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Technological Discontinuities and Dominant Designs: A Cyclical Model of Technological Change

Philip Anderson and Michael L. Tushman
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 35, No. 4 (Dec., 1990), pp. 604-633
DOI: 10.2307/2393511
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393511
Page Count: 30
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Technological Discontinuities and Dominant Designs: A Cyclical Model of Technological Change
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Abstract

An evolutionary model of technological change is proposed in which a technological breakthrough, or discontinuity, initiates an era of intense technical variation and selection, culminating in a single dominant design. This era of ferment is followed by a period of incremental technical progress, which may be broken by a subsequent technological discontinuity. A longitudinal study of the cement (1888-1980), glass (1893-1980), and minicomputer (1958-1982) industries indicates that when patents are not a significant factor, a technological discontinuity is generally followed by a single standard. Across these diverse product classes, sales always peak after a dominant design emerges. Discontinuities never become dominant designs, and dominant designs lag behind the industry's technical frontier. Both the length of the era of ferment and the type of firm inaugurating a standard are contingent on how the discontinuity affects existing competences. Eras of ferment account for the majority of observed technical progress across these three industries.

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