Geoffrey Moore: Models of Disruptive Innovation from #EMPOWER2016

May 11, 2016
9 Min Read
Geoffrey Moore - Models of Disruptive Innovation from #EMPOWER2016

Geoffrey Moore - Models of Disruptive Innovation from #EMPOWER2016QuickBase’s annual user conference, #EMPOWER2016, kicked off this morning in Nashville with a keynote from Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm and Zone to Win.

In Geoffrey Moore’s words, disruptive innovation occurs when something that was previously scarce and expensive becomes cheap and can be implemented on a wider scale.

Current examples of disruptive innovations in various stages of widespread adoption are cloud computing (simultaneous delivery and automation of any service), smartphone (communication with anyone, anywhere), social networks (collaboration at any scale), data science (optimization of any digital system), and the Internet of Things (optimization of any physical system).

Moore commented that disruptive technologies leverage basic human drives. For example, people like to help each other for free, so Air BNB started as a volunteer army. It owns no property and employs no property managers. It’s a natural community that digital gave power and a voice.

Moore observed that citizen development was not yet on the list of major disruptive innovations and considered what factors would make it “go big.” He shared that social groups engage with disruptive innovations in different ways and self-segregate into five general groups that comprise the bell-curve, technology adoption lifecycle.

5 Groups of Technology Adopters


These are the technology enthusiasts who love new stuff. They want to try everything first and they’re the only ones who will actually read the documentation. The trouble? They don’t have any money. Doc from Back to the Future is a classic example.

Early Adopters/Visionaries

These individuals recognize that an innovation could change everything. They understand the technology and support their innovative friends that make it happen. They bet big and early. Apple’s founding duo – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – are examples of a visionary and his innovator buddy.

Early Majority/Pragmatists

Pragmatists have a list of problems to solve and they don’t know whether to believe the visionaries. They want to know if their peers are “doing it yet.” This group moves as a herd, so even if a technology isn’t perfect, the market will now grow enough to improve upon it. Suddenly, we move from nobody’s doing it, nobody’s doing it, nobody’s doing it, to EVERYONE’S doing it!

Late Majority/Conservatives

Conservatives are nervous. They ask their trusted advisors: “Tell me the truth, is it really safe?” They feel that they don’t get as much value from technology as other people and will only proceed when the market is well-established.


This group will never be fully convinced that disruptive technologies are the way to go, even once they’re mainstream.

The Journey of Disruptive Innovation

In Moore’s experience, visionaries and the early market get a lot of publicity, but that publicity doesn’t necessarily help with adoption. Usually, there is a bit of a lull, which Moore called a chasm, as the early adopters struggle to gain a competitive advantage but early majority buyers insist on waiting.

As pragmatists acknowledge that an innovation can solve a business pain, a niche market emerges. Use cases pop up and word of mouth begins to spread. This is what Moore identified as the bowling pin phenomenon: one pin knocks over the rest and the market grows rapidly.

In some cases, it may even result in a tornado, when everyone suddenly proclaims: “Hang on, why aren’t we doing this everywhere?” Smartphone adoption is a good example of this trajectory. Originally, smartphones were for venture capitalists and drug dealers, but once the tornado hit, people were waiting outside Apple stores by the thousands. The market exploded and the demand for the technology vastly exceeded the supply. Today, the smartphone industry has moved into the age of the customer. Supply now exceeds demand and vendors have to up their service game.

Adoption Strategies for Citizen Development

By understanding your organization and diagnosing your unique situation, you’ll be able to determine where you are in this journey, and in turn assess the best of these four strategies for implementing citizen development.


Go ahead of the herd to gain a competitive advantage. Learn about projects from the experts and evangelize the technology internally and externally.

Bowling Alley

Go ahead of the herd to address a painful problem in your organization. Reference proven applications from segment-focused vendors. If it works, score!


Stick with the herd as it transitions to a new infrastructure. Recognize that it’s time to evolve, and follow the lead of market leaders so that you don’t get behind.

Main Street

Go after the herd for less disruption and a lower price. Leverage evolutionary extensions from established vendors.

There is no right answer. Silicon Valley is a snobby culture and implies that if you’re not doing something first, you have an IQ problem. Ignore this. You know what will work best in your organization.

Where Your Implementation Falls

This too varies by the organization, and Moore suggests a pyramid with Infrastructure at the bottom, Operations in the middle, and Overall Business at the top. Your return-on-investment depends on where you are on the pyramid.

Infrastructure Model

Here, you’re on Main Street. Applications focus on technical tasks and are developed inside the IT ranks at the lowest cost possible. Your goal is to focus on price, performance, and efficiency, and your sponsor is an IT leader. From an ROI perspective, you’ll have no regrets. This implementation will save money and everyone will be happy.

Operating Model

You’re either at the Bowling Alley on in the Tornado. You focus on the business and may not even be part of IT. This is about being more effective at a process that you know inside and out. Your goal is to be more productive and/or address an immediate business pain, just save money on IT costs. You recognize the importance of being more agile and plan to modify as you go. Your sponsor is a business leader.

Business Model

You are the Lightbulb. You’re prepared to use this innovation to redesign everything about your business in real time, redefining market norms and gaining a competitive advantage. Your sponsor is the CEO. This implementation will involve greater risk, but also the greatest reward when it comes to ROI.

Regardless of where your organization is with respect to citizen development, one thing’s for sure: digital will not be denied. By paying attention to what’s happening in the market and understanding how your organization fits in, you’ll be in a terrific position to catch the next wave!

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