The History of Disruptive Innovation
The term “disruptive innovation” was originally coined by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, in 1995. Christensen’s work was largely empirical, and while the theory is still evolving, disruptive innovation is a well-established concept in the business world.
Companies introducing new products and services may be developing what are termed “sustaining innovations.” These firms focus on designing additional features to improve existing performance for existing customers. In contrast, disruptive innovations address a market need that allows customers to access a product or service that was previously unavailable to them or offers them a new attraction, such as convenience or pricing. Often, the new product or service offers lower performance attributes compared to the existing competitors, but is still attractive because of the trade-off for another feature. In addition, firms that offer disruptive innovations are frequently start-ups or entrepreneurial companies with low levels of bureaucracy.
Examples of disruptive innovations include products, services, and business models:
- digital photography,
- smartphones, and
- Amazon (home-delivery of books).
Following lessons will further define disruptive and sustaining innovations, provide examples and tips for application of the theory, and describe challenges regarding disruptive innovation. Additional references are given if you wish to investigate disruptive innovation in more depth.