Innovative Products vs. Sustaining Products

A series of blog posts on innovation based on my interpretation of The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen


Sustaining Technologies

  • Improve the performance of established products or capabilities
  • Follow the dimensions of what mainstream customers want (or say they want)
  • Follow principles of what has been historically valued (aka not new, culture-disrupting or “out of left field”)

Disruptive Technologies

  • Innovations result in worse performance in the near term. Failure is intrinsic to success.
  • Underperform established products in mainstream markets but have other features that fringe customers value.
  • Cheaper, simpler, more convenient to use .
  • The ultimate uses for disruptive tech are unknown in advance.

Market Need vs Technological Improvement

Tech shops in the DoD (and many other places in government) are oftentimes placed in the position of “making tools for the customer” or the end user- wherever that end user might sit. The purpose of the tech/dev (heck, even data science team) is not to innovate, but to create what customers say they want or need. Success is determined (rather than in revenue) by how many briefings the technology appears in, how many users ultimately are reported to use the tool (notice I didn’t say “actually use the tool”) and how many kudos come from the top of some chain of command. In the commercial world, the same applies. Leading firms’ most profitable customers do not want to use products based on disruptive tech- at least not initially. The heavy users of a disruptive app might not even appear to use it until much, much later.

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