Are the Pre-Diffusion Phases Shortening?

Are the Pre-Diffusion Phases Shortening?

J. R. Ortt (Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-643-8.ch003


This chapter focuses on the pre-diffusion phases for high-tech products. These phases last from the first time a technology is mastered and demonstrated up to the start of the large-scale production and diffusion of products based on that technology. The purpose of this chapter is to underline the managerial relevance of the pre-diffusion phases. Two questions will be answered in particular: (1) How long do these pre-diffusion phases last for high-tech products? (2) Have these phases shortened or not over the last 150 years? Fifty-three cases of high-tech products, invented between 1837 and 1998, are investigated. The pre-diffusion phases are shown to last 16 years on average, but their length varies considerably per case. No proof for the shortening of these phases over time is found. The resources devoted to research and development in different fields of expertise may have increased but the length of the pre-diffusion phases has not shortened accordingly.
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Central to this chapter is the question whether the length of the pre-diffusion phases, i.e. the phases preceding large-scale production and diffusion, has shortened or not over the last 150 years for high-tech products. In this chapter we define high-tech products as products, materials or components based on breakthrough technologies and representing an advance that is so significant that attainable price/performance ratios are altered dramatically or that entirely new kinds of applications are enabled (Tushman & Anderson, 1986). Examples of high-tech products that, at the time of their invention, shifted price/performance ratios include dynamite, in comparison to nitro-glycerin, and strong fibers like Kevlar, in comparison to contemporary fibers. Examples of high-tech products that enabled entirely new applications at the time of their invention include radar, laser and communication appliances like telegraphy and television. We define the pre-diffusion phases as the period between the invention of the technology and the start of the large-scale production and diffusion of products, materials or components on the basis of this technology.

Scientific Relevance

In diffusion research, Rogers (2005) noticed an almost complete lack of attention to the pre-diffusion period. By ignoring this period, mainstream diffusion research seems to imply that large-scale diffusion starts directly after the market introduction of a new high-tech product. Large-scale diffusion is often represented by an S-shaped diffusion curve and that seems to imply that the diffusion process is quite predictable. In practice, that is hardly the case. Easingwood and Lunn (1992), for example, found different far more erratic patterns of diffusion for various telecommunication products and services. Rogers indicates that more attention should be devoted to the phases prior to the large-scale diffusion (the S-shaped pattern). Scientists outside the diffusion discipline indicate that these pre-diffusion phases usually last long (Agarwal & Bayus, 2002; Mansfield, 1968; Utterback & Brown, 1972). It is unknown, however, whether the length of these phases have changed or not in the course of time. In contrast, developments in the length of the product life cycle, i.e. the time period after these pre-diffusion phases, have evoked a lively debate. We want to extend this discussion to the pre-diffusion phases.

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