In contrast to sustaining technologies, which promote incremental improvements to existing products and services, disruptive technologies are profoundly transformative. They explode onto the scene, vastly improving product functionalities, streamlining processes and creating new markets along the way. That’s how they earn their title “disruptive” – they disrupt the status quo, changing the way businesses operate and consumers live.
Their importance may seem obvious to some. After all, for humans to progress, we need to seize onto big changes and paradigm shifts – not shy away from them. Still, it pays to illustrate the specific ways disruptive technology benefits contemporary businesses, consumers and labor forces.
Why is disruptive technology important? With help from a few case studies and quotes, let’s count the ways.
Consumers Enjoy More Accessible Goods and Services
One immediate and apparent upside of disruptive technologies is accessibility. Most disruptive innovations take a previously exclusive product/service – once prohibitively expensive or concealed in opacity – and make them accessible to a larger market.
Take real estate as an example. Traditionally, real estate has been hard to access, relying on an old-fashioned mixture of word-of-mouth, inaccessible MLS listings and opaque practices. Especially for millennials and first-time buyers, the process is unwelcoming. But the Financial Post recently reported that “digital matchmaking services have disrupted” the real estate industry, shifting power to first-time buyers.
Regan McGee, the founder and CEO of disruptive real estate platform Nobul, shared that the platform “is embracing society’s ever-increasing openness to technology and making an honest industry out of real estate in the process.”
“Digital Darwinism” Improves Every Business
Where does disruptive technology leave incumbent businesses that rely on sustaining innovation? Naturally, whenever disruptive technologies burst onto the scene, incumbent businesses balk – no business wants to be cornered into a “sink or swim” scenario.
But the presence of disruptive technologies improves every business eventually. It forces incumbents to become materially better, more efficient, more agile and more open. It’s what Wired calls “Digital Darwinism.”
Take TV as an example. When Netflix first disrupted the traditional TV landscape with its streaming platform, it briefly cannibalized once-monopolizing TV networks. But a funny thing happened in the last half-decade. Rather than fade into obsolescence, networks partnered with, or developed their own streaming platforms – HBO Max, Peacock, Sling TV and more. The disruptive technology forced incumbent businesses to offer more variety and more convenience to consumers, a net positive for the industry.
New Markets, Product Infrastructures, Labor Skills and Opportunities
In addition to benefitting businesses and consumers, disruptive technologies may prove advantageous to labor forces. According to research from The Institute for International Economic Policy, “Disruptive technologies have the potential to impact growth, employment, and inequality by creating new markets and business practices, needs for new product infrastructure, and different labor skills.”
In other words, disruptive technologies equal growth potential, and growth potential can lead to broadened opportunities in the labor market. It benefits the workforce as a whole when businesses value diverse skill sets that cater to a large market.
To recap, disruptive technologies have the potential to make things better across the board: for consumers, businesses and labor markets. But ultimately, it’s up to industries – and the businesses that comprise them – to embrace disruptive technologies.
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