S Curve vs. Z Curve: The Battle for Competitive Advantage
R&D is all about discovering technology (through research) that can be applied to a new product profitably (through development). Ivory Tower projects aside, most companies rely upon being the first with a new idea to give them a competitive advantage. That advantage can be maintained through trade secrets, patents, and complexity of application. But eventually the competition is going to find a way to match that advantage, and if possible, surpass it. Therefore, everything that R&D and the CTO do will eventually be commoditized.
This fact is why Ford Motor Company continues to invest in R&D. If Henry Ford's ideas for a modern production line had not been copied by every other car company, Ford could still rely on them for its profit margins.
Nicholas Carr draws the Z curve to illustrate the declining advantage provided by IT. It illustrates the fate of all new technologies in providing an advantage. Nothing is new and unique forever.
Web Source: Digital Renderings: The Z Curve and IT Investment