Activists who challenge the status quo play a critical but often overlooked role in both promoting and impeding radical business innovation. Their importance stems from the very nature of innovation, which frequently challenges existing interests, norms, values, social practices, and relationships. As a result, the joined hands of market rebels — activists and their recruits — have with surprising frequency exerted significant influence on market acceptance of breakthrough products and services.
For example, nearly all of the technical aspects associated with personal computing were available by 1972, but the PC didn’t take off until a few years later when hobbyists, rebelling against centralized computing, organized groups such as the Homebrew Computer Club. These clubs were spawning grounds for actors — such as inventors, founders of companies like Apple, and developers of programs and games — who collectively established the market for personal computers and eventually stimulated the entry of larger companies. Similarly, the hybrid car succeeded partly because market rebels in the environmental movement paved the way by arousing collective enthusiasm for ‘green’ causes among consumers and regulators.
By contrast, radical innovations (such as the Segway personal transporter) have often floundered because their developers overlooked the social and cultural mobilization needed to excite their targeted consumers.