In my first article on disruptive technology/innovation in the Jan. 2016 “Tech Talk” column, I asserted that not all customers embrace or adopt disruptive technology (innovation) in the same way or at the same pace. I shared research conducted by Everett Rogers in the early 1960’s and published in his 1962 book Diffusion of Innovations.
Rogers identified five unique “personas” (or customer types) who tend to adopt disruptive technology at different times across five phases of a life cycle (“TALC”): innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards based on their respective threshold or tolerance for risk/uncertainty over time.
Geoffrey Moore expanded on Rogers’ model with the creation of a “revised TALC” which included something new: the existence of a “gap” or “chasm” between the early adopters and the early majority that was extremely critical to those who wanted to market and sell disruptive technological products successfully.
I used the advent of the “microcomputer” (PC) as my personal example of how I handled this challenge during in the mid- to late-1980s and my co-author, Nina R. Johnson, provided some excellent examples of more contemporary disruptive technologies in three 21st century industries: Uber and Lyft (taxi/limo), Airbnb (hospitality) and Square and GoPayment (banking).
In this follow-on article, I am sharing yet another paradigm for understanding the acquisition or adoption of a special superset of 21st century “disruptive technologies” called Big Bang disruptors. A Big Bang disruptor is a game-changing, accelerated product innovation that is so advanced that the lifecycles of mature, existing products can suddenly expire with little advance warning.
As a result, entire innovative product lines—whole markets—were created or destroyed overnight in 2015. In fact, its “BBD-TALC” is called the shark’s fin, because of its unique appearance, with its four stages: the singularity, the Big Bang, the big crunch and entropy.
A good place to spot a Big Bang disruptor in-the-making is at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas each January. With credit to Paul Nunes of Accenture and Larry Downes of Georgetown University, as published in their Forbes magazine article in January, 2015, there were no fewer than five “Big Bang Disruptive Technologies” that they witnessed emerging in the following industries: energy/transportation, health & fitness, manufacturing, the Internet and video/audio.
Now, fast-forward to January 2016. Nunes and Downes have provided brief summaries in Forbes magazine of what they now call the five most disruptive trends based on their observations at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for this year:
1. Autonomous vehicles go mainstream. CES has become a car show inasmuch as automotive technology has increased by 25 percent to over 200,000 square feet of exhibit space. Beyond the latest electric, hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid models, there were some outrageous concept cars, including a supposed Tesla-killer from Faraday Future that looked like the Batmobile but more advanced.
Aside from the eye-poppers, there was a more important transformation taking place in the mood-lit car booths of Audi, Volkswagen, Toyota and others. In just a few years, cars have gone from merely being connected to the Internet to being autonomous—a revolution in technology. At this point, the basic tools for self-driving cars have been worked out. Much of it can now be produced at-scale at a relatively low cost.
Even as cars take over more of the driving (a trend that began decades ago with power brakes and automatic transmissions) in incremental steps, the general consensus is that truly autonomous vehicles will hit the road sometime after 2020.
2. Providers have become platforms: As new categories mature from the early experimentation (“singularity”) stage to the “Big Bang” stage in their “shark fin BBD-TALC model”, old industry borders evaporate along with often overly-complicated supply chains.
As consumers embrace the disruptors, the floodgates are open for anyone to become a player and even a dominator in the reconstructed categories. Smart incumbents seeing the inevitable will position themselves for flexibility, becoming virtual platforms that allow their core expertise to be quickly redeployed to new businesses with new partners.
This strategy of “blurred lines” is becoming positively promiscuous among leading technology providers, with the strangest imaginable combinations appearing in rapid succession. Companies including Bosch, Qualcomm and Corning, they reported, are turning themselves into service providers whose expertise, brands and technology can be used in a variety of fast-changing industries.
Everyone is getting into everyone else’s business. Gaming superstar NVidia, for example, established a foothold in automotive a few years ago by building the user interfaces for connected cars. But now they are building much of the core software that autonomous cars will operate on. Amazing!
3. Invisible but essential 5G infrastructure: One thing nearly all of the nascent disruptors have in common, besides their relative immaturity, is the need for a next-generation Internet that will be natively mobile. The all call for orders of magnitude faster. They are simultaneously able to handle high and low bandwidth applications at rapidly increasing volumes of traffic. They also offer vast increases in reliability, security and coverage.
These are the general specifications for an emerging protocol known as 5G, which will start to appear in full after 2020. At a panel discussion that included executives from Cisco, Ericsson, Qualcomm and Intel, the companies explained the technical, financial and regulatory challenges for the new standards, which will put the already impressive evolution of the current cutting-edge 4G LTE to shame. Could the “entropy stage” for 4G LTE be right around the corner?
5G will radically redefine both the mobile architecture and the core Internet to support unique demands of the new disruptors. Self-driving cars, for example, will require network latency of less than a few nanoseconds. Robotic surgeons can’t stop working simply because of radio interference. By 2020, as many as 30 billion devices connected to an “Internet of Things” will need networks that can penetrate deep into buildings, and low power utilization to keep batteries running for a decade or more.
5G networks will need to offer speeds even greater than available today from home fiber connections to carry 4K and 8K video at scale—and to support real-time virtual reality applications in gaming, health and design.
4. Random experiments accidentally collide into products: A defining feature of Big Bang disruption is the increasing ability of experimenters to combine cheap component technologies into new products and services and launch them with little regard for risk. Most will fail, but at little cost, often producing useful insights for the next iteration. If you launch enough particles, they proffer, you may just get fission.
That was the model on deafening display in Eureka Park, CES’s startup marketplace again this year. What began only a few years ago as a row of interesting early-stage products, some companies had their own floors of convention space. Hundreds of potentially game-changing products from around the world each had their own small exhibit. In the days before Eureka Park, CES attendees had to walk the edges of the convention center looking for these gems. Now, they say they can’t possibly talk to even a fraction of them.
The focus of the startups ran the full range of technologies and applications, from hydrogen fuel cell smartphone batteries (intelligent energy) to intelligent tails for role-playing costumes (in-tail)—and everything in between.
The co-authors reported seeing an amazing range of wearables, security apps, stylish drones, baby and pet tech, smart watch variations, educational tools and leisure gimmicks (the robotic bartender). Many of the products raised funds solely from Kickstarter, Indiegogo and other crowdfunding platforms. Everything is sustainable and location-based.
An interesting question of strategy arose as they compared the sometimes over-broad to the often overly-narrow: As their research has shown, Big Bang markets often take off dramatically for one or two providers who chance upon just the right combination of technology and business model. This is a phenomenon they refer to as “winner-take-all markets.
5. Moore’s Law is the “uber-disruptor”: Looming in the background of nearly everything they reported seeing at CES for a decade is the reality that every business, whether a consumer electronics company or a customer, is now a digital business. As co-author Downes wrote in a 2012 Forbes article, at CES the only law that matters is Moore’s Law which states that “every 12 to 18 months, the number of circuits on a chip doubles while price holds constant.” This law is named after Intel founder Gordon Moore in his 1965 forecast, not Geoffrey Moore.
The relentless improvement in price, performance, size and power utilization of computing power that Moore predicted back then is the “uber-disruptor” they refer to. Some years that means new products, while other years find entirely new categories of products. But either way, the “better-and-cheaper” phenomenon is driving transformation in a wider range of industries all the time.
As the size, cost and power utilization of new sensors continue to improve standalone and often annoying trackers and other wearable devices are being replaced by integrated solutions from traditional providers. They saw dozens of examples of sensors being sewn directly into clothing, a category they christened as “wearable wearables.” Interesting new term, huh?
Only a few years ago, the idea of using sensors to monitor and improve one’s sleeping habits seemed absurd. Then, suddenly, there were all kinds of products that did just that, either through trackers that one wore or devices one slipped under the sheets. But this year, they reported, maverick mattress maker Sleep Number was at CES in force, demonstrating an aggressively-priced new foam mattress called the “It Bed” that supplements the company’s core adjustable technology with sensors built in from top to bottom. The sensors send a constant stream of data and analytics to one’s smart device.
This mainstreaming of disruptive technology is both a sign of Big Bang adoption and often in mature markets, a necessary condition. The two authors said they expect to see more of this phenomenon in the immediate future. In some sense, as these examples suggest, the technology that transforms markets becomes invisible, just part of the scenery. Ironically, the more disruptive the technology is, they say, the sooner it disappears.
In the meantime, there is plenty of crazy stuff to see at CES in Las Vegas every January. Like the Nixie, a mini-drone that can be worn around the wrist and, when the moment hits you, be tossed in the air to take a photo. That’s right—the “wearable selfie drone.” Who knew that was coming?
William S. Ruggles is a member of the MRC Technology Committee. He is COO and Managing Partner of Ruggles2 LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in continuous performance improvement for medium and large organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit. Previously, he was an adjunct professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and the deputy chief technology officer for workforce enhancement for the State of New Jersey in Trenton. He can be reached at email@example.com.
To read the January, 2016 Forbes online article in its entirety, go to:
To read about Nunes and Downes’ new book entitled Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation and watch a short video, go to: