How to distinguish “Disruptive” from “Impractical”

Futurists are usually right, at the wrong time. The thing about true innovation, is almost everything is an expansion on an older idea. It isn’t until time and technology converge at that perfect moment that great ideas are executed. Ideas tend to spark well before the execution due to lack or resources, namely practicality.

The first “video phone” call was in april 20th, 1964. The internet was so slow back then that it was pitched as the “picturephone”. Even 60 years later video technology hasn’t completely replaced voice calls. There is a fine line between an idea being “Disruptive” and “Impractical”.

Major paradigm shifts are balanced on the wings of popular consumer adoption. Put quite simply, you shouldn’t invent it until it will sell to the masses.

Who invented the smartphone?

If you answered “Steve Jobs”… congratulations, so did many others. But you’re wrong.

IBM’s “Simon” preceded the iPhone by 15 years. In 1992, it came with an LCD, a stylus, and a hefty price tag of $899. (about $1,435 in today’s dollars, all things considered.) So why didn’t it have the impact of the iPhone? We could argue there was no Steve Jobs at IBM to sell it, or the high price tag limited main-stream adoption and capped sales at 50,000, but let’s agree on bad timing.

It just wasn’t practical at the time to move people away from systems they were already comfortable with.

There will always be first-adopters to the newest and greatest technology. Companies like Apple have done an excellent job of creating a solid base of those. However, when people aren’t tired of the way things are, they don’t welcome change as readily.

Amazon has made a huge leap into the grocery store industry, and they hope to propel that further by exploring voice-activated ordering. Imagine saying something like “Alexa, order more hot sauce” and more hot sauce is on the way (or at least added to the grocery list!).

Samsung is moving to eliminate the need to say anything at all. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) they aim to equip smart fridges to track food usage, and auto-order items when supplies are low.

I applaud the innovation, but I seriously question the practicality.

I may buy a smart fridge for a slew of other reasons, but until you can convince me that the price constitutes replacing a good old fashioned grocery list… I’ll adopt this slowly. I will admit, the evolution of the grocery store industry is one of the most rapid we’ve seen, so it’s a bit early to tell which of the many expansions will stand the test of time.

Let’s take a look at the innovation of grocery store check out. The grocer checkout evolved into the express line. The express line evolved into self-checkout. The self-checkout evolved into checkout-free shopping (just Google Amazon “go”). And the popularity of home-delivery threatens to eliminate the need to every step inside of a grocery store in the first place.


When it comes to innovation, it’s smart to weigh disruption against practicality.

Videophones don’t make sense if voice works better and gets the job done.

Smartphones didn’t make sense until 3rd party apps allowed you to personalize functionality.

Making a grocery list with your voice doesn’t make sense until we get accustomed to the ease.

Home-delivery of groceries wouldn’t make sense if it still took a week to deliver them.


The key to capitalizing on innovation is rooted in forward thinking as well as practicality.

What innovative ideas would you like to see happen to make your life easier?