Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Long Nose – How Long a Technology Takes to Incubate

The Long Tail is well known. In fact, I posted about it last year when Chris Anderson delivered the keynote address at NI Week. You can see the post here. Recently, I came across an article by Bill Buxton of Microsoft called the “Long Nose” which describes the time it takes for a technology to incubate. In working with emerging technologies this topic comes up often. Just as the long tail describes how low volume segments when taken in aggregate can add up to a sizeable market, so the incubation of new technologies comes in incremental steps but over a long period of time. The computer mouse took 30 years to go from first invention to standard practice in the computer industry. It followed many small, incremental steps or “low-frequency” efforts as the author describes it before it reached a “high-frequency” or rather highly visible usage on the Macintosh and later on Windows 95. The author asserts this is the normal path of technology development and shouldn’t come as a surprise when highly touted emerging technologies take years to come to maturity.

Peter Drucker, a favorite of mine, once wrote that it takes 25 years for a new technology to go from invention to practical usability of the technology. The author breaks down the process into three steps: invention, refinement/augmentation, and traction, with the second taking the majority of time and effort.

The article proposes that any innovation that will become big in the next 10 years is already in the market. This suggests that instead of looking for some radically new innovation, we should be looking for the immature technology and iterating on it more frequently in an effort to move it up the maturity curve. When I look at the number of patents offered by most any research university, it tells me we have enough technologies. We just don’t have enough maturing technologies.

Best regards,
Hall T.

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