My hobby these days is Agile project management, most particularly Scrum. Scrum is about how to mange software development projects effectively, so that you get products which produce value for you and for your customers. If you are wondering why despite having top manpower, generous budget, and meeting all your RUP milestones, your 5 Million dollar project is behind and over budget, Scrum will help you get on track.
But this is not what I want to write about.
While immersing myself in Scrum, I stumbled upon what looks like a cool book: „The Innovators Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail“ by Clayton M. Christensen.
It turns out, if you want to study evolution, you don’t study humans, you study fruit flies. Fruit Flies reproduce every day. Humans every 30 years (if their Grandparents are lucky!). Disk drive companies are the IT equivalent of fruit flies (at least in terms of rapid technological change. In terms of producing nuisances for system managers, my vote would go to anybody responsible for printer technology).
There have been many changes in the disk drive industry. From disk packs, to 14 inch, to 8 inch, to 5.25 and now, if I’m not mistaken, to sub 1″ formats. Suprisingly, the established players usually invented each new technology, but were unable to capitalize on it. Within a few generations, the upstarts became established players and then died off, got acquired or went out of business. Why does this happen?
A new technology usually offers advantages to new users, but not to existing customers. 5 1/4 inch drives were smaller and lighter, but minicomputer manufacturers (who used 8 inch drives) didn’t care. They wanted more capacity and faster access times, not a slower, smaller and cheaper drive. But desktop computers manufacturers did, so a new market for the technology drove its development.
What killed the 8 inch manufacturers? The rate of technological innovation of the 5.25ers was higher than for the 8 inchers. Eventually, the smaller drives were able to offer performance comparable to the established competitors, but they were smaller and cheaper. At which time, the fate of the 8 inch manufacturers was sealed. This pattern has repeated itself throughout the 40 year history of the disk drive industy.
Moral of the story: Listen to your customers for improving your product. Ignore them when looking at disruptive new technologies. You’ll be able to serve them in a few years, even if they’re not ready for the new product today.
To be honest, I have only read the extract. But it sounds like a fascinating book and I can’t wait to read the rest.