Ever since Clayton Christensen wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) finding disruptive technologies has been the holy grail for innovators and business developers. However, reality is different. In most cases most technologies are evolutionary rather than revolutionary and the ones that are truly disruptive have taken quite some time to happen. In all fairness Clayton Christensen pointed out that disruptive technologies were not immediately disruptive but started in small niche markets before overtaking mainstream market segments.
Rarely is it the technology in itself that is disruptive. The ignition for the market to take off is often the combination of technology and social behavior changes, regulatory changes or similar “non-technical” events. In terms of customer acceptance there is also the question what tips it over to reach the critical mass for success. “Crossing the Chasm” (1991) by Geoffrey A. Moore remains a very good read. In addition Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point” (2000) elegantly describes “how little things can make a big difference”.
To make the case let us look at two major but different “disruptive technologies”: airbags and shale gas.