Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation was coined by Clay Christensen in 1995. Clay Christensen’s website says that disruptive innovation ‘describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors.’  Really we’re talking about those game changing innovations that spur a revolution in how we think, behave and do things.  The development of the automobile wasn’t a disruptive innovation – it was a toy for the super rich – Henry Ford’s model T – a car for everyone – was.  I haven’t done a comprehensive analysis but it’s hard to imagine a time in history where there has been so many disruptive innovations in such as short space of time.

In the last 10 years digital technology has changed the game across a variety of industries and has had a hugely impact on how we create and deliver our art.  I first took notice of this in the music industry.  Purchasing habits have changed dramatically, most of us rarely buy a physical artifact – the CD – any more.  I bought a CD for the first time in probably a year recently, it was an album from one of my friend’s bands and I could get it before it made it to the iTunes site.   This is a rare exception for me, but a typical lack of restraint, most of my music purchases are now digital downloads.  Even the CDs that I buy will be imported into the digital music library that I have on my computer.  In addition to changing how music is delivered to the consumer, digital technologies have changed how music is created.  Musicians now have access to technology that makes it possible to record their work at home, with the production quality that a previous generation would have had to go into a big budget studio to achieve.  They can upload their newly recorded songs to their website for their audience to download without the need for a record label.  How cool is that!

The book industry, in denial for a while, is staring at the same kind of revolution that has swept over the music industry.  The growth in the number of books that are being downloaded is remarkable.  Take a look at how much real estate your local Barnes and Noble gives to their Nook reader – there’s a reason for this.  Digital books are here to stay!  The technology is available to make it very easy to write, edit and publish an e-book without the need for a book deal.  It seems to me that Seth Godin is at the leading edge of this revolution with the Domino Project.  Essentially he is throwing out the rules of how things were done in the past and reinventing the book publishing game.  This is something that just about anyone can do, perhaps not on the same grand scale, but the technology makes it quite possible.

Photography has been hugely disrupted.  I can imagine how it must feel to have been a photographer for 20 years and have the game change so dramatically in a few short years.  The advent of digital has led to the demise of film companies, radically reduced offerings from others, specialty printers are feeling the pinch, stock sales are off and yet this is a great time to be a photographer.  We’re in the middle of a revolution, the old rules don’t apply, which means we’re free to make it up and make it happen.  Try some things, run with what works.  Chase Jarvis appears to be the poster child for the new generation of photographers who are exploiting new technologies and new ways of doing things.  He was taking photos with his iPhone before it was a very good camera, his photos became a book and an app. He regularly lifts the curtain on the inner workings of Chase Jarvis Inc. on his blog – from how he packs his bag for a shoot to a the occasional daily diary of a shoot.  With the huge number of people taking up photography, there’s an incredible demand for photography education. What’s the most disruptive thing that you could do to the photographic education market?  Give it away for free! With Craig Swanson, Chase started CreativeLive, a website that hosts and streams workshops with some of the best working photographers today – Jeremy Cowart, Zach Arias and Tamara Lackey to name but a few.  While our projects may not have the same reach that Chase’s do, there are opportunities to be had, so let’s go be disruptive!