dinosaurs+mice, HPUX+Linux, OOo+google office, aka the Innovator’s Dilemma

Almost every time I see authors of traditional desktop office suites talking about web-based office suites, it is patently obvious that they haven’t read The Innovator’s Dilemma. (It isn’t just Michael; he just happens to be the latest example.) If you’re interested in innovation at all, do yourself a favor and read the book. No matter what you do in ‘innovation’ (create, manage, market, whatever) you’ll never look at your product or your competitors the same way again.

If you’re a Linux developer, the nutshell version of Innovator’s Dilemma should be familiar- the incumbent saying ‘this upstart is too immature/is too niche/doesn’t have enough features/isn’t ‘enterprisey’ enough so they’ll never take over our market’. And then the incumbent wakes up one morning with all the very immature mice feasting on its dinosaur carcass, as those mice have evolved much more quickly and gained a nimbleness and power the dinosaur could not possibly have imagined. It isn’t just coincidence; there are good structural reasons why this happens repeatedly, and the book explains them well. (Wikipedia has a good list of mice and dinosaurs, many of which are discussed in more detail in the book.)

This isn’t to say there are any guarantees about web-based suites taking over the market; web-based office suites have merely most (not all) of the the signs of disruptive innovation. But the core signs are there. So if you’re in the space, and you haven’t read the book, go do it before you write anything else on the subject. Not only will you be more competent next time you write publicly about it, you might just get some ideas that will help stop the mice who are merrily nipping at your dinosaur feet.

[Hint: it isn’t just for office suites… if you’re writing a desktop app or desktop development platform of any sort, you should be reading Innovator’s Dilemma and figuring out exactly what you’re bringing to the table against web apps and the web app platform- how are you going to stop yourself from being disrupted by them? If you can’t answer that question, you might want to think twice before writing more desktop apps or another desktop platform; if you can answer that question and can act on the answer, then you’re better positioned than most of your competitors- congrats.]