Definition: Disruptive Technology

Posted by Leila Dillon on 7/20/15 9:24 AM

Is disruption the same as innovation? We believe they are quite different. Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovations cause disruption. Both change, make, or build new markets, processes, and services. However, disruptors are more dramatic in the sense that they change behaviors or thinking. They cause changes in how people learn and work. Disruptors change lives. Innovation is more subtle – it does not displace an existing market, industry, or technology.

 Disruptive Technology (noun) - (1) New ways of doing things that disrupt or overturn traditional business methods and practices. (2) Innovation that interrupts the union of or displaces a traditional approach, technology, thing or existing market to in turn solve or improve upon a problem and approach that creates a new market by displacing an earlier technology - Context:  “Allowing disruptive technology to enter business or municipalities can initially slow things down but often new approaches and new products and services of great benefit emerge.”

Some examples of disruptive technologies include:

  • Steam engine in the age of sail
  • Personal computer in the age of typewriting
  • Internet in the age of postal office mail, disrupted the greeting card industry
  • Cellular telephones and then smartphones disrupted the telecom industry by enabling communication to call to and from virtually anywhere and replaced personal computing/laptops
  • Mobile applications disrupted consumer electronics industry (photography, music players, GPS devices)
  • Combination of the laptop and mobile computing disrupted employee collaboration allowing for group collaboration from anywhere
  • Cloud computing technology – the use of computer hardware and software to deliver applications, data, and services over the Internet – has disrupted the business world
  • Social networking changed communication disrupting telecommunications and interpersonal communications (telephone, email, messaging)

According to Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and disruption guru who authored The Innovator’s Dilemma, disruption produces something new, more efficient, and worthwhile. It is both destructive and creative.

To maintain market leadership, successful companies know how to capitalize on disruptive innovation. It is a balance – an art and science -- of knowing when and how to listen to customers, to invest in developing products and services, and to focus on certain markets. With a little intuition (and sometimes risk) successful companies benefit greatly from the promise of disruption innovations and its ability to open up new customers and markets for lower-margin, blockbuster products and services.

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