The concept of disruptive innovation, pioneered by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, describes the way in which industries might be overhauled by new products of services that—rather than treating on existing practices—diverge in new, disruptive directions offering more value or convenience to consumers (see Bower and Christensen, 1995, p.44). Disruptive innovations have dramatically changed the space in which technology platforms can operate, and the history of progess is a catalog of the ways in which the desire for convenience has trumped almost every other concern. Disruptive innovations appeal to convenience, ignore accepted wisdom, and disturb prevailing habits. Well-managed companies have collapsed because they failed to capitalise on innovations that were inferior in quality to their own, yet won popular support by diverging in meaningful ways. Services that reshape online communities have proliferated exponentially in the last decade, and the most successful ones have embraced the transformative effects of change and disruption.
To survive and thrive in this constantly iterating and innovating environment, it is vital to facilitate and promote an openness and adaptability. The smartest companies are doing just this by stepping outside themselves and allowing third-parties to strip, re-purpose, and recompose their services through the use of open-data platforms and accessible API’s. Soliciting contributions from developers, leveraging people, and allowing innovation and creativity to emerge naturally feeds the value of an organisation and builds functionality.
In an age of the ‘mashup ecosystem’ empowering these third-parites to remix and reinterpret how to use a service is an undisputed best practice. Encouraging an engaged community of developers not only creates openness in a platform, but it allows for alternative interfaces, sophisticated tools, and encourages others to do meaningful work for you. The plugins and clients spawned from community contributions doesn’t just address gaps in incomplete solutions: they provide entirely new solutions.
True insight comes from examining how users are actually making use of a service, and building around these qualities. Offering stimulating, integrated services is the cornerstone of Web 2.0, and failing to embrace community development is a consequence of a lack of ambition.
A magnificent example of a service pursuing a trajectory of consistent improvement is IFTTT (If this then that). IFTTT is an incredibly easy to use service that calls on the API’s of over 50 different popular web services in the one place. Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Dropbox—all proponents of open API’s to begin with—are brought together under the IFTTT umbrella to create a truly limitless set of possibilities. Based on a series of ‘recipies’ IFTTT allows users without any complicated programming knowledge to setup complicated triggers and sequences of events that connect and interact across services. By hooking together the powerful API’s of each platform, a user can create simple automated workflows such as: User A takes a photo in Instagram which is automatically added to a Dropbox folder, which in turn triggers Tweeting a link, and cross-posts it to Facebook. User B—an avid follower of User A—is immediately notified by SMS, since they’ve hooked IFTTT up to their Twitter feed and phone to provide seamless alerts to content that interests them.
IFTTT demonstrates not only the potential of API’s to provide unanticipated and rich user-experiences, but fully embraces what Web 2.0 represents: empowering users to be the final authority on how technology enriches their lives.
Additionally: If you have even the slightest interest in innovation and innovative practices I cannot stress enough how vital Clayton Christensen’s work is to explore.
Some further reading options include:
Bower, J. J., & Christensen, C. (1993). Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. Harvard Business Review, 73(1), p. 43-53.
Christensen, C. (2003). The Innovators Dilemma. New York: Harper Business Essentials.
Christensen, C. (2007). Bracing for disruption. Electronic Engineering Times, (1461), p.83-88.
Christensen, C., Dyer, J. & Gregrsen, H. (2011). The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press
Christensen, C. & Wessel, M.(2012). Surviving Disruption. Harvard Business Review, 90(12), p.56-64.
Christensen, C. & Wessel, M. (2013). Innovating over the Horizon: How to Survive Disruption and Thrive, [Slideshow] Retrieved: http://blogs.hbr.org/events/2013/04/innovating-over-the-horizon-ho.html