“Reverse innovator’s dilemma”

I like explaining things to other people for entirely selfish reasons. I often find myself saying unexpected things, such as today, when I was trying to explain the state of the art in interactive storytelling to a friend, and found myself using the term “reverse Innovator’s Dilemma”. That seemed interesting enough to jot down, and perhaps even interesting enough to write a blog post about.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” is a classic business book by Clayton Christensen. Unlike some classic business books, this one contains a pretty useful idea. I say this never quite having finished reading it, as I recall.

Regardless! The idea is this: if you’re building something that is high quality and expensive, your market may be destroyed (disrupted – Christensen started with the whole disruption thing) by something that is cheap and good enough, especially when that something can get better much faster than you.

So PCs disrupted bigger computers, MP3 disrupted CDs, downloadable games disrupted disk-based games, browser-based games disrupted downloadable games, etc.

My point in the discussion today was that some things – specifically, certain approaches to interactive storytelling – are so hard that it is almost impossible to get them good enough before you run out of time or money. Although Chris Crawford is definitely testing that idea.

Is “reverse Innovator’s Dilemma” a great term? Perhaps not. The classic diagram in the Innovator’s Dilemma maps quality over time, it doesn’t talk about development costs at all. “Local maximum” is probably a much better analogy for the situation in interactive storytelling. To add insult to injury, my casual use of “reverse Innovator’s Dilemma” may hide a concept that is much more deserving of the phrase.

But I thought it was a fun thing to say, so there.

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