Of life cycles real and imaginary: The unexpectedly long old age of optical lithography

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Citation: Rebecca Henderson (1995) Of life cycles real and imaginary: The unexpectedly long old age of optical lithography. Research Policy (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/S0048-7333(94)00790-X
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/S0048-7333(94)00790-X
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/S0048-7333(94)00790-X
Internet Archive Scholar (fulltext): Of life cycles real and imaginary: The unexpectedly long old age of optical lithography
Tagged: Business (RSS) Innovation (RSS)

Summary (Abstract)

Henderson frames her paper in terms of the literature on industry life-cycles and dominant designs, and technological discontinuities. In particular, she highlights Fosters Innovation, the attackers advantage for the argument, common in the broader literature, that there are physical limits on the performance of dominant designs which can be used from within firms to predict the limits of an s-curve and the way that a dominant design will work. Henderson uses data from the optical lithography industry to argue that these limits are often more flexible and less clear than people expect. As a result, their utility in strategic planning is reduced.

Henderson's article is framed as a case in point. He explains optical lithography and presents an history that can be summarized in a figure in her paper that shows the predicted limit of optical lithography and the resolution in microns, both moving steadily down in time. Henderson argues that unexpected changes in user needs and unexpected changes in both components and in complementary technologies allowed optical lithography to overshoot is "natural limits."

In her conclusions she states that: "the unexpectedly long age of optical lithography suggests that the belief that the limits of a technology are determined by the internal structure of the technology may be fundamentally misleading." Essentially, while life-cycles are easy to see ex post, they are are hard (and often impossible) to see and to predict while you are in them.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Henderson's article has been cited over 100 times and primarily by the literature on technological innovation. In particular, she is cited as an example of uncertainty in technological innovation.