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How Technology Evolves

How can you tell if your plan to take on a big swinging company is smart or foolhardy? Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen might have the answers.
Pay particular attention to the concept presented in these two paragraphs excerpted from an Inc. magazine interview with him:

There’s another construct to think about that’s different from the tests we’ve been discussing. In the most demanding tiers of every market, problems have to be dealt with in an unstructured problem-solving mode. Take the health-care market. If you’ve got cancer, you go to the best oncologist money can buy, and she’ll run a bunch of tests and analyze the data and develop hypotheses about what type it is and what type it isn’t. She then embarks on a course of therapy, and the feedback from how you respond confirms or disproves her hypotheses. There are no pat answers to these kinds of unstructured problems. In the middle tiers of a market, many of the problems can be diagnosed and remedied in a pattern-recognition mode. Like type-one diabetes. If you’re always thirsty, you urinate frequently, you’re losing weight, and your eyesight is blurry, you have diabetes. The pattern is so clear it doesn’t take nearly the skill to diagnose and treat conditions in the pattern-recognition area as it did up in the problem-solving mode. And then at the very simplest tiers of the market, things can be diagnosed and treated in a rules-based mode– like, if the test strip turns blue, you’re pregnant. That takes even less skill.

Over time scientific progress transforms issues that formerly needed to be dealt with in the problem-solving mode and pushes them down into pattern-recognition mode and from pattern-recognition mode down into a rules-based regime. That is the disruptive engine that enables people who didn’t have the skill to play in the market before to do a better job than the unstructured-problem-solving experts historically could do. That’s the role of technological progress, and that’s the mechanism by which our lives get better.

There is always a market segment interested in saving money by forgoing unnecessary bells and whistles. Can you anticipate where the market is headed and meet it with a stripped down version of a currently premium-priced product or service? Many successful entrepreneurs make their money by anticipating “where the puck is going” instead looking at where it currently is.

More articles by Clayton Christensen can be found at his consulting firm’s website:

www.innosight.com and www.claytonchristensen.com

Here are additional articles on how to think like an entrepreneur.

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