Radical technologies and innovations are frequently cited in the literature and discourse on technology and Innovation. Is the smartphone a radical innovation or technology? Of course, the rise of smartphones as a creative wave of destruction unleashing transformative consequences on numerous products and firms is radical. But what about the underlying technologies such as lithium-ion battery, low energy consuming high performing processor, operating system, software application, multi-touch user interface, wireless modem, etc.? Are they radical innovations or technologies? Do we often get confused in separating revolutionary technologies from innovations, resulting in inappropriate responses or misinterpretation? Let’s examine a few examples of radical technologies and innovations to demystify it.
Examples of Radical Technologies and Innovations
Metaverse is a virtual and augmented reality synthetic world. It has latent potential to transform how we communicate, socialize, meet, confer, and work. As a result, our way of living and work are the target of experiencing creative destruction force. For example, in a metaverse world, we could cognitively travel under the ocean or deep forest of the Amazon. Similarly, we could be virtually present in the remote workplace and interact with physical machines to perform real-life jobs remotely. There are many such possibilities in social and other aspects of life. As a result, the metaverse will likely unleash transformative implications.
However, is metaverse radical innovation or technology? Metaverse comprises a series of technologies such as high-speed internet, retina displays, sensors like accelerometers in headsets, graphics, computer vision, and many more. Hence, it’s fair to say that the metaverse is an innovation with radical implication potential. However, as mentioned, its growth depends on advancing a series of technologies. Hence, to drive the growth of metaverse innovation to a profound state, there is a need to partner with technology developers for continued advancement.
The technologies powering metaverse to reach the radical stage also have the potential to grow to a radical state. Like radical innovations, invariably, all revolutionary technologies begin life in embryonic form. Like accelerometer sensors in detecting head motion and direction or machine vision in detecting objects in projected images, all started in a humble form. But as they have been progressing, the metaverse has been progressing too towards unleashing transformative performance. Hence, the performance of candidate radical innovations depends on the incremental progression and length of the runway for taxing innovations to reach a take-off state, unleashing the creative destruction effect. Besides, the rise of innovations to a radical form often requires the advancement of multiple technologies. For example, more than a dozen technologies to keep advancing for incrementally progressing metaverse to be a member of radical innovation club.
The electric vehicle is an innovation that has the potential to grow to unleash creative destruction effects on conventional automobiles. Hence, it’s a candidate of radical innovation. However, it started the journey in primitive form, far inferior to internal combustion engine (ICE) based automobiles. But what is the underlying reason for its steady performance growth and cost reduction? It has been happening due to the progression of underlying technology cores like the battery pack, charging unit, and energy conversion electronic module. Due to the incremental advancement of these critical technologies, electric vehicle (EV) innovation has been progressing. Hence, whether EVs will be radical innovations depends on the continued progression of underlying technology cores. Therefore, battery packs and charging units are candidates for radical technologies in determining whether EVs will be radical innovations.
Some literature, particularly popular media, has already been terming autonomous vehicles as radical innovation. Surprisingly, it has been at the embryonic stage, let alone having the capability of unleashing creative destruction on human driving. What is going to determine whether autonomous driving will reach a radical innovation state or not? Like all other radical innovations, underlying technology cores are going to decide. Candidate revolutionary technologies like machine learning, computer vision, and 3D sensors are also at the early stage of the life cycle. They have not qualified as radical technologies yet to turn autonomous vehicles into radical innovations. Candidate radical technologies powering autonomous driving have been incrementally progressing. Autonomous vehicles will not graduate to a radical innovation state unless candidate radical technologies grow enough to cross the threshold.
It’s well accepted that the smartphone has graduated to a radical innovations state. But did it show up as a radical innovation with a big bang? Unfortunately, no. In 1994, the first smartphone, IBM’s Simon, found only 50,000 customers. Hence, IBM discontinued it. But how has it succeeded in shipping 1.2 billion units in 2022?
Like all other radical innovations, the smartphone’s success depends on a few technologies. Some are low-energy processors, image sensors, lenses, storage, and software. In the late 1990s, these technologies were at the primitive stage. Over the years, they have been continuously growing, crossing the threshold in turning the humble beginning of smartphones into radical innovation.
Defining Radical Technologies
Radical technologies have succeeded in fueling innovations to unleash creative destruction force, transforming industries, economies, and society as a whole. But invariably, they are born in embryonic form. However, due to their amenability to progression and relentless R&D effort, they keep incremental advancing, turning them into radical technologies. Like radical technologies, innovations powered by them also start the life cycle in a primitive form. Along with the progression of the candidate technology cores, they also keep growing. Along this growth path, underlying technologies reach a radical state, powering target innovations to unleash creative destruction effect. Hence, it’s fair to say that radical innovations and technologies begin the life cycle in primitive form. The sustained journey of incremental progression of candidate radical technologies keeps growing candidate innovation, reaching a revolutionary state. Once innovations succeed in achieving an extreme success in unleashing creative destruction effect, technologies powering them also reach the state of radical technology state.
Technology and Innovation Management Challenges
As explained, due to the primitive beginning of candidate radical technologies, innovations around them also begin the journey in an embryonic state, let alone being capable of unleashing transformative effects. Due to the embryonic beginning of transformative technologies and innovations, management has faced daunting challenges.
First of all, not all candidate radical technologies and innovations are not equally amenable to progression. Besides, not all of them succeed in unleashing creative destructive force, qualifying them as radical technologies and innovations. Hence, such a reality poses serious decision-making challenges. To address it, the focus should be on assessing the underlying science base of target technologies and the threshold level to cross for powering innovations in scale, scope, and positive externalities to gather enough momentum to unfold transformative effects. The next challenge is to sustain a loss-making journey to reach the radical state.
Due to this reality, there is a tendency among incumbents to profit from mature waves to avoid pursuing candidate revolutionary technologies and innovations. But in some cases, they grow to the state of creative destruction level, resulting in a Disruptive innovation effect. Hence, there should be a well-thought-out program for detecting latent potential to take advantage of candidate radical technologies and innovations and prevent suffering from disruptive innovation effects.