Well-known researcher and consultant Michael Schrage, associated with the MIT MediaLab, calls attention to what he calls “disruptive incremental innovation” using cheap, easy-to-implement ideas that transform how value is created or perceived. “The ideas underlying the successful incremental disruptor almost always seem blindingly obvious in retrospect,” says Schrage. “Any competitor could have done it.” One example is the Apple iMac, which was a breakout product for Apple largely because the company had the bright idea to make it in bright colors, rather than the same old beige; another example is James Dyson’s idea in 1993 to make the housings of his novel cyclonic vacuum cleaners transparent, after realizing that customers loved to watch the inner workings of their machines. Schrage believes that “the opportunities for disruptive incrementalism seem to be increasing for innovators who believe that even small revolutions can have disproportionately big results.”

Technology Review March 2004