(Disruptive) Innovation in Assembly

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.

Source: IFTTT

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


8 thoughts on “(Disruptive) Innovation in Assembly

  1. Racheal

    You mention that IFTTT “allows users without any complicated programming knowledge to setup complicated triggers …” and I have to disagree just a little. Everyone has programming knowledge, just not knowledge of programming languages.

    This is something that I feel IFTTT deserves praise for. The concept of programmatically intertwining services is what IFTTT was born from and this programming logic is a skill that every person has. One of the things that sets us apart as a species is our grasp on cause and effect; If I let go of this glass, it will fall to the ground and smash. IFTTT is doing a great service not just in allowing us to simplify our lives by fully harnessing the power of web inter-connectivity, but also in fostering this programmatic thinking in the every-man.

    1. mjjfeeney Post author

      Thanks for the feedback. I hadn’t actually considered the broader context of programming as logical, structured ways of thinking about things–I was framing my thoughts purely around the very narrow idea of ‘programming-as-formal-coding’. And yes, when considering the larger context of course everyone has programming knowledge.

      I agree that IFTTT is amazing. It continues to impress me because it does boil down what would be complicated interactions with API’s into a palatable form that is understood precisely because it can tap into that existing skillset we all possess. And moreover, do it in a way that makes sense to everybody.

  2. Jason Leiper

    I came across IFTTT on Thursday when reading about combining Pocket with Evernote when researching. I must admit, the recipes looked easy to use, but I felt it required more examination and perusing of reviews before I let it loose on my processes. I seem to have acquired a little scepticism about some of these innovations and look for easy ways if necessary to be able to wind back if necessary.

    I tend to follow mentors or early adopters that I have confidence in when trying out some of these new ideas, and in that I guess I am curating elements of the community to help guide me. IFTTT looks great and I agree that it seems to certainly follow this innate level of logic that most have.

    1. mjjfeeney Post author

      There are some great community resources out there for IFTTT. Some of the triggers people have come up with are really inspiring too. Some people have gone so far as to use simple real-world electronics to ‘bolt-on’ external functions to their recipes. One popular area seems to be in using simple motion sensors affixed to washing machines, mailboxes, doors etc. to trigger SMS’s, emails, or notifications when real-world tasks have happened.

      The possibilities are pretty limitless at this point; it makes me feel a little clumsy using it currently just to manage cross-posting photos to multiple media platforms and forwarding specific items through emails.

  3. Ruthie

    While reading your article, the term ‘disruptive innovations’ appears to be both problematique and positive. The positives being that it is advancing current innovations, such as information programs, and supporting change. Particularly in a business environment and for organisational sustainability it seems essential to be aware of the users to maintain relevance in current innovations and technology, particularly if popular. However, it seems quite aggressive in its approach. I imagine that for some users they prefer to remain familiar with what they know, as opposed to embracing change, and possibly the multiple versions that come after it. However, I do have to strongly agree that the motivating factor of most innovations is convenience for the user. I know in particular from my personal experiences, that decluttering your space and supporting time efficiency is one of the things that are highly valuable in my environment.

    The IFTTT service seems excellent in this regard. It is combining all those programs, like Twitter and Facebook, and all your connections and messages within this into one area. It really seems like such a simple, but clever service to provide. I wonder if it will cause a trend by encouraginge a greater flow of people to join more programs and establish accounts, if it can be managed in this way?

    1. mjjfeeney Post author

      Great points!

      I think the aggressiveness of disruptive innovations is more a by product of incumbent, successful organisations often taking a passive approach. Once you have a large market or mind share it’s easy to rest on your laurels and take a more relaxed approach to innovation.

      Many disruptors have a fierce need to assert themselves as viable or useful against these behemoths, and their push for activity can sometimes be overtly aggressive in making their presence known.

      The services IFTTT hooks into almost certainly view it as a positive platform. Services that might be for entirely different user groups gain valuable cross-promotion on the platform, and I’d wager that it certainly is a case of ‘a rising tide floats all boats’.

      It’s a great tool, and unlike a lot of disruptive services it becomes better–and makes the existing services better at the same time–anytime any single service it covers is upgraded.

      Everyone wins!

  4. Thurstan

    Thanks for making me aware of IFTTT. It looks like a really interesting service. Who know I might even start using medium if only because the design is so good.

Comments are closed.