Monday, June 14, 2010

Scientific revolutions ~ Disruptive technologies

These two wikipedia pages are really interesting to read side by side: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Disruptive Technology. The first is Thomas Kuhn's 50-year-old-but-still-revolutionary theory of how scientific theories advance. The other is Clayton Christensen's more recent theory of why many businesses fail to respond to innovation. Despite the fact that Kuhn was a physicist and scientific historian and Christensen is a business school professor, the two have a lot in common.

Here's a list of important concepts from both theories. I've paired roughly equivalent concepts here. I'll let you look them up from wikipedia on your own.

Kuhn / Christensen
Scientific revolutions ~ Market disruption
Paradigm ~ Value network
Paradigm shift ~ Market disruption
Coherence ~ Corporate culture
Normal science ~ Sustaining innovation
Anomalies ~ New-market disruption
New theory ~ Disruptive innovation
??? ~ Low-end disruption
??? ~ Up-market/down-market
Incommensurability ~ ???
Pre-paradigm phase ~ ???
Normal phase ~ Market growth
Revolutionary phase ~ Market disruption

One thing that strikes me as potentially interesting is the places where the two theories do *not* overlap. As a businessperson, Christensen is more interested in the development of markets and the flow of revenue. Kuhn is more interested in the change in theories over time. It strikes me that each approach may have something to offer the other.

* In science and academia, what does it mean to be "down-market?" Which departments today are incubating the revolutionary theories of tomorrow?
* What does the idea of incommensurability imply for business practice? Anecdotally, disruptive companies often have business models and cultures that are dramatically different from established companies. Should that change the way we think about entrepreneurship and venture capital?

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