In the book, Unleashing The Killer App: Digital Strategies For Market Dominance
Larry Downes and Chunka Mui describe what is known as a "killer application
its profound revolutionary effects on not only technology
but on the world of
as well, the strategy involved for a company to foster the proper environment
to encourage its discovery and the methods to remain standing after its cataclysmic
According to Downes and Mui, a killer application (or killer app, as it has
been affectionately referred to) is "a new good or service that establishes
an entirely new category and, by being first, dominates it, returning several
hundred percent on the initial investment." Furthermore, a killer app
is the introduction of technology so innovative and so powerful that it literally
redefines the way things are done, from a technical standpoint to the manner
by which business itself operates. Transforming industries and the like, the
killer app makes way for the development of radically different products and
services, changes rippling outward and outward and most often affecting everyday
life. Killer applications bring nothing short of a complete and irrevocable
paradigm shift. Examples of killer apps include the steam engine, the graphical
user interface, the telephone, and eyeglasses.
Being so entirely quick and far-reaching, the world of alterations and progress
associated with killer apps may quite easily be perceived as nothing outside
of beneficent change. However, with any kind of change, especially the sudden
and earth-shattering variety that comes with the initiation of killer applications,
the old is quite quickly and without hesitation abandoned for the new. The authors
of the text compare the phenomenon to the Hindu goddess, Shiva, as being simultaneously
"regenerative and destructive." Each introduction of technology
has, in the past, required the world to reshape itself in its rapid wake. For
many corporations this is not looked upon at all favorably. For them, they fear
that the change that comes could very well spell out disaster.
They have plenty to fear.
Change cannot only impair but it can potentially annihilate the very market
from which these corporations had garnered its lifelong business success. Consider
what had occurred with the automobile. Although it brought with it the development
of interstate highways and roads, traffic signals, mechanics, drive-thru tellers
and drive-in movies, parking meters, suburbs, and its own subculture that contributes
to American society quite substantially today, to bring it to life, so to speak,
meant having to destroy its predecessor. Its invention and proliferation had
all but decimated the horse and buggy industry. In a manner of speaking, each
new killer application kills something else in order to make enough room for
it. Existing companies (in particular, old legacy corporations) are made nervous
by the thought that they could essentially be next on the hit list.
In the timeline of mankind's history, these changes have been fairly infrequent.
In the earlier parts of man's progression into capability, these killer applications
(or appliances) can be anywhere from hundreds of years apart to a couple millennia.
Recently, however, there has been a marked trend for these occurrences hitting
the world with less and less time between them. Downes and Mui describe this
as being consequent of living in a digital age.
What with technology evolving at an increased acceleration, these changes will
continue to wrack both the technical industry and the world of business with
equivalent speed. The authors attribute this to three things: Moore's Law, which
states that for every eighteen months, processing power doubles while cost holds
constant; Metcalfe's Law, which indicates that the utility of a network equals
the square of the number of users; and Coase's Law of Diminishing Firms, stating
that with the tendency for transaction costs in the open market to approach
zero, the size of firms does so as well. It is no small wonder why large slow-moving
corporations lie in apprehension to the disruption that could potentially occur
The authors of Unleashing The Killer App: Digital Strategies For Market Dominance
say that change should not be feared. It should be embraced. If the arrival
of new technology can be visualized by imagining a pebble being dropped into
a still pond, the ripples forming outward represent the environmental change
that comes with it. Instead of being obliterated by that disturbance, Mui and
Downes encourage companies to ride the wave and piggyback the success of the
What is needed first is the development of the killer application. Though the
authors say that killer apps are "made less often than they are discovered",
they provide strategies to accomplish this. In the book is proffered the example
of Christopher Brennan's putting together the first kiosk in Germany. It was
a fluke that existed outside the formal strategic planning process as set by
the company. No detailed analysis of the industry was conducted. Neither was
there any long-term planning established. "What Chris did wasn't strategy,
" cites the text, "it was just an application, a reordering of
relationships. In a word, it was creative."
Downes and Mui recommend that in order to make way for a killer application
to come into being, a company needs to engender an environment that thrives
in and encourages chaos and creativity. Only through the free flowing of ideas
and concepts can a true gem be unearthed. Compare this to the process of brainstorming:
by allowing for an atmosphere that permits the barrage of ideas to come out
with others deferring judgment and without there being a structure in place
can more opportunities become open to suggestion. Opportunities spell out possibilities.
This is not unlike John Stuart Mill's libertarian philosophy as articulated
in his work, On Liberty, in which he discussed the formation of an anarchic
society to encourage the growth of a "genius" that would bring about
the intellectual, cultural or technological advancement of the population at
large. Creating a workplace that fosters creativity and the chaos that allows
one to operate outside the box is more likely to produce a killer application
than one that is closed to innovation and freethinking.
Before the successful acquisition of a killer app is made, the authors also
suggest that the company revisit its operational model. Be they the company
that is the proud originator of the application or not, if they can not keep
up with the speedy changes that follow suit, they will be left in the dust the
way other competitors have been. In analyzing what it was that caused these
companies to fail it was revealed that it was their resistance to change that
did them in. This resistance lies not only in the mental state as embodied by
the members of the executive board, but by the organization of the company itself.
If a company is inflexible and slow moving, it will not be able to fight its
own inertia to compel the internal changes within it to remain competitive.
The authors of the text recommend a lightweight operational model that would
allow a company to not only see the killer applications as they come but to
"be prepared to put together whatever laboratories, partnerships, and
new business models ..that ..are needed to make quick use of them. Before someone