Is disruptive not disruptive anymore?

new-picture-16It isabout 20 years since the book The Innovators Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen was first published. The term disruptive innovation has since increased dramatically in popularity. Especially within startup communities the term disruptive seems to be the (not so) secret password to let you in through the entrance and key to even be considered a viable candidate for VC funding. Given the broad use of the term, disruptive does not seem to be that disruptive anymore. But what can really be regarded as disruptive innovation and how is it defined? Let Clayton himself explain. In an interview by Harvard Business Review he explains the basic concept. How does then all today labeled disruptive match the definition here given? Is the original message lost if we fail to understand what may really be disruptive?


33 responses to “Is disruptive not disruptive anymore?

  1. I believe I have been one of those who has not earlier understood the true definition of disruptive innovation. I have wrongly interpretated it as something radical, and associated with breaktrough technology. Therefore this video made my change the way I look at disruptive innovation, in a asense of seing the user and market impact of a certain product, rather than the technology behind it. An example of this would be the taxi industry, where Uber for the last couple of years have gained a strong foothold. The forces that has made this innovations disruptive are both on the customer, as well as the driver side; price, Uber are able to offer a wider spand of price ranges; offering, with Uber rating systems the customer can choice drivers they deem to trust; policies and freedom to operate, Uber drivers did not have to pass Bar exams and have expensive license and can work as much as they prefer.


  2. These videos did alter my perception of what a disruptive innovation truly was. According to the definition one could argue that the smartphone was not a disruptive innovation since it did not take a system and made it affordable to everyone, but rather targeted top consumers. A disruptive innovation does not necessarily imply a new product, as the example of mini steel mills showed. A classic example of a disruptive innovation is the pocket calculator compared to a desktop calculator. The pocket calculator hade worse computing power but was portable and cornered the market.


  3. My reflection is that it is very hard to protect your company from disruptive innovations if you are the leader of the market, which Clay Christensen describes with the help of the car industry. To compete with disruptive innovations the company needs to be willing to target a completely new market with less good products which generates less profit. I realise that it must be hard to make that decision for a company.

    The key concept to describe a disruptive innovation – as Clay Christensen describes – is to take an existing product that historically have been so expensive and complicated that only a few people have access to it, and transform that product into something affordable and accessible so that the product can reach a bigger market. The product does not need to be better than the existing product, in fact, the new product is often not as good as the original one in the beginning. I would argue that MOOC could potentially become a disruptive innovation. MOOC has not yet outplayed traditional universities but if we look at the criteria for a disruptive innovation, the concept of MOOC could potentially be better than traditional universities due to the fact that MOOC is affordable and accessible to a much bigger market than universities are, which are costly and complicated.

    An example of an earlier disruptive innovation is the transistor radio. The transistor radio, compared to the analogue radio, had worse sound, however, the radio was portable which enabled people to take it with them. When the sound in the transistor radio eventually improved it displaced the analogue radio.


  4. Previous to the videos I didn’t know what disruptive innovation was. I find it funny how by ignoring low profit products the big players can eventually be disrupted by the same products they previously discarded. I would say that netflix is a disruptive innovation. Unlike cinemas and rental movies netflix doesn’t have the newest movies the range was limited. Overtime netflix grew and during the era streaming they reached out too more customers appealing with low cost and all you can watch ”tv”. Most big companies overlooked netflix since its primary customers weren’t regular movie watcher, but rather hard core ones.


  5. Before watching these videos, I was imagining a disruptive innovation had to be very innovative. I was not expecting a view where companies can disrupt the market by just transforming a product. Taking a product that before was too expensive, and create a product that is more affordable to enable access to a larger part of the population is disruptive. By creating products/services that are better, less expensive, scalable and more useful, these disruptors can then move up the market and eventually displace established competitors.

    I think the most impactful disruptive innovations will arise in the fields; education and healthcare. I feel those areas have started to ignore regular customers in order to attract higher paying customers. New ways of delivering healthcare and education more efficiently to a lower price will appear (already starting to see trends of this on the market). One example in the field healthcare is One Medical Group which offers a new model for primary care. They have an app to schedule same-day appointments, get test results and tap into your medical records. The founder Tom X. Lee decided to make a broken system more efficient and his business model allow doctors to spend a little more time with each patient.


  6. What makes disruption interesting is the fact that as soon as disruption takes place in a market, the leader hast to choose either to give away market shares or can start to compete with the disruptive entrant. In any way, the incumbent will face competition and will decrease revenue. To prevent that the incumbent could be disruptive himself.

    Furthermore, it is interesting to see the development that if a disruptive entrant has settled in the market, it can happen that another more disruptive entrant can arise as described by Clayton. What is good about this is that more costumer will be served with the product and thereby increase prosperity.

    One example is the rise of direct banks without own physical banks. These disrupt the banking market as they can offer accounts with lower service fees or higher interest rates as they have reduced costs compare to the current market players.


  7. I first heard about the topic of disruptive innovations at a fundamental business course in my bachelor. It was explained within the “The Innovator’s Dilemma” which originally came from a Clayton M. Christensen, we have just seen in the videos above. I was a little bit fascinated by the simplicity behind such an “innovation” because we don’t have to expect too much from it because it is not necessarily a breakthrough. The idea behind it is that suddenly a larger population gets access to something which was not ‘accessible” yet because a product/service gets more affordable and simpler.

    A very nice teaching example came from airline industry. In 1985 an airline called Ryanair entered a market and settled down next to companies like Lufthansa. This step or company can be considered as a disruptive innovation because a low price airline established, which had the focus on customers not willing to pay for the premium segment and services.


  8. Disruptive innovations are in a good way to start new businesses as there already is a client base. It is also a way to compete with the bigger companies so the products reach more people. If there were no disruptive innovations I think we would not have as evolved products today. Many companies spend a lot of money on R&D, so why not on finding disruptive innovations to their own products. This is clearly a good way to make more revenue and get a larger client base.

    I think a disruptive innovation in the food stores online for example Mathem. They offer the same products as a regular food store, but with the extra feature that you can shop from home and then get it delivered. This saves time for the customer and is more convenient.


  9. I found the videos really interesting! I’ve clearly had the wrong idea myself regarding what disruptive innovations are and it feels like many use the term falsely. What i like about the concept is the simplicity – it’s necessarily not inventing an entirely new product, but changing a product so it is more appealing to a greater number of people. It’s easy to imagine how the hunt for higher margins makes companies focus on the high-end customer segment and how the difficulties of targeting two customer segments leads to the fact that the industry can be disrupted.

    I would say that IKEA is a company that disrupted the furniture industry through developing a model where people could buy furniture inexpensively, without having to wait for the products and not having to pay for the assembly.


  10. What I found most interesting about the disruptive innovation is the fact that Clayton Christensen could explain to how to think to another person, even though he did not know much about the subject. The theory of disruptive innovation is a mindset that I find very important and interesting. It helps to explain the success of many companies on the market today.

    One example is the fashion industry. High fashion brands sells expensive clothing to an exclusive crowd. H&M is an example of a company that did a disruptive innovation when they started to produce cheap fashion to a large crowd.


  11. Me and many around me have misused the term disruptive innovation when talking about innovation. In my mind disruptive innovation was something disrupting/ revolutionizing the markets given trajectory, causing a paradigm shift. Miscommunication is always a bad thing and if you try to pitch that your new idea is disruptive and you don’t know what that is you will probably not come off as trustworthy.

    An example of disruptive innovation is the internet, making fast publication/sharing of views and information with the world without having connections with newspapers or being able to print the information yourself.


  12. To be honest I have not really fully understood the term disruptive innovation until today. My understanding of the term was that it was a radical innovation that revolutionized an industry. This is true to some extent but what I did not grasp was the fact that disruptive innovation is all about creating new markets and reshaping old ones.

    In my view, misusage of the term disruptive innovation would lead to an erosion of the concept eventually leading to disbelief. One could argue that smart watches has wrongfully been called disruptive since it only targets top consumers with new features.

    An example of disruptive innovation is the bed & breakfast / housing services provided through Airbnb. Consumers not willing to pay for premium services can enjoy housing at an affordable price.


  13. I learned something new when listening to Clay Christensen talking about “disruptive technology”. I did not know the true definition of this concept and I have always thought that it was related to introducing something new and innovative to the market.

    Moreover, it must be difficult for major companies to compete with smaller companies who are trying to introduce disruptive technology. Industry giants are forced to always make conscience decisions about whether they should expand their business, or create an entirely new market with new customers. This can be a difficult decision to make, especially if it requires that the company accepts lower profits initially. And that is probably the reason why many companies are reluctant to invest capital in what they believe to be disruptive technology. Most companies will probably realize that they need to enter the new market when it is already too late.

    An example of disruptive technology can be seen within cloud computing. Before the arrival of “the cloud”, companies where forced to buy software in boxes from vendors, which were later installed on the companies’ computers. If the customers wanted additional features, they were limited by the vendor’s partnerships. What the cloud did was create a platform (essentially the internet) where developers were enabled to offer and create software to anyone at any time. This has allowed for greater software integration within businesses and vendors have been able to take advantage of economies of scale, by having access to centralized data which is being used to further develop the cloud software.


  14. Earlier I thought that a disruptive market or innovation was something new and revolutionizing, and not necessarily succesful in terms of diffusion. Making something disruptive is therefore the act of making a product or innovation so diffusible and accessible, and in that very sense, revolutionizes the market. This way of thinking makes disruptive innovations the holy grail of entre/intrapreneurs, which also implies that some individuals or organizations have found a fair share of grails. One interesting example that I myself would define as disruptive in terms of the business model is Toms shoes. Through buying a pair of shoes you will donate a pair to someone in need in a developing state. This one-for-one model could be used in many other ways, but Toms shoes is definitely one of the most successful examples. The shoes themselves are surely not disruptive products, but one could though argue that their business approach could very much be expressed as disruptive.


  15. These videos really changed my perception of what disruptive innovation is. I thought a disruptive innovation was a radical innovation, often connected to new technology. But this made me understand that a disruptive innovation can be the use of pre-existing technology/product in a way that makes it accessible and affordable for a larger population.

    One example of disruptive innovation would be the digital camera. The quality was inferior, but the costumers liked the convenience the technology brought. Over time the technology improved and could attract professionals too.


  16. I agree with the arguments in the videos that the only way to compete with well- established corporations in consolidated markets is to come up with a disruptive innovation. As Clayton Christensen explains, a disruptive innovation is something that makes an existing product or service radically cheaper and easier for the customers to use. An example of a disruptive innovation is the business model of RyanAir, founded 1985. They managed to enter a market with big actors and become a significant actor themselves within a relatively short timeframe. The disruptive innovation consisted of brutally effective cost efficiency in the flight sector.


  17. I think the videos gave a good description of the concept disruptive innovation and I understand how easily it can be misunderstood if not informed correctly. Many companies strive for larger margins which is often preformed through increased features and higher prices. The theory disruptive innovation is important to take into consideration as a company because, as mentioned in the videos about the car market, new entrants can appear giving more people access to the technology by selling for a lower price. As a company you have to decide if your focus are on high paying customers or a wider mass.

    One example of a disruptive technology within biotechnology are new analytic techniques. The smallest sequencing machines have the size of a refrigerator and costs a lot of money. This results in only the largest biotechnology companies and research groups have access to them. A couple of years ago a new technology called MinIon was released with the size of a smartphone and with an affordable price with the ability to real-time sequencing when connected to a computer. The error-rate is higher with this technique but more scientists can afford it. This technique also possesses huge potential to improve its error-rate, and is predicted to change the market for analytic methods.


  18. As with many others already said, this made me question earlier knowledge about disruptive innovations, derived from earlier courses. The fact that it is regarding capturing a market segment at a cheap price, below what is currently on the market was new to me, but interesting to coma about, and something which could be useful in the project.

    The steamboat is a disruptive innovation, disrupting sailing as method of travel and transportation. They were first deployed and competed in the inland waters, where margins wore worse, thereby undercutting sailing on their least prioritized market (overseas provided larger margins).


  19. The videos made me realize that I have misinterpreted the concept of disruptive innovations. I thought of disruptive innovations as the “breakthrough innovations” described by Christensen, which I think also matches what is usually labelled as disruptive innovation. The original message of Christensen’s definition is that the essential part of being disruptive is to truly align with customer demands instead of improving existing products and processes. This message is somewhat lost if we consider breakthrough innovations, since they are more centred on finding brand new technology.

    For example, I would say that Gutenberg’s printing press was a disruptive innovation since it made books both more accessible and affordable for a much larger part of the population.


  20. The most important thing I take with me from the videos is that it’s very important for the incumbents to have clear strategies about how to handle new competitors that are attacking you from below. By being alert and constantly benchmarking your products/company against both old and new competitors you can possibly avoid being disrupted. Another thing is that it’s easy to stop caring/focusing on the low end of your business part when you have your eyes on mid-end to high-end markets that usually have higher margins. While those markets are attractive, it’s important to note they are often smaller in terms of actual numbers of customer, and that many start as a low-end customer. If a new company takes over your low-end business you risk also losing the rest of your customers after a while.

    I would say that Facebook started as a disruptive innovation since social medias existed way before Facebook. The most one was probably Myspace which in the end arguably didn’t cater all kinds of users. Facebook started as an extremely basic social media that just had some necessary features, but was very easy to use unlike Myspace for example, and therefore started growing.


  21. I have indeed heard the term “disruptive innovations” being uttered quite often, however I never got the hang of its true definition until I watched this informative video. My own example of this would be the AC distributive system (alternative current). Within this system, transformers provided an inexpensive method to step up the voltage of AC to several thousand volts and back down to usable levels. At higher voltages, the same power could be transmitted at much lower current, which meant less power lost due to resistance in the wires. As a result, large power plants could be located many miles away and service a greater number of people and buildings, instead of many spread out, local power plants only capable of serving smaller households.


  22. I realized my previous definition of a disruptive innovation differed quite a whole lot from what it actually entails. I used to think of disruptive innovations as leaps ahead in terms of technology but it could rather be a well known technology applied to other areas. I also understand why disruptive innovations seems to always (or very often) come from below and that is the fact that smaller companies have a larger need for a competitive edge and finding a way in resulting in almost being more desperate and willing to think creatively.

    One example of a disruptive innovation that popped into my mind when watching the videos was the introduction of the foldable baby stroller that was introduced in the 50s or 60s. That technology did originally come from the landing gear of planes and suddenly it became the most usual kind of stroller globally. Before that the previous ones where large, heavy and bulky, but after some innovative thinking they created a product that was cheap, durable and portable.


  23. These clips slightly changed my view of disruptive innovation. Previously I thought it was equivalent of new radical innovation that completely modified markets. However as Christensen points out it could also be when existing technology is made more accessible and affordable. Markets can be created by developing business ideas that exploits old technology in new ways. One example of disruptive innovation is Skype that offers video chat and voice calls services online. Mostly because many of its services are free Skype and similar applications have disrupted the telecom industry.


  24. Clayton defines a disruptive innovation as a development of a product that transform it from being an expensive and complicated product that only few people have access to, to be accessible for a wider customer segment. This is a definition that limits the number of products being developed through a disruptive innovation and differs from the everyday description of the concept.

    It is a challenge for a well-established company to innovate a product that disrupt the existing market. They seem to easily focus on their existing business and get a tunnel vision. This is when new actors enter the market and takes over the customers. Being aware of this risk, and always look out for new opportunities is a key to survive on the market!

    An example of a disruptive innovation is the combustion engine. It changed the transportation industry radically. Instead of using horses as vehicle, it made travelling longer distances possible for “normal” people.


  25. Christensen wants people to use a theory (preferably his own, one could imagine) as a compass for analyzing what will happen in the future, and to (at least some degree) ignore or avoid being dragged down into data from past experience or output. It is by all means good advice to several means by which one tries to predict the future. However, past can also be prolog – and while I agree with his vision of using theory as a compass for predicting the future I think it should be complemented by a data driven approach as well.

    His theory regarding how disrupters come along offering products that are cheaper and better adjusted to the actual needs of the market seems solid and usefull.

    My example for a disruptive technology is the plow. Its introduction increased total output – but also made farming cheaper (requiring less manpower) and made more areas profitable to farming, and in doing so, introducing farming as a more profitable option for more communities.


  26. The usual way to use disruptive seems to be to describe a technology that takes over the existing market by offering something unique in a forceful way. This, Clayton means, should be correctly reffered as a breakthrough innovation.

    What is mentioned by Cleyton could be interpreted as the original definition of Disruptive innovation. This pinpoints innovation which in some way finds a new market to target, grow a client base, decrease the price and smoothly become the most demanded product of the already existed market, but also for new ones. It disturbs the original players of the market, displacing the leading firms.

    One example of this phenomena is the transition from mobile phones to smart phones. In 2005, Nokia was the fifth most valuable brand in the world with 40% market shares. They continued innovate and produce mobile phone in the traditional way, making new designs and including cool features. Then the smartphone came, a handheld computer taking over shares of the the traditional phone makers and even expanding into new markets.

    More about Nokias Collapse:



  27. Disruptive Innovation has a new meaning for me as I previously thought about it as what I now know is called radical innovations. Somehow I got the feeling that disruptive innovation is all about cheaper products. As companies continue to develop their product, it gets more complex and often times more expensive to use. This naturally gives room for new players to come in and take this place, offering cheap and easy house alternatives. This new product that captures this mustn’t necessarily be “radical” or innovative in order to capture big masses through cheaper price, however this might be a consequence in order to have some unique selling point.

    An example of an disruptive innovation with my new “glasses” on could be Steam. Steam is a platform for games and they are known for their extreme sales that allow people to buy games at very cheap prices. Most of the games are now bought through this platform and other similar platforms, and it has put the normal retailers in a bad spot.


  28. The definition given in the video, where only low-cost alternatives are defined as disruptive, definitely alters from the one that I’ve come to understand. Judging from how many people seem to have made this misunderstanding, I’m questioning how valid their explanation is. Of course, they base their definition on the original definition, which (as we all know) doesn’t necessarily make it the “true” definition.

    A lot of things used to mean something else when the words were first put together, that doesn’t mean that their meaning will never change. My view of a disruptive technology is a technology that disrupts a market, be it through competing on price, better implementation of features or whatever, I still think it should be classified as disruptive if the market it enters is meaningfully changed (or disrupted).

    According to the HBR definition, the smartphone was not disrupting the cell phone (dumb phone) market, since it didn’t compete on price, but on added value through more features that were more easily accessible than their PC counterparts. I would argue that the dumb phone market was disrupted beyond recognition (at least in the financially strong economies) after the smartphone made its entrance.


  29. Clay Christensen defines disruptive innovation as making previously expensive technology accessible for a lot of people (paraphrase). He goes on to make the point clear with an example. From main frame computers, which could cost millions of dollars, to smartphones that almost anyone can afford.

    My impression is that the term disruptive is used in a wider sense and for a more general purpose today. An article from Forbes lists the 25 most disruptive brands from 2016. On the list figures names such as Uber, Airbnb and Red Bull.

    I don’t think either of these brands fit Christensens definition of “disruptive”. Uber is, in some cases and countries, cheaper than other taxi companies. But the product is not targeted towards a segment of customers who never used a taxi service before. The same reasoning can be applied on Airbnb. And as for Red Bull, they basically took something cheap and affordable and made it premium.

    I was not aware of the original meaning of “disruptive”, which might indicate that the original message is disappearing. However, I’m not sure if the potential shift of semantic meaning for the term “disruptive” will impact the number of true disruptions we will have.


  30. As a result of being exposed to the innovation community in large, my definition of a disruptive innovation clearly does not reconcile with the original definition. I believe that terms may come to change their meaning over time, because change is what drives a language and in the end, us, forward. Hearing the true definition of the term to me was still very interesting, mainly because I believe its strict definition makes it easier to apply as a framework. Both for analyzing past market events but also for coming up with, truly disruptive, innovations. Today it is used in a much wider sense, and is many times used to describe products of market leaders. As if the latter would be enough to attribute something the epithet ”disruptive”.

    I believe that stock exchange services such as Avanza and Nordnet are disruptive innovations. A market that had previously been restricted to privileged people through a non-transparent system with high fees, made available through the power of the internet and low fees.


  31. As explained in the video, the disruptiveness of the innovation is not in terms of the ”added technological breakthroughs” of some existing solution, which instead is referred to as sustaining innovation, aimed at adding ”whistles and bells” to higher paying customers for better margins. The disruptive innovation is instead aimed at the lower bracket of the market, serving customers a perhaps better and more straightforward technical solution, but with lower quality, margins or such (compare mini-mills to large steel mills).

    In a sense, almost all popularized technical terms get misused. Kuhn’s ”paradigm” has been used ad-nauseum in horrendous settings and almost everything that is ”cool”, ”new”, ”technical” or just ”clickbait worthy” seems to be labeled disruptive today. McKinsey’s report on the subject states that ”advanced robotics” is disruptive. Mapped against Christensen’s definition: ”Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward” we see that even experts aren’t really aware of the definition at hand. The original message might absolutely be lost as the lesson learnt is that one should surveillance the entire market and watch out for ”underdogs” attacking you from ”below”. In the interview, the Intel Celeron processor is examplified as an initiative to do that. By believing that anything that “sounds cool” is disruptive, managers loose the correct theory which is highlighted by Christensen to be key, in order to make proper decision about the future for a company.

    The other video also states that incumbents can produce disruptive innovations, but should preferably do so as separate projects with different scopes of profitability and ROI-times. 

One example of disruptive innovation is within SCADA and industrial automation. Previously only accesible as large hard-ware projects with expensive sensors and substantial code bases, almost everyone can buy a raspberry PI, plug in an extension board and get accelerometer data today. The disruption is perhaps ongoing, and we still see simplifications, improvements and solutions that enable ”low end customers” the possibility to supervise, control and acquire data from almost every appliance, object or point of interest. Alexa, Phillips Hue and several other projects are example of projects that highlight this trend of control and surveillance of objects and processes.


  32. One can conclude that the market the last 20 years have moved in great pace where many companies have been pushed to bankruptcy and default. The cycle of modern companies could be argued to be widely affected by innovations creating new trajectories and trends within the industry, which even the greatest company might have a hard time to protect themselves from. These transformations could be caused due to both market implications and fluctuating economies, but also disruptive innovations and gamechanging approaches in the markets. One example which can examplify this situation, where a big and stable company took a great hit from a disruptive innovation which was actually developed by themselves…

    In the 1990s digital photography took its first steps towards the market of photography and one of the initiators of the technology was actually Kodak who actually filed a patent for the technology. The marketing department however resist to sell digital cameras due to risk of cannibalization of film sales according to business insider ( One of the problem here was that this ment that other companies with less capital strength and market power could enter a new prospering market of photography through the new technological trajectory of digital photography. One could argue that Kodak did not see the customers real needs and ignored the growing demand for accessible and easy-to-use devices which correlated strongly with other emerging digital trends together with IT-development. What Kodak did though was to invent a product with great consumer potential but instead of taking advantage of the possible gains the firm did not anticipate digital toppling film the way that it did ( As mentioned in the video about disruptive innovation at coursera great firms often tend to invest a lot in new technology and target big markets but tend to stick with sustaining innovation which could be due to a risk averse relation to development(

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  33. Most of us know the meaning of the saying “a Kodak moment”; a moment that is so special or beautiful it is worth saving. How could a company that influential cease to exist? Kodak was the leading company in the photography market, but failed drastically when the market transitioned to digital photo. The digital photo is a disruptive innovation, a non-competitive innovation that over took the market (Coursea, 2017).
    The first digital camera was developed by Steve Sasson in 1975 and he was an engineer at Kodak (Harvard Business Review, 2016). The big question is why Kodak did not utilize this opportunity and exploit the fact that they could be the first manufacturers of digital photo. Kodak made studies to evaluate the outcomes and they concluded that the digital photo would take over, but it would take about 10 years (Forbes, 2012).
    Kodak might have thought that they would lose their position on the market as their core competency was to produce film. They were the best in their field and could have doubted their ability to perform at the same level in digital. Or maybe they did not feel threatened enough and thought that the digital photo would not have as big of a breakthrough. Looking back, Kodak should have taken the opportunity to cultivate the digital camera and photo instead. They should have made a shift from having the film production as a core competency to the digital.
    I believe that you as a company constantly need to evaluate the market and try to find the disruptive innovations that are emerging. It is better to produce them yourselves instead of someone else doing it. Sometimes it is necessary to “kill your darlings” or at least change the focus from one product to another.


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