Discontinuous technology inventions, also called radical innovations or disruptive innovations, are those that don’t only add an incremental value to an existing invention but which actually create a new invention that meets needs that were not previously supplied to consumers, generating new value and a new market.
A new market, because, by definition, if the product (or invention of technology) is new, the market that sells that product can also only be new.
To illustrate what a discontinuous technology invention is, we can quickly give the example of digital cameras.
Before them, the continuous or incremental inventions in existing cameras resembled more powerful zooms, smarter flashes that didn’t make your eyes red, longer duration batteries, and film type variations.
That is: only improvements in the invention that already existed, or an incremental continuation of the product.
When the digital camera was invented, there was no need for movies, images could be stored virtually, without taking up space, the number of photos you took no longer depended on how many rolls of film you had purchased (practically extinguishing this market) and you could view photos immediately and even discard the bad ones.
Therefore, all these details are inventions of the discontinuous technology that generated new behaviors (and, therefore, new values in the product), since it was not an increment to the existing invention, but of a new technological invention.
See below the characteristics of discontinuous technological inventions.
What characterizes discontinuous technology inventions?
Risk is one of the most present concepts when defining what is a discontinuous technology invention is.
And that happens for a simple reason: creating a more efficient (and expensive) zoom for the existing camera, involves fewer risks and much less capital than creating something totally new, which in some cases the market may still reject.
In fact, consumers of cameras, as well as those of cars, cake mixers, lawnmowers, televisions, or any other technological invention you can imagine, are already waiting for new models every year.
In the case of cars, they even receive a date at the end of the name. This way the buyer knows exactly which incremental innovations that specific model incorporates.
But the biggest risk is not the only element to stand out in discontinuous technology. Let’s look at all of them in more detail.
1- High investment in Research and Development
Continuing to use our example of digital cameras:
The level of investment in this type of project is clearly more expensive than just reworking a flash or, as in some cases, adding new colors to an existing product line.
2- Low-cost solutions for users
Even with high development costs, discontinuous technology inventions need to be inexpensive. If they’re not, there’s a risk that consumers won’t adopt them.
Even with digital cameras at a price that was a bit expensive in the beginning, it’s necessary to remember that the consumer no longer needed to buy film, much less pay for the development of the photos.
3- New customers for the invention
In solving a need that was not previously met, discontinuous technology inventions attract new users.
Take a hypothetical example:
Consider a plant life scientist who once traveled through the forests cataloging new species. His preferred method of recording plants was by drawing them with a notebook and pencil, rather than carrying a camera and a large amount of film rolls. And even then, after drawing almost 600 pictures, he still couldn’t see value in a conventional camera.
With the almost unlimited possibility of taking photos and even discarding the inappropriate ones, this new compact digital camera consumer became part of this new market.
4 – Discontinuous technology inventions create value
As detailed above, there’s the creation of new value, something that solves a major consumer need.
5- A new market
Again: if there’s a new product and new consumers, by definition the product created a new market.
6- Creating something new
Finally, the most significant point of difference of discontinuous technology inventions is that they create something new. They don’t just improve on what already existed.
As you saw, one of the hallmarks of discontinuous technology inventions is to offer a low-cost solution to users.