This post is cross posted from my LinkedIn account. You'll find most/all comments there.
Clayton Christensen introduced his theory of disruptive innovation 20 years ago. I'd like to share my thoughts on the subject over a 3 part series of short posts. The 3 parts will be:
- Non-linear change. Setup the environment where innovation accelerates.
- Relentless innovation. The power of continuous improvement.
- Disruptive innovation. Did video conferencing live up to the hype of being disruptive?
If you examine your career and look back at the really important things you've done, then will likely find only a handful. The first time, the only time, the best time. Many times it is a solitary activity when you have a breakthrough at 3am (and no one else is around). The first time a piece of hardware comes to life powered up by your software. It is a magical feeling. A fleeting feeling you struggle to recreate over and over. It is a feeling that makes you actively search out the best people to work with (on projects that mean something). This is on you. Don't let someone else control your path. So many things to do, so little time.
I think about innovation and projects around the categories of linear change and non-linear change. Both are critically important. Something special happens when the stars align that enable the later.
If you're more of a CliffsNotes person, then keep reading. I also did a video version of this topic at the 20th anniversary IMTC forum in Portugal back in 2013. You can find a version of it here, Video Coding: Past, Present and Future. I think you will find the video more interesting than the words and it does go over some video codec trivia with clips that you might enjoy.
An example I use for linear change is the evolution of video compression standards. Improved algorithms coupled with Moore's law yield a steady stream of better video codecs. This march typically takes 10 years from one standard to the next and then another 10 years for commercial adoption (if it happens at all). The standard based codecs of H.261, H.263, MP4, H.264 and H.265 are examples of this and there are a bucketful of proprietary codecs. This type of innovation moves at glacial speed but they pack a hurricane punch over long periods of time. They are very predictable and everyone can see them coming.
More interesting to me are the ones that only you see (and believe). Burning platforms and software eating the world are recent themes, but non-linear change has always been around and always will. Countless examples include:
- Non-linear video editing: Grass Valley vs. Final Cut Pro (or iMovie)
- Blockbuster vs. Netflix
- Brick and mortar book store vs. Amazon
- feature phones vs smartphones
- taxis (and driving our own car) vs Uber
- hotels vs airBnb
- user owned infrastructure vs. cloud based solutions
- ... pretty sure I could rattle off 100 others, but I'll stop there ... you can add your own in the comments
Lifesize was built on non-linear change where we felt there was an opportunity to make a dent in the world by seeing the convergence of 3 trends.
- The mass availability of HD displays. We didn't invent this, but believe me the masses didn't believe this was necessary back in 2003. We did.
- Introduction of fH.264 as a video codec. Standard completed in 2003. Computationally intensive to use. Naysayers were mostly people that couldn't do it. We did.
- IP networking. Evolution of H.323 and ultimate switch to SIP.
We threw a dart at these bigger trends and built a successful company around it. The time was right for non-linear change and the user consumption of video has exploded.
Next time, I'll tackle the topic of relentless innovation. I'll follow that with the post I really want to write which overlays the lens of disruptive innovation theory on top of the video communication industry and explore if it truly made a dent or was it mostly a missed opportunity.