The Next Big Innovation Will Start Out Looking Like A Toy

from the and-will-be-dismissed-as-such dept

One of the key points to understand in Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma is the idea that the “new thing” that hits the market often gets dismissed early on by the legacy players as not being good enough. Chris Dixon has taken that concept to a different level in predicting that the “next big thing will start out looking like a toy.” It’s a good way of thinking about it, because it really frames the level of dismissiveness that many have towards disruptive innovation. It’s not just that they think it’s “not good enough,” but that it’s so pitiful that it’s only real purpose is to be a toy. But former “toys” can turn out to be much more over time. This isn’t to say — of course — that all things dismissed as “toys” will actually become disruptive innovation (that would be a logic failure), but it does mean you shouldn’t so quickly assume that every “toy” will never amount to anything else. It helps to look at who’s doing the dismissing and what motives they might have — while also looking at the adoption curves and usage of the “toy” in question.

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Comments on “The Next Big Innovation Will Start Out Looking Like A Toy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

where are the facts?

other than top end gaming hardware (which eventually trickles down into the mainstream user-space), what is one toy that ever made it into the real world as something actually useful?

the only example in TFA is wikipedia, and wikipedia is a joke. unless you want really general topics, med-school info, or star wars articles, most of the articles on wikipedia really suck. i’ve followed many articles where 2 people argue back and forth on what the facts are (usually, neither will cite a source), and the “winner” is the guy who keeps reverting the longest. then you have “criticism” sections, which are a fucking joke — it’s “wikipedia bans opinion, so i’ll state that factually, the topic received criticism for XYZ, and that is a fact, regardless of whether the criticism is meritless or not.” and as wikipedia is overrun by the same majority atheist/liberal/ms-hating crowd that overruns digg and reddit, god forbid you say anything bad about obama, socialized healthcare, or apple.

bottom line: this whole toy=>innovation opinion is a sweeping generalization with zero facts to back it up.

M-H says:

Depends on how you define 'toy'

I think it is more likely that it will be dismissed as a fad than a toy. Home computers are a passing fad that will die down in only a few years. Television is a fad, and could not harm radio. Movies to theaters. Oh, sure that there online service may seem cool now, but NO ONE wants it. CDs, now that is real. So psha, go along with your little Cultural Revolution fad and see where you are in four years. Torrent, pah, don’t bother me with mayflies. Dead in a year. Fads all of it. Not like Blu-Ray. Now, Blu-Ray is real, yea.

Part of that does turn into regarding this as toys or pointless hobbies. A computer may not have been seen as a ‘toy’ like for a child, but it was seen as a ‘pointless and waste of time geek hobby’. (Particularly during the days of ELFs and Tandy Radio-Shack.)

However you want to call it however, Fad, Toy, or Hobby, the point is the big players see it as a joke, a thing that only appeals to a tiny bit, and will die out, or get replaced, and THEY have the true vision.

:) says:


I love’em 🙂

An great example is 3D manufacturing. Things like fab@home or the rep rap machines are just great but there are some commercial ones that use paper and plastic to create 3D forms.

Robotics are not for the military people are creating some cool things the Star Trek submarine (follow the links to the original page in japanese to see some cool videos of other submarines the guy did)

There is even a blimp project very cool for aerial photography or filming things that used to take a crane to do it.

The Wii is great to, people are doing cool things with it that are not game related.

For $40 bucks(the price of the zipti) you can hack a zipit(go to openzipit) and turn it into smartphone using skype, great for wardriving too as it has a wifi and so it can tap things anywhere and is the size of a phone.

Microscopy is great there is so much things one can do with a digital microscope you wouldn’t believe and they sell pretty good ones as toys now.

Kids can test DNA with toys too and that could lead to people testing their food to see if what they bought is what they got as some kids did it in new york.

Not to mention augmented reality gadgets that for now are just toys but can impact the way we live in the future think of it like the AI movie when the little blueish creatures touch one another to transfer information and they are all seeing the same thing.

robphelan (profile) says:

My favorite example of a “toy” seemingly becoming a driving force behind an entire segment of technology – the original Xbox.

It was initially modded in order to play backed-up games.

Smarter people quickly realized that with a media player installed (XBMC), one could have a great 1080i upconverting media center without spending several hundred to thousands of dollars.

M$ did their best to quash the modders, but failed. However, they did the smart thing (and so did Sony) by understanding the importance of a media center and incorporate those ideas into their next-gen consoles.

Everyone who watches a movie on their home TV streamed over their network from a server or from an online source owes a big “thank you” to those original Xbox modders.

chris (profile) says:

toys make really good prototypes

as eric hoffer said:

“We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the fact that many inventions had their birth as toys.”

toys make really good prototypes. they tend to be small, cheap, easy to understand, and easy to take apart.

in the web world there are plenty of examples of innovations that began with consumers before finding a place in the enterprise: web based email, instant messaging, voice over ip, blogging, virtualization (emulators for gaming hardware), social networking.

sure there are examples of enterprise technologies finding their way down to consumers like pagers and mobile phones, but that tends to be true for technologies that start off as expensive.

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