[pullquote]If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself. ~ Einstein[/pullquote]
Many tech watchers STILL don’t understand what a “disruptive innovation” is. I’m no Einstein, but I’m going to try to explain it in terms that even a six year old could understand (and with pretty pictures too!).
A disruptive innovation is:
an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.
If that still doesn’t resonate with you, that’s okay, because we’ve just begun and…
Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. ~ Khalil Gibran
(Author’s Note: For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using the term “PC” to describe both Notebook and Desktop computers, i.e, any computer with an attached keyboard.)
[pullquote]If the King’s English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me! ~ Ma Ferguson, former governor of Texas[/pullquote]
The new often disrupts the old, which is somewhat akin to saying that the new often makes an ass out of the old, which brings us to my analogy:
The PC is like an Elephant and the Tablet is like an Ass (in the biblical sense).
I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming.
WHEN THERE WERE ONLY ELEPHANTS (PCs)
[pullquote]The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously. ~ Henry Kissinger[/pullquote]
Suspend belief for a moment and imagine that the PC is an Elephant and that the Tablet is an Ass. (That wasn’t so hard, now was it?) Imagine further that you lived in a land where the only pack animals were Elephants.
If you only have one tool, then that is the tool that you will use for most every task. If you only have one pack animal, i.e., the Elephant, then that is the pack animal that you will use for most every task. (Similarly, if you only have one type of computer, i.e., the PC, then that is the computer that you will use for most every computing task.)
ENTER THE ASS (Tablets)
Now imagine that the Ass (Tablet) is introduced into your Elephant-only (PC-only) ecosystem. If you were a purveyor of Elephants (PCs), would you feel threatened? Would you even care?
Of course not.
- An Ass can carry goods. So can an Elephant.
- An Ass can give people rides. So can an Elephant.
- An Ass can pull a cart. So can an Elephant.
ANYTHING AN ASS (TABLET) CAN DO, AN ELEPHANT (PC) CAN DO BETTER.
There is nothing that an Ass (Tablet) can do that an Elephant (PC) cannot do and do better. Not only that, but an Elephant (PC) can do many things that an Ass simply cannot do at all.
— An Elephant (PC) is far more powerful than an Ass (Tablet).
— An Elephant (PC) can pull tree stumps and clear forests. Try doing that on your Ass (Tablet).
— An Elephant (PC) comes with special options like a built-in trunk. All you get with a Donkey (Tablet) is a bare Ass.
— An Elephant (PC) is so big, it can make its own shade.
— An Elephant (PC) is self-cleaning. (Let’s face facts — sometimes Donkeys stink).
— An Elephant (PC) can carry heavy loads and add additional storage.
— An Elephant (PC) will figuratively — and literally — go to war for you.
In other words, the owners and purveyors of Elephants (PCs) would never have any fear of the Ass (Tablet). They would, instead, mock it. They would treat it with disdain and consider it beneath contempt.
So why on earth would anyone ever consider using an Ass (Tablet) instead of an Elephant (PC)?
Reader Alert: This is the part where we try to understand why disruption occurs.
[pullquote]Q: What’s that gooey stuff between an elephant’s toes?
A: Slow running people.[/pullquote]
An Ass is:
- Cheaper to buy;
- Cheaper to feed;
- Easier to stable;
- Easier to train;
- Easier to discipline;
- Easier to pack; and
- Easier to ride.
In other words, an Ass (Tablet) does most everything you use an Elephant (PC) for and does it cheaper and easier too.
The Four Stages Of Disruption
STAGE 1: OVER SERVING
[pullquote]The speed of a runaway horse counts for nothing. ~ Jean Cocteau[/pullquote]
The problem starts when the Elephant (PC) begins to over serve its customer’s needs. The consumer only needs and uses a smidgen of the Elephant’s (PC’s) many and mighty powers. A feature means NOTHING to the end user if it isn’t useful. In fact, it’s a burden, both in added price and complexity.
STAGE 2: INTRODUCTION OF A DISRUPTIVE PRODUCT
At first glance, the Ass (Tablet) SEEMS to be far inferior to the Elephant (PC) but, in reality, the Ass has several disruptive advantages — including lower price and lower complexity — over the Elephant (PC).
The Elephant (PC) can do everything that an Ass (Tablet) can do but an Ass (Tablet) can do everything that the consumer wants and needs to do and it can do it easier and cheaper too.
STAGE 3: OVERCOMING THE “DEAL BREAKER” WITH THE 4% SOLUTION
“But, but, but,” you say, “there are some tasks that the Ass (Tablet) simply CAN NOT do and that ONLY an Elephant (PC) can do. That’s a deal breaker!
However, it turns out that if 96% of consumers only need the power of the Elephant (PC) 4% of the time, then they will find a work-around that allows them to get by with the cheaper and easier to use Ass (Tablet). That’s the 4% solution ((Why 4%? It’s the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule), redux. It’s 20% of the remaining 20%.)) .
For example, if you only need to use an Elephant once in a great while, you can simply borrow one from a neighbor, or rent one, or get by with the aging one that you already own.
[pullquote]I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G. K. Chesterton[/pullquote]
This is highly counter-intuitive, yet crucial to the understanding of disruption. The Ass (Tablet) doesn’t need to be all things to all people. It only needs to be most things to most people.
STAGE 4: THE TRICKLE TURNS INTO A FLOOD
Over served customers — gradually at first, then more and more rapidly — gravitate to the seemingly inferior solution that:
1) Best meets their needs;
2) Is cheaper; and
3) Is easier.
The customers leak away from the incumbent — whether it be an Elephant or a PC — until the incumbent is left high and dry, serving only the 4%; the “power users”; who truly do need the added power — and the added cost and complexity — that the incumbent’s product provides.
[pullquote]The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply. ~ Khalil Gibran[/pullquote]
The reason people don’t see disruption coming is because they compare one product to another when they should, instead, be comparing the needs of the consumer to the product that best serves those needs.
If you compare an Elephant (PC) to an Ass (Tablet), there is no question that the Elephant (PC) is superior. But that’s missing the point entirely. Because if you compare the task at hand – say, riding into town, or sending an email – to the available tools, then the lowly Ass (Tablet) kicks the Elephant’s (PC’s) keister ever time.