Revolutionary and Regular Innovations


Kuhn describes a revolutionary paradigm in science as an achieve­ment which possesses two characteristics: (a) It is sufficiently un­precedented to attract an enduring group of adherents from compet­ing modes of scientific activities and (b) It is sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of troubles to resolve.

If we substitute “scientific, engineering, entrepreneurial, and management activities” for “scientific activities” in the above, these words are equally applicable to technological (as against scientific) innovation. As a result we may integrate the Kuhn, Abernathy-Utterback and Sahal therapies and define two varieties of innovations.



Revolutionary Innovations These could be based upon significant inventions that create a new market (e.g., the transistor) or alternatively, a step-sensible improvement in capability (e.g., the alter from discrete transistors to ICs) in a mature business. They may also be related with a creative symbiosis of previously unrelated technologies. They invoke new paradigmic frameworks for technological (as against scientific) puzzle?solving expressed in the dominant design or technological guidepost.

Revolutionary technological innovations are comparatively rare, but do take place more often than their scientific counterparts. Like their scientific counterparts they readily attract an enduring group of adherents from competing modes of technological activity. This may possibly take the type of invasions of mature industries by “outsiders.”


Moreover, the revolutionary innovations generate opportunities for tiny entrepreneurial firms to establish themselves as major corporate entities. This is drastically illustrated in the growths of Texas Instruments and Intel, based upon the revolutionary innovations of the transistor and ICs respectively. Thus top managements of organizations in mature industries need to be continuously sensitive to the “threats” of revolutionary innovations. This tends to make it desirable for mature organizations to engage in “technologies monitoring” to detect the “signals of technological change.


 Paradoxically, revolutionary innovations should also be approached circumspectly. They may require a substantial front-end commitment of corporate resources and, as the Great Eastern example cited in the earlier section illustrates, can trigger industrial disasters if introduced prematurely. Also, simply because of the unpredictable markets developed by revolutionary innovations, a company introducing 1 might encounter failure for causes largely outside its handle. This was EMI’s expertise with the CAT scanner.