Disruptive Technology

by Edward Henkler on November 19, 2013

I bet many of you have heard the term “disruptive technology” but I wonder if you would define it as Clayton Christensen does in “The Innovator’s Prescription?”  Clayton suggests that disruptive technology is less expensive and less capable than current options.  Choosing to invest in disruptive technology is strategic while focusing on sustained innovation is a tactical choice.  At face value, that seems inverted, until you consider his PC example.

Large companies, such as DEC didn’t choose to invest in PC’s, as their best mainframe customers would not have been interested in an inexpensive but far less capable alternative to their mainframes.  In spite of that, PC’s opened a high volume market that facilitated innovation, until mainframes finally became a niche acquisition.  Introducing disruptive technology almost always requires establishment of a new business entity, as they will be tracking different metrics and typically seeking different customers.  An established company can introduce disruptive tech, but only if they strategically choose to establish a distinct business unit and set goals which will be quite different than are applied in their traditional business units.

At a tactical level, it is important to continue innovating but you will only enjoy long term success if you are always seeking that next disruptive step.  That approach is remarkably similar to “The Blue Ocean Strategy”, by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.  Innovation is a constant battle against competitors trying to occupy the same space (picture the churning water which white water rafters seek).  Finding the calm waters of the blue ocean enable you to leapfrog your competition and lead to major advances.

The Innovator's Prescription

This is the first of a few posts inspired by “The Innovator’s Prescription”, which provides “a disruptive solution for Health Care”.  It’s been out several years but remains relevant, not only for healthcare reform but also as a general prescription for innovation and disruptive technology.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

David Jardin November 19, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Good job of making this important concept practical and easy to understand.


Edward Henkler November 19, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Thanks, David! I think it’s such a great way of looking at the innovation path.


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