What is disruptive innovation?

Disruptive innovation means a product or service is introduced to the industry by the product manager, and it operates better than the existing technology or system, transforming the industry. Developed by Clayton Christensen and his collaborators in 1995, this concept impacts business plans and embodies a new technology or invention that replaces a popular technology. Usually, disruptive innovation is generally smaller than the existing system yet replaces it and becomes more accessible to the public.

Disruptive innovation doesn’t improve an existing design or system; instead, it creates a new dimension displacing the original system. For example, the advent of cellphones (smartphones) is a disruptive innovation to desktops and laptops. The focus of technological purchase has witnessed a paradigm shift — many now go for mobile devices and neglect laptops except for specific purposes.

Examples of Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation has occurred numerous times in history. Netflix and Amazon are good examples of disruptive innovations. Netflix came into the entertainment industry, changing the traditional renting of movies in VHS tapes from physical stores. It created a network of distribution that enabled home delivery of VHS tapes. Over time, it harnessed the power and reach of technology to allow millions to stream thousands of movies from their homes. Netflix is a disruptive innovation in that it displaced the existing system of movie rental shops. Its system brought convenience and was embraced by VHS tapes renting services consumers, receiving customer feedback.

Amazon also displaced the favored method of book purchase at book stores by offering online reading services. Additionally, Amazon sells and delivers books and other goods to buyers’ doorstep. It also championed the system of online shopping, which included groceries. The innovation took over the shopping system to a large degree. Although there are still numerous physical stores across the world, the disruptive innovation of Amazon has taken away the dominance of malls and supermarkets.

Disruptive Innovation Vs. Sustaining Innovation

Disruptive innovation usurps an existing system by making a service more available, accessible, and sometimes cheaper. It’s a new approach that defines an industry.

Sustaining innovation is different from disruptive innovation. It refers to a technology or process that improves an existing model or technology. It doesn’t displace a traditional method of doing things but makes it better. For example, innovations have enabled Compact discs to have more extensive storage and be more durable over the years. However, the invention of mp3 and Mp4 players is a disruptive innovation as it reduced the use and demand for Compact discs.

Sustaining innovation can be evolutionary or revolutionary. An evolutionary innovation improves existing technology. It comes with modifications that serve consumers better. The revolutionary innovation is surprising, yet it’s simply an alternative that doesn’t affect the current market.
While a revolutionary innovation may seem similar to disruptive innovation, the difference is how both affect an existing technology or system. Disruptive innovation displaces a current model while revolutionary serves as an alternative. However, sometimes both types of innovations come from competition and not from the owners of the dominant technology.


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