disruptive innovation definition

Contributor(s): Scot Petersen

Disruptive innovation is the introduction of new technologies, products or services in an effort to promote change and gain advantage over the competition. In this context, the word disruptive does not mean to interrupt or cause disorder -- it means to replace. 

In the enterprise, disruptive innovation can be risky because it requires employees to embrace a radically different approach to product development or marketing. Often a product of out of the box thinking, disruptive changes can initially seem out of step with contemporary preferences but prove successful in their ability to create new market opportunities where none existed before. Modern examples of disruptive innovation include the development of mobile cellular telephones, digital cameras and e-book readers.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen is noted for popularizing the term disruptive innovation in his book The Innovator's Dilemma. He writes, "Disruptive technologies bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously. Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value." 

Disruptive innovation is sometimes contrasted with the concept of continuous improvement, which focuses on achieving small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality.

See also:  disruptive technology, first-mover, early adopter, change management


This was first published in August 2011

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