Creative Disruption: The Changing Landscape of Technology


Reading back through this series, it's clear that there are many examples of poor decisions that had huge financial consequences for businesses:

  • Kodak chose not to follow up on its pioneering work in photographic film and cameras and watched digital photography render its film processing cash cow irrelevant.
  • Digital Research could not come to terms with IBM for its operating system, opening the door for Microsoft.
  • Xerox did not embrace computers as products, in spite of the fact that its PARC innovations became pervasive throughout the industry.
  • Polaroid had no new technology when its monopoly on instant photography ended.
  • Lotus and WordPerfect chose to develop their industry dominant spreadsheet and word processing products for IBM’s OS/2 but not for Microsoft Windows.

In addition to these examples, there are many others in which firms stumbled and either managed to right themselves, or failed entirely.

But the decisions made by companies have broader ramifications for people. So what can we learn from such a review? One thing is clear: Employees must constantly determine whether their skills are both up to date and in demand. In the world of technology, jobs in demand one day can become worthless the next. This swift deterioration is not limited only to the world of technology; any skill impacted by technology is at risk of the same fate.

In short, to be competitive in tech, both companies and employees must always have a skill that is currently in demand and be in the process of developing another product or skill that will be in demand in the future.

Sounds like a cold, cruel world, doesn't it? In many ways, it is, but it's also exciting. No one likes change - except for those making it or profiting from it. The loan officer replaced by an artificial intelligence sub-routine, the factory worker replaced by a robot, or the order processing clerk replaced by an online customer input system have no say in the change process, but they do have a hand in how it affects them. Technology changes, and if history proves anything, it's that success comes to the companies and people who jump on the bandwagon and change with it, while almost everyone else is left behind.

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Written by John F. McMullen
John F. McMullen lives with his wife, Barbara, in Jefferson Valley, New York, in a converted barn full of pets (dog, cats, and turtles) and books. He has been involved in technology for more than 40 years and has written more than 1,500 articles, columns and reviews about it for major publications. He is a professor at Purchase College and has previously taught at Monroe College, Marist College and the New School for Social Research. He is also a member of the American Academy of Poets, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freelancer's Union, the Association for Computing Machinery, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and the World Futurist Society.

His current non-technical writing includes a novel, "The Inwood Book" and "New & Collected Poems by johnmac the bard." Both are available on