Disruptive Innovation: The History of an Idea
Paper short abstract:
Following Benoît Godin’s (2015) conceptual history of innovation, I subject disruptive innovation to a similar analysis by tracing the history of this idea back to the Italian Futurists, drawing out a more concrete understanding of the biases and presuppositions that disruptive innovation implies.
Paper long abstract:
Following Benoît Godin's (2015) conceptual history of innovation, in this presentation I subject disruptive innovation to a similar analysis by identifying and historicizing the sociotechnical pre-suppositions implied by this concept. In its original form, disruptive innovation was intended to describe the process by which new firms disrupt markets by offering cheaper goods and services to consumers that incumbent firms overlook. Think Netflix and Blockbuster. The term disruption, though, has moved beyond its business school origins and is now used by entrepreneurs, policy makers, and citizens to describe a process by which networked technologies are endowed with the capability to transform what are seen as anachronistic and inefficient industries and institutions. Drawing from both its business school origins and its place within the popular imagination, I argue that disruptive innovation is not just a concept that is enacted through particular sociotechnical initiatives and policies; it is also an idea that informs how individuals and groups think about technology a priori. Following the theme of 'technology by other means,' I explore the historical resonances between disruptive innovation and the ideas about technology articulated by the Italian Futurists, who, in the early twentieth century, propagated sociotechnical ambitions and initiatives that today's disruptive innovators claim as their own. Tracing the history of the idea of disruptive innovation as it has been articulated through different discourses allows for a more concrete understanding of the biases and presuppositions that this idea implies.
Innovation: Discourses, politics, societies, and blind spots