannot be a paradigm shift. A true paradigm shift is a discrete and discontinuous event, which cannot be subdivided. Stepwise technological change is incremental, not paradigmatic.

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