Books and other Disruptive Innovations


(( Sept 5 Link added to HBR article about Disruptive Innovations))

((August 20, 2017 Update: added a must see Video lecture of Tony Seba about Disruptions in Energy and Transportation))

  1. Recently this “Big Books question” which was posed on Instagram by @Project_Knowledge, who has a habit of suspecting many things hey have no knowledge of as being hidden on purpose :


My friend dr. Kim Veltman, a world famous Librarian, answered it as follows, and shows that it is not hidden knowledge at all:

===== start of answer==========

In mediaeval times the size of books related to their subject.

A piece of paper folded into two was called a  2o or more normally a folio. This was typically for religious books especially Bibles and legal books (Theology and Law being the equivalents of graduate school learning).

A piece of paper folded in four was called a 4o or quarto and was typically for scientific and medical books.

A piece of paper folded in 8 was called a o or octavo and this, invented by Erasmus and Aldus Manutius, is the precursor of the modern pocketbook.

There were smaller works folded into 16 or even 32.

There were also larger books usually called folio maxima or extravaganza. The books in the picture look like typical folio maxima. Although the photograph is poor the topic is almost certainly music.  In the picture the reader looks to be a nun. I am too unversed to recognize her order.

The books were so large because they had to be read by  a number of monks standing round a lecturn: 

(click here to get link to the source for this painting)

 Modern mediaeval singers:

A picture from 1472 shows such a book being made in a sciptorium:

=========================end of answer==========

I think this answers the question. There is nothing mysterious or hidden about “big books”. They are ancient handwork and present in old churches and monastries, carefully preserved from decay.

2. But something else has happened during the TRANSITION from written words in single copy books by (groups of) monks in Catholic monasteries AND printed words in books, allowing many copies.

It is an example of a “Disruptive Innovation”. Not only had the Church the monopoly of writing and copying books but their superiors (bishops or even the King himself) had to give the explicit permission to write and publish a book. Such permission should be visible in one of the first pages of each book. By the way, the communist party of the USSR took over this habit from the church. Often something Lenin had said would be referred to on page one to legitimise the book.

Sure at first the people of the printing press could be forced to continue the control of the church over printing. But the speed and cost of printing presses invented by Gutenberg, did overtake the technology of handwritten books. The church tried all kinds of tricks to try to keep the monopoly. One of theses was buying up all paper production !! So also non church printers could buy paper for only those books that where permitted. Certainly not those on the Index of forbidden book kept by the Vatican.


But in cities less obedient to the Vatican like Amsterdam, Delft, Keulen and Basel the printing presses did produce books, without permission of a church. And for a much wider and lay-audience, after a while even in non-latin languages. Sure. at first only religious and learned people could read (and only in the universal language: Latin). And not everybody was happy reading and writing was no longer for a small elite of merchants, clergy and noblemen, who had a personal library containing nearly all books printed at that time ! So the “printing press” disrupted both the business plans of the monks as the authority of the bishops and kings.

Now the “printed word industry” it-self is disrupted by publishing on the Internet. Interesting is that their copyright maffia is now using the same arguments against the unstoppable digital copying as the church did when they where fighting as rebels to get their presses working to churn out books and pamphlets.  Prof. Dr. P.B. Hugenholtz of the UvA has published about this.

3. So linked with technical disruptions is waves of emancipation. People can suddenly with cheaper technology produce and consume things themselves without asking permission !! There are many examples like the car industry. Henry Ford had to wait 10 years to be able to sell his affordable T-Ford car, because the manufacturers of the then expensive cars banded together to establish a patent on car manufacture. They did not want cars to become too cheap !! A formal analysis of the process of disrupting can be found in the famous book by prof Clay Christensen “ the Innovators Dilemma“.

disruptive innovation Christensen

He describes cases of companies who resist having to jump from Sustained Innovation product families to Disruptive Innovation improvement PROCESSES, which show exponential growth (fixed doubling time W(x) = y months and virality V= 1/W).

There are two warning signals I have to add however:

(a) The upward viral growth curves can suddenly bend to more horizontal lines when saturation is reached. When the target population all has/had the virus. There is allways a hot debate on how big the target population is. Billions of people or only a couple of thousand geeks? Do they have to be able to read first before they can DIY ?

(b) The people innovators / inventors / rebels hate most are other and more new NEW pioneers/ innovators & rebels. Why? If you have just established your innovation and it works in practice, you hate people who propose something which is evidently even BETTER. Edison had just invested his whole capital into a direct current DC generator and powergrid to light houses and stores in NY with his lightbulbs. An young engineer Nicola Tesla designed an Alternating Current (AC) powergrid which would save on energy transport loss. Edison fired Tesla and did several nasty things to try to stop the spread of Tesla’s brilliant idea’s.

4. I recommend you take time to see the Youtube video of Stanford professor Tony Seba about disruptions in Infrastructures for Energy and Transportation. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 08.46.39

This lecture also shows that disruptions are no longer only about “the next best thing” coming up but also about PLATFORMS that handle a MIX of things, functions, facilities, APPs and services. Smartphones, for instance, now handle a lot of functions that where performed by separate devices and their own stovepipe of facilities. And they did disrupt and eat up whole industries like the one that was for music distribution. Remember grammophone and CD’s ??

5. Disruptions in the ICT & Communication Infrastructures.  Another more recent example of the “resistance to technological innovation” theatre is the decades long fight and obstructions of those semi-monopolies that run own the copper cables on public grounds: Telco’s and Cableco’s against installation and countrywide rollout of Fiber-to-the-Premises ( FttP, FttFarm and FttB) for Gbps communication streams.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 11.37.06

Why is it disrupive? With a group of local friends you can buy Optic Fiber cable yourself and hang them overhead or dig them into trenches to get serious and future proof internet connections for your home, office or farm. Your family will love it !! And it is less expensive and less error proof than what providers offer. And yes you can connect to your FttP termination box in your home: Wi-Fi and other wireless things (including my optical inhouse links coming up).  ((question: is it “fiber” or “fibre” ?))

Plastic buizen

Soon the present expensive and powerhungry VDSL and Docsys 3.x boxes will be disrupted and stored in…. modern monasteries.

PS Rifkin ,  as earlier remarked in these blogpages stresses that 3 Infrastructures are crucial for societies future : The Infrastructure for transport of Energy, The Infrastructure for transport of Goods, The Infrastructure for the transport of Information.  My advice is : CONNECT TO THE FLOW !! Position yourself along the river, and watch things float by 🙂

And organise and connect your company is such a way that it can react VERY FAST to unexpected external changes and inventions. Learn faster than your competitors, from what you do.

PS. 1 (( Sept 5 2017)) The Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an interesting article about how a disruption of your business is now much harder to fight than in the days Clayton Christensen published his book ===> link to HBR article 

” Why Preventing Disruption in 2017 Is Harder Than It Was When Christensen Coined the Term “


Jaap van Till, TheConnectivist


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