Continuous vs. Discontinuous

One of the key lessons from Geoffrey Moore’s classic Crossing the Chasm, is the idea of continuous vs. discontinuous innovation.

When Crest rolled out “whitening” toothpaste, that was an example of continuous innovation. The product and behavior didn’t really change (people still brushed their teeth), Crest just amended it for changing consumer preferences (they wanted whiter teeth too).

When Slack ran TV spots after the World Cup to market and explain their app (which removes much of the need for email inside of organizations), that was an example of discontinuous innovation. Using a new product instead of email is both a product and a behavior change.

Quick recap: Continuous means you continue to use the old thing, and discontinuous means you scrap the old thing for something new.

Clearly, both products require unique strategies, and those strategies change over time.

What Moore gets across so well in his book, which is also the reason a book about early 1990’s tech is still relevant today, is that he’s accurately describing a key tenant of human behavior: different people respond to changes in different types of products and behaviors in different ways. That’s a lot of “differents,” so read that sentence again: different people respond to changes in different types of products and services in different ways. Every difference must be addressed.

The simple recognition of continuous vs. discontinuous can take us farther in planning how to introduce some product or service to a client, or even a new process to a coworker, than most other methods. It’s a subtle, yet essential distinction.

For those that are interested, this is merely the jump-off point for how to segment the market and adjust your approach. Chasm is still relevant. Seek it out.

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