Disruptive Innovation Clarified by Christensen

Rob Llewellyn By Rob Llewellyn

Disruptive Innovation Clarified by Christensen

In 1995, Clay Christensen and Joe Bower published the HBR article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave, which introduced the notion of disruptive technology. As Clay states on his web site these days, “disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors”.
Two decades after the theory was introduced, Clay, Michael Raynor and Rory McDonald revisit what disruptive innovation does and doesn’t explain. After all, “disruption” has become an overused and misused buzzword, synonymous with “change”, with many using “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation where an industry is disturbed.
Read the December 2015 HBR article What is Disruptive Innovation?
After explaining that “disruption” is a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses, the authors explore the basic tenets of disruptive innovation and examine whether they apply to Uber. They then highlight some common pitfalls in the application of the disruption theory, how they arise, and why it is important to use the theory correctly.
Below are a number of key take-aways from the December 2015 article in HBR.

  • Disruptive innovations originate in low-end or new-market footholds.
  • Disruptive innovations don’t catch on with mainstream customers until quality catches up to their standards.
  • Disrupters first appeal to low-end or unserved customers and then migrate to the mainstream market.
  • Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents.
  • The mantra “Disrupt or be disrupted” can misguide us.

As Donald Sull suggests in a Nov 2015 HBR article Where Disruptive Innovation Came From, “the (disruptive innovation) framework belongs in the intellectual toolbox of any leader who wants to understand, and harness, the power of innovation”.
Read the December 2015 HBR article What is Disruptive Innovation?

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With over 20 years helping managers and leaders generate commercial value from technology, Rob Llewellyn is dedicated to helping the new breed of digital economy professionals write the next digital economy success stories.

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