2nd December 2011: The Disruptive Internet

Disruptive Internet project files (partial), January 2007 (click to view)


From January 2006 to March 2007 I worked on The Disruptive Internet (uncompleted) project for the Smart Internet Technology CRC.


The project had four goals:


1. Prepare a research critique that offers the first consolidated analysis of Internet-related disruptive technologies and users with some key implications for commercial opportunities.

2. Construct a taxonomy of disruptive users.

3. Validation or debunking of the hypothesis that the best future applications will not necessarily succeed because they offer higher levels of technology performance but rather consumers perceive them as practical and affordable, with obvious usefulness in their lives as low tech/high touch applications.

4. Identification of market disruption opportunities and evaluation of their implications for CRC Participants in various industry sectors.


I’ve just re-read the program director’s negative final assessment in the SITCRC’s 2007 annual report and want to set the record straight in a minority report/rejoinder:


1.The first milestone is listed as achieved. I had a draft monograph (redrafted twice with new material) on Clayton M. Christensen‘s research program on disruptive innovation, and another on Google (mentioned in this 2010 blog post). Although I spent a year on it, this material has never been made publicly available. It currently fills an archive box and over 3 gigabytes on a hard drive. At the time, I saw a marketplace gap now filled by The Innovator’s Guide to Growth (2008) and The Innovator’s DNA (2011). Perhaps I should have pursued a book deal. A public, official internet blog would also have been interesting given my concurrent work with The Disinformation Company Ltd. The two unpublished, draft monographs influenced a 2008 conference paper (PDF) and presentation (PDF) on disruptive innovation markets and ‘freemium’ music digital downloads.


2. The second milestone is listed as not achieved. For the second milestone, I had a draft taxonomy which drew on the Chinese 36 strategems. In my redrafted material for the first milestone, I also emphasised the link between disruptive innovation and agile software development as a type of disruptive user environment (‘reversing’-driven innovation was another). I undertook Scrum training in 2005, not CRC-funded. I took usability and project management training in 2006, not CRC-funded. In January 2007, the SITCRC listed (archived here) my public blog, which also touched on this milestone. Finally, I made explicit links between counter-terrorism and disruptive users, such as for a 2006 Masters  paper that evaluated DARPA’s Total Information Awareness initiative (PDF). However, I found that this perspective was off-limits in the SITCRC, and I was censured several times during Q&A sessions.


3. The third milestone is listed as not achieved. A senior SITCRC staff member proposed the third milestone. They did not elaborate further, so work didn’t proceed. I did not have the hypothesis-driven research training at the time to carry this milestone out. There was no null hypothesis given. There are framing problems with how the original hypothesis was formulated.


4. The fourth milestone is listed as not achieved. This is incorrect. I did several SITCRC presentations and workshops for Westpac and Sensis (PowerPoint presentation here from a December 2006 session) which had ‘commercial in confidence’ discussion of my research program and specific issues that each company faced. I also worked on a project with SITCRC member The Distillery at the request of the SITCRC’s chief executive officer. I noted opportunities featured in news stories in a public blog. I emphasised the role of environmental scanning, opportunity evaluation, strategic foresight and strategic intelligence as organisational capabilities for disruptive innovation.  I provided specific guidance for the Smart Services CRC successful bid, which subsequently led to a new, $A120 million dollar research consortium.


Courtesy of Rosie X, I even had a personal project intranet that SITCRC staff could access, with internal interviews and other draft materials.


The SITCRC’s annual report concludes that The Disruptive Internet project “will not be completed” by June 2007 and thus the “contract of researcher not extended.”


What actually happened:


(1) In February 2007, the SITCRC’s senior management decided to cut staff, despite the success of the Smart Services CRC bid. The university-based team I was on would possibly be cut from three to two researchers. The SITCRC’s chief executive officer and most of the senior people who comprised the bid team also left the organisation. (I later learned after studying mergers and acquisitions that this is common during the post-merger integration phase.)


(2) There had been infra-team personality conflicts on my research team for over a year previously (which did negatively impact on my work). I was unable to get my program manager’s approval to publish material that was more suited to theory-building academic journals than to non-peer reviewed industry reports. (I also had the support of several SITCRC commercial partners.) At the time, in late 2006 and early 2007 there  were uncertainties regarding if the Smart Services CRC bid would be successful. I felt certain team members narrowly prioritised their work in new project proposals and claimed professional expertise which they did not have — which in turn raised ethical and professional dilemmas for me. I raised these issues via SITCRC and university processes for research disputes. The SITCRC deferred to the university process.

Two days after I did raised the research dispute, the program manager (who later wrote the negative review) told me that my contract — which ended in a week — would not be renewed. This pre-empted the faculty and university processes for handling and resolving research disputes. No alternative dispute resolution mechanisms were made available. This ended my potential involvement in the Smart Services CRC, which I had worked for months on the successful bid for, and contributed to the conceptualisation of its research programs.


There were other more constructive avenues ways to have resolved these issues. The SITCRC’s 2006-07 annual report’s assessment does not reflect these complexities, of course. The whole negative experience led me to raise some research management issues in the Australian Government’s 2008 Review of the National Innovation System and Review of the CRCs Program.


My CV (PDF) and Publications (PDF and archive) detail subsequent non-CRC research. Since the SITCRC, I have worked on a sensitive university-wide audit; helped research teams to get Australian Research Council Linkage grants and funds from other competitive sources; and co-published in A-level peer reviewed academic journals. My personal research is now more highly cited (here) than the jointly-authored research I did in the SITCRC.