Disruptive innovation is an incredibly practical and reliable theory about competition, which describes how new market entrants consistently win against established market leaders when a clearly identifiable set of conditions are present. Its usefulness as a business tool is being threatened by poor understanding, widespread misuse of the term, and often deliberate exaggeration by marketers and media pundits who don't appreciate the damage they are doing.
In the nearly 15 years since The Innovator's Dilemma was published, the notion of disruptive innovation has grown in awareness immensely, particularly among tech startups, venture capitalists and angel investors.
It has become the holy grail for investors and entrepreneurs, with many funds targeting disruption exclusively. Yet, as strong as this meme has become, it is also one of the most widely misused and misunderstood terms among those same groups.
Misuse, Overuse, Confused Use
We can speculate about the reasons why. Certainly the word 'disruptive' is at once a powerful and suggestive descriptor, and simultaneously an instrument of misdirection. Disruption had a (strong) meaning before Christensen appended it to Innovation to label his theory (that's why he used it), and many simply imbue the phrase "disruptive innovation" with their personal interpretation of what it means to be disruptive. Or, they focus on the innovation part of the term, and think that means it's all about technology (it isn't).
More importantly, I think, is that the language Christensen used to write The Innovator's Dilemma is highly academic, sometimes deliberately ambiguous, often speculative, and extremely dense. When these attributes are combined, it makes for very difficult reading that is hard to make sense of even for dedicated practitioners and students of the theory. Then to compensate, Christensen himself often tries to over-simplify the theory to summarize it, and people take the simplistic descriptions as a complete rendering, repeating them as axiomatic.
On top of all that, the theory has been refined over time, but most people have read only the original book, if they've read anything at all. It's a a perfect storm prescription for confusion and misuse.
Not Just Another Square on the Buzzword Bingo Card
The result is that there are dozens of people preaching the gospel of disruption, many if not most with their own (commercial) agenda, and it is rare to find any two in agreement. Well over 95% of headlines and articles written about disruption are blatantly wrong or misguided, or metaphorical at best. And, many pundits and writers have taken a great deal of liberty and license in inventing their own definitions, or expressing what they think the theory says rather than the model it actually describes. Thus, we have tremendous misinformation, misunderstanding, and strong misconceptions about what the theory is, which is a shame because it is possibly the most important economic theory of the past 50 years.
Getting Disruption Right Matters
The problem with all the misinformation, fuzziness about what it is and isn't, and even deliberate misrepresentation is that if businesses don't understand what disruptive innovation really is, and what the opportunities and threats are, then the theory can't be applied. And, the whole point of identifying this phenomenon and describing how it works is to improve: to not be blindsided when new disruptions are on the horizon, to capitalize on massive growth opportunities, and place intelligent bets on the future by making wise investments.
Getting it wrong is like the old saw "if you don't know where you're going, then any direction will get you there". It's no different than if Christensen had never developed the theory in the first place.
Clarity About Disruption
In a newly published eBook designed to bring clarity and simplicity to the discussion and outline the business significance of disruption innovation from financial, growth, investing and risk perspectives, Innovative Disruption's CEO, Paul Paetz, describes the 6 most common misconceptions about market disruption. They include:
- All innovation is disruptive by definition
- Innovation has to be breakthrough to be disruptive
- Disruption only applies to technology
- "Disruptive" is just a marketing adjective companies use to imply that their product is more advanced
- Disruptive innovation is a meaningless buzz phrase
- All innovation is overrated, and disruptive innovation isn’t any better or different
Of course, all these notions are wrong.
Get your copy of 'Disruptive Confusion Unraveled' to learn:
- why there are so many misconceptions
- the strategic importance to entrepreneurial innovators and investors
- what it means to be disruptive and why the definitions matter
- how to recognize and predict disruption and measure its value