what is a “disruptive technology?”

The other night and throughout Educause, people have been talking about “disruptive technologies.”  Because I’m getting my MBA, I think back to disruptive technologies in terms of products and markets.

For instance, the transistor was a disruptive technology.  However, many manufacturers of radios considered it a process change – they put them in their existing, big radios rather than tubes.  But other manufacturers (Sony, with the Walkman), used it to create a whole new market.  The actual disruptive technology is the transistor, but the innovation was how it was used.

And it is always about how it is used.  How something is put together to create something new.  Google Wave, for instance (yes, I am still trying to get my head around it), combines several items that aren’t really all that disruptive anymore, if you think about it.  Instant-message style communication?  That’s old.  Threaded discussion?  Been there, done that.  Multi-contributors?  Well, a mailing list is a communication “stream” with lots of people contributing, too.

Does combining them all together make it disruptive?  Honestly, in this case, I don’t know.  I don’t see this as creating a new market, for instance, at least in terms of education (I think it does for project management, btw, though it needs to be combined with other tools like document management and calendars, etc (you listening, google?!?!?).

Are there other disruptive technologies out there?  Twitter is massively disruptive (I’d still get in on the VC funding for that (with strong liquidation preferences) if I could).  Wikis are/were, too, but they have not evolved as much as I would have thought.

I have found it useful to take a business approach to a lot of these topics at Educause.  Anyway.

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