What is disruptive innovation? Clayton Christensen defines it as a cheaper, inferior, niche product that in a short period of time upends the entire market. Larry Downes and Paul Nunes have a different opinion. In their view, disruptive innovations do not have to start as inferior, nor are they necessarily linked to technology—making disruptive innovations an even greater threat to even more industries than ever before.
What disruption used to mean
Clayton Christensen's view of disruptive innovation is described in The Innovator's Dilemma, which by now is a classic text. He explains how superior products often offer more than what the average user needs, leaving the market open for inferior, simpler, and cheaper products. Over time, these new products improve in quality and their demand increases, eventually disrupting the entire market. In the past, powerful existing players from IBM to Kodak could see it happening, but were unable to respond because their metrics targeted the wrong parameters. Parameters that favored the old business model, and that turned out to be unsuitable for fostering disruptive innovation.
What disruption means today
The Washington Post featured the vision of Larry Downes and Paul Nunes in Five Myths About Disruption. The piece is an interesting read as it unravels 5 disruption myths, including Christensen's theory as the first myth:
- Disruptive innovations begin as inferior replacements for existing products
- The further you are from the technology industry, the safer you are from disruption
- The best innovations come from proprietary R&D
- Once disruptions gain enough consumers, there's no way to slow them down
- Markets are so complex that no one can predict what innovation consumers will want