New Product S-Curve of Progress

Technological progress can only be achieved through new products

“Progress” is a word often inappropriately used. It’s important to understand what this term correctly means and how it is, often, incorrectly used. The “product sales growth” phase of the S-Curve of Progress is highlighted in the illustration below.

(© Spacefaring Institute LLC)

For a new product, true technological progress can only occur during the sales phase when the users’ operational capability improves as the new product comes into use. Take, for example, the technology of wireless telephone service, now the world standard for personal telecommunications. Did this technology bring progress when it was first being written about as the technology was being researched, when the first prototypes were displayed, or even when the first wireless radio networks were built? No, progress only really occurred when the technology was broadly adopted by consumers through the purchase of new wireless cellphones?

Why is this distinction even important? Because this highlights the point that research into new technologies by itself does not bring “progress”, even though the research generates new knowledge important to the development of new products. Technological progress comes through the applied engineering, manufacturing, and marketing of new products that may or may not use advanced technologies. Researchers arguing that their work “is progress” is incorrect. As the S-Curve of Progress shows, their work is one phase of how progress is achieved.