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Disruptive innovation

Disruptive innovation, a term coined by Clayton M. Christensen, is a strategic framework that has revolutionized the way businesses, industries, and markets operate. It refers to a process where a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses by introducing innovations that disrupt the market.

Disruptive innovation is not just about technology or invention but about the application of that technology in a way that it disrupts the existing market. It is about creating value networks and a business model that are different from the existing ones. The concept of disruptive innovation is a key part of strategic planning as it provides a roadmap for companies to transform an existing market or create a new one.

Understanding Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation is a process that begins with the introduction of a product or service at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors. These innovations are initially considered inferior by most of the incumbent's customers. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success.

Disruptive innovations are made possible because they get started in two types of markets that incumbents overlook. New-market disruptions occur when a product fits a new or emerging market segment that is not being served by existing incumbents in the industry. Low-end disruptions occur when the innovation is focused on delivering a product or service with a lower price point and lower performance features that appeal to the least profitable segment of the market.

Key Characteristics of Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovations have certain characteristics that distinguish them from other types of innovations. First, they offer a different value proposition than incumbent innovations. They underperform on attributes that mainstream customers value, and they may not even be recognized as viable by customers initially. However, they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value, such as convenience, simplicity, small size, and low cost.

Second, disruptive innovations are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use. They are often described as "worse" products, because they do not offer as many features or as much performance as the market leaders. However, they offer other benefits, such as simplicity, convenience, and low cost, that appeal to new or less-demanding customers.

Examples of Disruptive Innovation

There are numerous examples of disruptive innovation across various industries. For instance, the personal computer was a disruptive innovation that displaced the mainframe computer. It initially offered poorer performance, but it was cheaper, simpler, and more convenient to use. Over time, it improved enough to meet the needs of most users, and it eventually took over the market.

Another example is Netflix, which disrupted the video rental industry. Initially, it offered a mail-order service that was less convenient than going to a video store. However, it was cheaper and had a broader selection. Over time, it moved to streaming, which offered the convenience of on-demand viewing and a broad selection, disrupting the traditional cable and satellite television industry.

Role of Disruptive Innovation in Strategic Planning

Disruptive innovation plays a crucial role in strategic planning as it provides a framework for companies to identify opportunities for growth and competitive advantage. It helps companies to anticipate changes in the market and to develop strategies to respond to these changes. It also encourages companies to constantly innovate and improve their products and services to stay ahead of the competition.

Strategic planning involves understanding the market, identifying opportunities and threats, setting objectives, and developing strategies to achieve these objectives. Disruptive innovation provides a lens through which to view these elements. It helps companies to identify new market opportunities, to understand the threats from new entrants and technologies, and to develop strategies to leverage these opportunities and mitigate these threats.

Identifying Opportunities for Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation provides a framework for identifying opportunities for growth and competitive advantage. It encourages companies to look for opportunities in new or underserved market segments, to develop products or services that are simpler and cheaper than those offered by incumbents, and to leverage new technologies to disrupt the market.

Companies can identify opportunities for disruptive innovation by looking at the needs of non-consumers or underserved consumers, by examining the limitations of existing products or services, and by exploring the potential of new technologies. They can also look at trends in the market and in society at large to identify potential disruptions.

Developing Strategies for Disruptive Innovation

Once opportunities for disruptive innovation have been identified, companies need to develop strategies to leverage these opportunities. This involves developing a clear value proposition, creating a business model that supports this value proposition, and building the capabilities needed to deliver on this value proposition.

Developing a strategy for disruptive innovation requires a deep understanding of the market, the needs of customers, and the capabilities of the company. It also requires a willingness to take risks and to challenge the status quo. Companies need to be willing to disrupt their own business models if necessary to achieve their strategic objectives.

Challenges of Disruptive Innovation

While disruptive innovation offers significant opportunities, it also presents challenges. One of the main challenges is the risk of failure. Because disruptive innovations are new and different, they often involve a high level of uncertainty. Companies need to be willing to take risks and to accept the possibility of failure.

Another challenge is the resistance from within the organization. Many companies are structured to support the existing business model and may resist changes that disrupt this model. This resistance can come from various sources, including employees, managers, and even top executives.

Overcoming Resistance to Disruptive Innovation

Overcoming resistance to disruptive innovation requires strong leadership and a clear vision. Leaders need to communicate the importance of innovation and the benefits it can bring to the company. They also need to create a culture that encourages innovation and rewards risk-taking.

Companies can also overcome resistance by involving employees in the innovation process. This can help to create a sense of ownership and commitment to the innovation. It can also help to generate new ideas and to identify potential problems early on.

Managing the Risk of Disruptive Innovation

Managing the risk of disruptive innovation involves balancing the potential benefits of innovation with the potential risks. This involves careful planning, rigorous testing, and constant monitoring of the market and the competition.

Companies can manage the risk of disruptive innovation by developing a portfolio of innovations. This involves pursuing a mix of incremental and disruptive innovations, which can help to balance risk and reward. Companies can also manage risk by partnering with other companies, by acquiring startups, or by investing in venture capital funds that specialize in disruptive innovation.


Disruptive innovation is a powerful strategic framework that can help companies to transform markets and to achieve competitive advantage. However, it requires a deep understanding of the market, a willingness to take risks, and a commitment to constant innovation.

By understanding the concept of disruptive innovation and applying it in their strategic planning, companies can identify new opportunities, develop innovative strategies, and stay ahead of the competition. The journey of disruptive innovation may be challenging, but the potential rewards make it worth the effort.

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