Re: Back in black.

Dave Long (
Tue, 01 Jun 1999 21:41:01 -0700

> The
> problem is that great companies are excellent at innovating *sustaining*
> technologies -- ones designed to serve customers' CURRENT needs -- but
> that emerging disruptive technologies that sneak in through the market's
> least profitable customers eventually build the critical mass to lead
> the rest of the market in a completely new direction.

Could it be that disruptive technologies are only really viable in hindsight?

Great Company Enterprises looks at the risks and returns of the opportunities
available to it, and picks the most efficient set. Former Little Company, not
wishing to compete on the efficient frontier, "wildcats" and picks projects
with an appealing (far out of the money, but high variance) Black-Sholes value.

Take the steam engine. It was a toy from (at least) Hero's time in Greece to
mid 17th century England. After all, if you wanted to get any work done, it
was easy enough to get workers or draft animals to do it directly, and all you
had to do was feed them with food you were already growing anyway. The steam
engine finally found its niche in mine drainage: power requirements were much
higher than in other endeavors, and the fuel was actually readily available.
If we ask why England, it could very well have been that in other areas of the
world, it was economically more favorable to mine elsewhere, or to burn wood,
than to bother attempting to drain mines.


<> shows that even in the
late 18th century, the steam engine had yet to go mainstream, despite
extensive technical improvement:
>This helps to account for the gradual introduction of steam-power. The
>steam-engines were generally erected in new enterprises near the
>coal-fields, while the old centres of localized industry continued along
>traditional lines. Gradually competition added to the numbers of the
>power-driven works and decreased those of the older type, until the
>industries that needed power were almost all clustered round or on the
>coal-fields. All this happened before the days of the railway and rapid coal

It also mentions an interesting ad from the 1716 London Gazette:
>Whereas the invention for raising water by the impellant force of fire,
>authorized by parliament, is lately brought to the greatest perfection, and
>all sorts of mines, etc., may thereby be drained and water raised to any
>height with more ease and less charge than by any other methods hitherto
>as is sufficiently demonstrated by diverse engines of this invention now at
>work in the several counties of Stafford, Worwich, Cornwall, and Flint.
These >are, therefore, to give notice that if any person shall be desirous to
>with the proprietors for such engines, attendance will be given for that
>purpose every Wednesday at the Sword Blade Coffee House in Birchin Lane,

For some context, we can see ads from the 1692 edition:
>A Pack of Hounds consisting of near twenty Couple, is to be dispos'd of.
>They are good at either Fox, Deer or Hare; hard Runners, well Sized and
>shaped, good Mouths, and most or all of them young Hounds and in the prime
>of Hunting; Enquire at Mans Coffee-house near Charing-Cross, or at Wills
>Covent Garden.
>Holman's London Ink-Powder for Records being the strongest ingredients
>for making the best Writing Ink, by dissolving on Six-penny Paper thereof
>in a Pint of Rain or River Water, by shaking or stirring it together:
>Approved on by many Thousands, and is best for Carriage by Sea and
>Land, it is sealed up in Six-Penny Paper, and sold by most Stationers
>in and about London, and Shop-keepers in the chiefest Cities and Towns
>in England; Made and sold by Charles Holman, now living at the Hare near
>the George Inn in Southwark, he having a Patent granted him under the
>Great Seal of England for making the same.

The coffee house may no longer be a commercial center, but the press release
seems not to have changed greatly in 300 years.