disruptive innovation

The 6 Most Common Misconceptions About Disruptive Innovation

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:

  1. All innovation is disruptive by definition
  2. Innovation has to be breakthrough to be disruptive
  3. Disruption only applies to technology
  4. "Disruptive" is just a marketing adjective companies use to imply that their product is more advanced
  5. Disruptive innovation is a meaningless buzz phrase
  6. 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


Disrupt, or Be Disrupted: Are There Only Two Choices?

Solving the Innovator's Dilemma

There's a question that I'm frequently asked that goes something like "So, I've read/heard about the Innovator's Dilemma and disruptive innovation. I get it -- interesting idea -- we all need more innovation. But what difference does it make whether innovation is disruptive or not? What can I do about it / how can I use it?"

Generally, the question is posed as a challenge -- a conversation starter when people are trying to understand what I do for a living and whether my services have any relevance to them. Sometimes it is the challenge of a skeptic: someone who doesn't believe disruption theory is valid, and they're looking for logical holes to punch through.

Normally, I use this space to discuss causes and effects of disruption, and case studies and disruption analysis that (I hope) is instructive and interesting. But my business is more than an intellectual exercise, so today I'm going to address this question head-on, and I hope you'll excuse if a tiny bit of selling creeps in. Hopefully, you won't even notice.

Why We Care About Disruption

In a nutshell, disruptive innovation catches competition off guard, and leaves them without adequate response. If you could design it as an attribute of your business, it is the ideal strategy, because it creates new markets, satisfies needs that are unmet or underserved ("Blue Oceans") by existing solutions, and determines who the dominant players with the highest margins will be for years to come.

Where They Ain't

"I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it is," is a quote famously attributed to Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player ever. He was explaining to a reporter why he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and to have the best and easiest scoring opportunities.

Going where the puck isn't is the essence of disruptive innovation. If you solve the problems that no one else is solving (and that potential customers are willing to pay to have solved), at order-of-magnitude lower cost, and with the highest degree of simplicity and convenience, then you'll generally have a disruptive innovation on your hands.

The trouble is, how do you find those sweet spots in your industry, or in your business? It's easy to see the next incremental step in innovation -- make the 'off button' bigger and red, make the product smaller, add another function (whiteners in your detergent). But going in a contrary direction, or one that others don't see the need to, is a lot harder to do. For that, you have to ask the right questions, and I know, that's also easier to say than do. Unless you are starting with the right framework or lens for examining what people really need.

Apart from the natural resistance that many have to stepping out of line and being different, this is what is so challenging about disruptive innovation, and why disruption is so rarely initiated from within the industry being disrupted. Regardless, to be disruptive, you have to hit the competition "where they ain't" (see "Wee Willie" Keeler), and do it in a way that isn't possible for market incumbents to match easily.

Identifying the Value

As a disruption consultant, the principle benefits my clients identify with implementing a disruptive business strategy or disruptive business model include:

  • creation of new revenue streams
  • easier sales
  • much higher than average margins
  • lower cost of doing business
  • larger markets and largest market shares

Coincidentally, when you achieve those things, you also create the positive perception of being a trendsetter, an industry (market and/or thought) leader, and a supplier who is better able to serve your customer's needs. So, those are the simple surface answers to the questions raised in the first paragraph, but there is a deeper underlying question of how that opportunity can be leveraged. How do we create value from disruption?

Being Disruptive

I don't want to spend time here describing the services Innovative Disruption offers as a consultancy -- you can visit the pages of our website for that information. Simply understand that creating disruption and leveraging its value is done through a number of deliberate tactics, and that this process can be learned. Some of the key activities and priorities include:

  • identifying "jobs to be done"
  • radical simplification (of products especially)
  • dramatic improvement in accessibility, flexibility and/or convenience
  • change that enables nearly the same product/service to be done (or a "good enough" facsimile) for a fraction of the price
  • find ways to bring products to, or service market niches that are undesirable to incumbents

and, these are accomplished with a methodological framework, specialized analysis tools, Disruption Report Cards, and a mentality that experimentation and (fast) failure is part of the lifecycle of product introduction to be embraced because it is necessary to establishing product/market fit, not something to be punished. Lean startup behavior, in other words, is compatible with disruption (though neither necessary nor sufficient to create it).

Eat, or Be Eaten

We increasingly face a world where everyone is on one side of the equation or the other: disrupt, or be disrupted. The reality is that long term viability and sustainability of the business does not require disrupting to avoid being disrupted, but it does require the mindset of a disruptive innovator, and a willingness to seize disruptive opportunities when they are present. It also requires sustaining innovations 90% of the time, and the sort of operational efficiency that is often at odds with experimentation and innovation.

In other words, business needs a left brain and a right brain. You can't remain viable in the long term if you aren't constantly aware of when disruption is possible; on the other hand, maximizing the potential of disruption requires sustaining innovation and the sorts of activities that established companies excel at, and do every day. The key is to allocating a percentage of business activity to each of these dual modes, evaluating threats that could disrupt your business or industry, and being willing to cannibalize your own products and lines of business before someone else does.

Modern business allows no complacency. If you want to explore these questions more fully, I encourage you to download our ebook "Disruptive Confusion Unraveled".

The Broken and Disruptable: Evidence of Industries Vulnerable to (or, more accurately Needing) Disruption

A narrative of personal disruption, leading to evidence of industries that desperately need to be disrupted.

The Broken . . .

Broken and disrupted: this is going to cost me....

Broken and disrupted: this is going to cost me....

A few weeks ago I managed to break my foot by doing nothing more extraordinary than walking on it. I wish the story was more exciting, but I can't imagine a more dull and uninteresting way to break a foot.

There I was, packing for a business trip to Toronto when I stepped towards my suitcase and heard a loud, sharp crack, like a good-sized branch breaking, and next I knew I was on the floor in a lot of pain.

. . . and Now Disrupted

So, we went to emergency, spent about 4 or 5 hours to have a nurse practitioner confirm after looking at x-rays -- "Yup. You broke it", and then bring me a pair of crutches and a goofy looking styrofoam shoe, with instructions to see a foot doctor in the next two days. And, for all their trouble, they sent me a bill for over $2,000. You'd think that after wasting that much time, I could get more than an envelope with two pieces of film, medical supplies worth less than $20, and confirmation of something that I already knew for 2 grand.

Now, don't you wish your product or service had demand that was so inelastic that you could charge virtually anything for doing almost nothing?

Alert: Healthcare Industry Ripe for Disruption

So, I got home around 2:30am, and still had to finish packing to get to the airport first thing in the morning. You see, it wasn't just that it was too late to call anyone and postpone the trip, but it was an important strategy meeting, and people were coming from Ireland, so it would have been very costly and aggravating for everyone to cancel. Anyway, it gave me an excuse to do what I thought was the right thing.

On to Toronto

I'm going to skip the gory details of traveling with a broken foot that isn't in a proper cast yet. Suffice it to say that I suffered incredibly miserable service from an assortment of airlines (not just to Toronto, but in a subsequent trip to Portugal as well). It was a real eye-opener about how poorly people with a handicap are treated.

Alert: Airline Industry Ripe for Disruption

I'm quite fortunate that in a few weeks, I'll be back to normal -- for many this is a permanent way of life. I had no idea how frequently the needs of people with handicaps are either simply ignored, overlooked and disregarded, or, that there's a seamy underside that looks to take advantage of people who need help. Not sure who needs to be disrupted to fix this, but we could all use a wake-up call.

So, in Toronto I learned to use the crutches, and narrowly avoided a face-plant on freshly cleaned marble floors thanks to the strong arms of two guys that were walking with me. Strangely, although marble is one of the most deceptive and slippery surfaces when wet, the cleaning staff apparently didn't see the need to put out signs warning that the floors were freshly mopped. Hmmmm.

Basically, Toronto was a dry run for what it would be like flying to Portugal the following week to do a keynote address at the International Marketing Congress. I survived with the sponge slipper for a couple of days, and didn't break anything else, so we'd have to say that was a successful trip.

Oh yes, the meetings were good too.

And then Portugal

As soon as I got home from Toronto, we got to a doctor and had the foot looked at. Surprisingly, he too confirmed that the foot was broken and charged me an additional $360 for that information. No wonder healthcare costs are rising so quickly -- there is no common sense and no adequate set of controls to ensure against running up the meter, duplication of services, overcharging, etc

Sorry, there's no room for this under the seat in front of me.

Sorry, there's no room for this under the seat in front of me.

He wanted to put me in a full cast right away, but when he heard that I needed to travel to Portugal, he shook his head (I think in disgust and disbelief -- obviously he thought it was a mistake and that I should simply accept my fate and be immobilized for 6 weeks right then and there) and offered a temporary Air-Cast, which for all the world looks like a Robocop appendage.  See picture: it looks a lot like the walking cast that many are issued when they get a sprain or need extra support after getting out of a plaster cast, but it's got more tech.

Oh yes, and another $250 in the meter for that.

Neat contraption, in that it allowed me to deflate the airbags inside and/or loosen the straps as my foot and leg swelled on the plane. They advised me that if I didn't do this, there was a good chance my leg would need amputation by the time I got to the other side, and that was the reason not to put a proper cast on at that time.

When all was said and done, we'd spent another half an hour, and another approximately $800 for almost nothing. Who needs the mafia when we can simply visit a doctor?

Alert: Healthcare Industry Seriously Needs Disruption

The Air-Cast did make me a little more mobile, and certainly protected my foot better than the sponge slipper, but it was truly a hulking and inconvenient thing to have to wear.

Of course, the whole point of this story was to get to Portugal. It was my first trip there, and despite the foot, it was an immensely enjoyable visit. The people were great, the food was great, the wine even better, the seaside was great, my hotel was nice, the culture was very comfortable, my hosts were gracious and welcoming. 

In fact, the only downside was the whole airport experience. Have I mentioned that the air travel industry needs some disruption? Although not so much on the cost-saving low end -- that need is already over-served, and the corners being cut are apparent everywhere. Oh well, a future post.

Disruption Point

Appropriately enough, the conference title was The Disruption Point, and my keynote put forward the thought that Disruptive Innovation doesn't happen without Disruptive Marketing, using some case studies and graphed results from The Disruption Group's disruption scorecard tool.

As I was delivering my talk, I had an out-of-body sort of experience (I promise, it wasn't the Vicodin) when it occurred to me how ironic/appropriate it was that I was delivering a talk about innovation, marketing and disruption while I was disrupted in a wheelchair.

I'm sure it's been done before, but I don't think I've ever seen a keynote address delivered from a wheelchair. I'm guessing it happens somewhat frequently at conferences for the disabled. I suspect many speakers who had broken a foot 10 days earlier would have cancelled, but I had put a great deal of thought and effort into this and wanted to see how the audience reacted. I also wanted to go to Portugal, so the location definitely benefited the organizers.

What was especially interesting for me was to get a European view of disruption and innovation. The growing strength and especially the single market opportunity for the EU seems to have spawned a new spirit, willingness to take chances, ambition to grow, recognition of opportunities at home and around the world.

In short, European capitalism seems to have new life and there is some great energy over there, and desire to learn and try new things. In contrast, the US seems to be a little bit on the ropes right now by way of comparison.

I think we are weary of the Iraq war, the falling dollar and rising prices, especially for oil, fighting terrorism, dealing with airport hassles, the hangover from all the corporate fraud and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, the failing mortgage market and the toll it is taking on banks and homeowners, encroachment on freedoms that we have always taken for granted in the name of "enhanced security'" (an oxymoron if ever there was one).

Basically, virtually everything is in the dumps at the same time.  We need a good recession and some political and economic housecleaning to clear out the fog and get back on track.

But, I digress.

One of the more interesting people that I met was Francois Laurent, president of the French National Marketing Association. He is a crusty guy with a train of thought at least equal to the controversy I cause, as you might discern from his blog and upcoming book title "Marketing is Dead". Here's what Francois had to say about the conference (automatic translation to English version here).

My presentation was well-received and despite the disruption, the trip to Portugal was very worthwhile.

Home of Disruption

So now I'm safely home, have a full cast on my foot, and am already chafing to get rid of it. It's certainly no fun trying to do anything from visiting the restroom, to going up and down stairs, to getting dressed, to bathing, to going out anywhere. 

As I wrote in a recent email, I can't believe that we can send miniature cameras inside someone's heart and do robotic surgery controlled by a doctor 1,000 miles away, yet when it comes to healing a broken bone, we still have this archaic and inconvenient 150 year old technology to fix things. I could have arthroscopic knee surgery, or laser eye surgery, and be back to 100% in a few days, but break a bone, and your life will be disrupted for at least 6-8 weeks.

Consider me broken and disrupted.

Disruptive Tidbits: iPhone Update, Office 2007, Disruptive Marketing, and more

A collection of disruptive thoughts, observations, and small items not big enough to rate their own articles:

iPhone Predictions Already Exceeded

The day before its launch, we wrote a lengthy analysis of the iPhone's disruptive potential and published our predictions of its likely popularity. Many disagreed, but our expectations were pretty close to bang on, with Apple announcing 1 million sold just 74 days after the initial release.

Some fanatics might have suggested even better sales possible, but this is about the top end of what one would expect for a disruptive product. The usual pattern is to seep into the market relatively slowly and then really take off as subsequent versions add features and correct problems, becoming good enough for more and more people until they reach the tipping point and explode into mass market consciousness.

With the unparalleled hype about the iPhone, it's not surprising that it was strong out of the gate, despite many noted complaints about all the ways it wasn't up to snuff (also very common for new disruptive products).

And a New iPod Too

The new iPod Touch is an iPhone, without the phone.

The new iPod Touch is an iPhone, without the phone.

We also discussed the likelihood of a family of mobile handhelds using the iPhone platform, and already we have the next generation iPod, which not surprisingly is an iPhone without the phone. 

Along with that new product came a brilliant move of partnering with Starbucks to offer free Wi-fi access at any of their locations. 

It's actually pretty smart for both sides, as the days of charging for a Wi-Fi connection are almost over. This is a way for Starbucks to be a bit ahead of the curve and benefit from the glow that surrounds the iPod and iPhone.

Watch for iPhone Sr. coming soon to an Apple store near you -- I expect it will be outfitted as a true business-oriented handheld, with connectivity to corporate systems, better security, more horsepower, a suite of office applications (note that Apple's iWork product was also upgraded over the summer to offer a spreadsheet tool for the first time and integration with Office 2007. 

With the "holy trinity" of word processing, presentations and spreadsheets now covered, the Mac becomes a lot more viable as a PC replacement, and will suddenly be "good enough" for many who've been waiting for a real Microsoft alternative, and the iPhone also gets closer to being a viable substitute for the notebook, especially for road warriors tired of airport security hassles.  Don't know if we'll get it before Christmas, but I promise, the writing is on the wall. 

Office 2007 UI Mistakes: What Were They Thinking?

Microsoft is probably wondering about some of the horrible mistakes made in Office 2007, such as imposing the "Ribbon" interface on power users who not only don't need it, but find that it slows them down. Personally I don't like it because it is a big keystroke waster, makes it hard to find all the things you knew, and it wastes a ton of screen real estate.  Not offering an option to use the old menus or the keyboard interface was a really bad idea.

Microsoft's Office 2007 "ribbon": Seriously, someone thought this inelegant, productivity-sucking mess was an improvement!

Microsoft's Office 2007 "ribbon": Seriously, someone thought this inelegant, productivity-sucking mess was an improvement!

Although the XML underpinning was a great idea, it also makes it easy for someone like Apple who is better at tools to eat Microsoft's lunch, and with such a huge change in the interface, there's plenty of incentive, and what has anyone got to lose by giving Apple's products a try? 

It's a classic case of overshooting the users' needs on the one hand, and not fulfilling them on the other.  And, it's the kind of arrogant decision that could only come from going so long without real competition.  Ripe for disruption indeed!


For many, summer is a time to re-connect with family and think about relationships. Of course, we did that too, and got to attend that rarest of events -- my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.  Even more amazing, my wife's parents celebrated their 50th a couple of years ago.

How many people can say that their parents and in-laws are not only still all alive, but have both managed to stay together for 50 years?  There must be a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow somewhere.

And, check out the picture.  Gotta love the skinny people and skinny ties.  They just don't make them that way any more.

Disruptive Marketing

In the category of "growing realization of the obvious", there's another sort of relationship that comes to my mind. Namely, the relationship between marketing and disruptive innovation. With a couple of decades of technology marketing experience behind me, and my focus on disruption, you'd think I would have spent more time considering the connection. It's a relationship that's lived in my head without expression.

Strangely, Christensen comes close to alluding to it a few times in his books, but never really addresses it.  In fact, it's almost as if all those innovations that he describes were so obviously fantastic products that they grew to dominate markets without anyone making the smallest effort to target the right niches and make them appealing to customers.

I've been developing some hypotheses about that relationship, and gathering evidence and observations to test them. It's a simple but profound notion. Namely, that disruptive marketing is the secret sauce that takes the potential of a disruptive innovation and turns it into a reality.

Yes, there are accidents along the way, and occasionally disruption happens without intent, but it's become increasingly clear to me, both by looking at missed opportunities for disruption, and at products that succeeded in turning the tables, even against the odds, that disruptive marketing is a necessary component.

I will be delving into this idea in more detail in future posts with case studies, examples, definitions, and description of how disruptive marketing works.  I hope to elicit a healthy discussion around this idea and get "war stories" from marketers about how they did it, and what disrupts versus what is plain vanilla.

Upcoming Presentation

Carrying on with this idea, I will be making a keynote address to the International Marketing Congress in Lisbon in a few weeks.  The conference theme is The Disruption Point, and I will be addressing the connection between Disruptive Innovation and Disruptive Marketing. 

This will be the first public forum where I will be presenting my theories and observations, and I'm looking forward to a great discussion and debate.

Disruptive Business Strategy: What is Steve Jobs Really Up To?

Two days before the official launch of the iPhone, the pitch of media, pundit and public anxiety over perhaps the most anticipated new product since Windows 95 has reached a level only Steve Jobs could properly describe -- Insanely Great!  And here I am, contributing to the noise, raising it even a decibel louder if that's possible.

How loud is it?  As I finish writing this post, Technorati says that there are nearly 189,000 blog postings (in English -- there are nearly 305,000 in all languages) that talk about the iPhone. 

iPhone Debut Rivals Harry Potter Mania, But Will It Last and Why?

Compare that with 39,170 that mention Motorola's RAZR, a phone that was the previous biggest smash hit and which literally put Motorola back in the cell phone business after years of decline.  Nearly 6 times the level of mention of a phone which has been exceedingly popular, a design hit, has been in the market since 2004 and which exceeded all other flip phone sales within one year of its release. 

And, the number of postings that include mention of the iPhone has been rising by over 1,000 every 4 hours today, and you can count on it growing even faster until the pent up hysteria is released at 6pm on Friday.  And, the chatter certainly won't stop then.

Every major media outlet has weighed in.  The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, every computer or telecom related industry trade journal has reviewed it.  Virtually everyone who's been privileged to receive one of the media samples for review has said it's cool -- so cool it almost lives up to its hype. 

Like the mania for video game consoles or Harry Potter books, prospective customers started waiting in line outside flagship stores in New York Tuesday morning.  Unprecedented for a phone.

Think about it -- the entire country seems locked in a heat wave, with most major cities experiencing temperatures in the mid 90s or higher.  Yet, people are so lustful of being one of the first to own an iPhone, that they will camp outside a store for 4 days in the sweltering heat to lock in to a 2-year service commitment from AT&T, the worst service provider in the business (more on that later).

So, does all this mean runaway success -- the game is already won?  Or, will there be an equal and opposite reaction when possibility and excitement about the future gives way to reality, and inevitable issues with service, availability, bugs in functionality and unfulfilled expectations?

Apple fanatics say it will be successful because it is ultra-cool, easy-to-use, a breakthrough in design elegance and software sophistication. Naysayers say nothing could live up to this level of hype, and that when things die down, sales will appear lackluster no matter how good they are.

Virtually everyone notes the stupidity of getting into an exclusive deal with AT&T and warns that this could be the albatross around the iPhone's neck. Almost all of the speculation and predictions are based on visceral and emotional reactions, and influenced heavily by the reality dispersion bubble that surrounds Steve Jobs, and by the majority belief that "better" wins. 

But if we run with that notion reductio ad absurdum, what exactly does 'winning' mean?  Assuming that the consensus is that the iPhone is a better phone, does it have to achieve market dominance as a late entrant the way the iPod has in the MP3 player space?

Surely it doesn't have to match iPod's 80% market share within 5 years! There are over a billion mobile phones already in use around the world.  Is a 10 or 20% market share strong enough to be considered successful? (The RAZR's share is only around 5%.)

Is this even the right yardstick to use?

The iPhone Will Be a Disruptive Winner

iPhone will be successful regardless of the metrics used.  It will be successful beyond the expectations of the most enthusiastic pundits. 

It will be successful beyond what Steve Jobs thinks.  It will be successful in spite of the apparent deficiencies that have already been noted in the reviews. It will be successful despite partnering exclusively with a single carrier, and the one most despised in the industry -- although this will be the biggest road bump the iPhone faces

It will be successful because it will change the game -- actually, it will change many games, and therein lies the secret of its success.  It will do all this because it will be disruptive. 

But, predictions are dangerous. And, mine disagree with those of many people whose opinions I respect and whose theories I borrow from. Even though I'm siding with the majority who believe the iPhone will be a big winner, how do I arrive at that conclusion and what exactly makes it disruptive?

Who Disagrees With Me

Before explaining what the highly respected experts are missing, let me first say who some of them are and try to summarize their positions.


Innosight is the consulting company formed by Clayton Christensen to sell management services around disruptive innovation. Clay developed the original ideas and theoretical framework that underlies disruptive innovation in his series of books - The Innovator's Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution and Seeing What's Next. Saying he (or his minions) have it wrong is like saying that the pope isn't Catholic.

In January, after the original announcement of the iPhone, Innosight consultant Jonathan Barrett said:

  • at $500 or $600, the price is too high
  • Cingular (now merged into AT&T) is incapable of providing the same high quality, seamless user experience that Apple customers expect
  • iPhone won't work on 3G high speed data networks -- only EDGE or Wi-Fi is supported -- so there won't be anything unique or distinctive about the wireless service
  • the deficiencies plus high price point will prevent iPhone from finding a market sweet spot
  • the approach of Apple is a "sustaining strategy" (i.e. incremental innovation of the cell phone), not a disruptive one, positioned against deep pocketed, long time industry incumbents who have a lot to lose if Apple wins and will fight fiercely for share

He reaches his "not disruptive" conclusion while still finding many things to like, such as lack of keyboard, design beauty, novel interface, thinness and coolness factor.

Mike Urlocker

My colleague, and the CEO of The Disruption Group, has a stronger technology, industry and investment background when it comes to the iPhone, having been the original analyst at UBS to identify the RIM Blackberry as a disruptive product and the first to recommend RIM as a strong buy. Mike has worked for and advised software companies on marketing strategy, and at UBS he was executive director and member of the global technology and telecom teams.

In his Disruption Scorecard evaluation of the iPhone, again shortly after the original announcement in January, Mike rates it a B-, and labels it likely a hit, but not very disruptive.  He reasons that the product appeals to people who want status and high design (the coolness factor) and are willing to pay for it, but that it doesn't have much potential to change the game like Blackberry did, or upset incumbent rivals such as Nokia, Motorola or Samsung.

Laura and Al Ries

Branding and positioning experts Laura and Al Ries (Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the original book that defined the concept of positioning) take a different tack, identifying the iPhone as a "convergence" product, and the iPod as a "divergence" product. The concepts of divergence and convergence come from Evolution Theory -- basically, the idea is that there is a common origin to all species, but that over time the "tree of life" diverges as natural selection creates specializations to adapt to the environment.

Another failed convergence product.

Another failed convergence product.

Similarly, Al and Laura (and other pundits too) argue that the natural trend for all products is towards divergence and specialization to better suit consumer needs.

They claim the iPod was successful because it was a divergence product. Moreover, they argue that most "convergence" products fail -- convergence being when multiple feature categories are combined in a single product (in iPhone's case, an iPod, cell phone and PDA).

Their position is that consumers prefer products that are optimized to do one task well, rather than a lot of tasks poorly, and they further claim that the iPhone has been over hyped and most over hyped products fail to live up to expectations, therefore the iPhone will be a failure.


Most of the others who claim the iPhone will be a failure base it on their own personal biases rather than what the market as a whole is likely to do and why -- "I'm not going to get one because . . .".  Name your complaint here. Price, lack of keyboard, slow data network, AT&T as carrier, touch screen keys too small to hit accurately, it will have bugs in version 1.0, etc.

So, what are they all missing, and more to the point, what is Steve Jobs really up to?

The Label Problem

One of the problems with evaluating anything analytically is that we get hung up on labels rather than thinking about what the labels mean and why the rules of thumb associated with them usually work. In the case of the iPhone, there are many labels and definitions being applied that are throwing people off the scent of what's really happening and my belief is that this is deliberate.

Yes, Steve is trying to fool the experts and fly below the analytical radar, ironically while mounting one of the most pervasive and successful hype build ups of all time.

To start with, the name iPhone is a mislabeling. While iPhone does indeed have phone capability in it, it is not a phone. Suspend disbelief for a second, walk with me a little, and it will all make sense soon.

Is your laptop PC a phone because you can make GoogleTalk or Skype calls using it? If not, why not?

Does it matter that it isn't the only thing you do with it? What if that was the most important thing you did with your PC, because you make a lot of calls to India, and free long distance service is worth a lot to you? Still not a phone?

Well, if your PC isn't a phone, is it a typewriter? I know that the primary purpose for my PC is typing documents, blog posts and html. I print a lot of those on paper. Mine is definitely an evolved typewriter.

Or maybe your PC is really a gaming console, or a mobile email device because you use it at home, at work, at Starbucks and at hotels and other wi-fi hotspots around the world to send and receive emails. Or, maybe it's just another example of a highly unsuccessful convergence device?

Or, do you still think your PC is something else?

The iPhone is Definitely Not a Phone

So, if you were willing to suspend disbelief and suppose that the iPhone might not be a phone, what is it then? Let's start with why it's called an iPhone.

iPhone is both sales positioning and a ruse. iPhone is positioned as a phone because Apple knows that in that niche, the market is sorely lacking for a stylish, easy to use, fun, visual, well-designed and well integrated device. It is a first if only because of its elegance. Don't believe me?

Then why isn't it really an evolved iPod?  One with a really big screen, beautiful graphics and music navigation, and by the way, it includes the ability to make phone calls?

The reason is because Apple believes this is the purpose that you will understand out of the starting gate, and for which it can convince people to shell out $500 or $600 to get the most stylish and coolest gadget on the block. Therefore it is positioned as a phone, and that's the basis on which everyone is analyzing it, and writing glowing reviews. But it isn't a phone.

It's also a ruse, because Mr. Jobs has a much higher goal in mind than selling the world's coolest phone. But this is an effective way to divert attention from the real disruption that is happening until it's too late.

Why This Makes Perfect Sense

Let's get a historical perspective to make a little more sense of this. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and tried to sell his patents to Western Union in the late 1870s, how do you think he described what it was?

No one had a framework to describe how revolutionary the phone would be as a communications tool. If you wanted to talk to someone, you went across the street, knocked on their door, and if they were at home or in their office, you could talk.

Initially, outside of the securities industry, people couldn't even understand why they would want a phone. Especially since the first version could only work over short distances due to signal loss on the wires. There was no network, there wasn't any need for communications to be sped up that much and nobody else had one, so how much use was it?

Bell considered the telephone to be a way to transmit voice over the telegraph, and that's why he thought Western Union would buy his patents. Bell viewed the telephone, perhaps one of the most disruptive technologies of all time, as an incremental ("sustaining") innovation over telegraphy.

Western Union, on the other hand, viewed it as being worth less than $100,000 since they rejected the offer to buy the patents for that much, although they later tried to buy them for $25 million.

Do you consider your telephone today to be a highly evolved telegraph? If you can imagine that, what about your cell phone, or is it different because it's mobile? What then of the iPhone? Just a space age telegraphy device with no keys or dials?

The important thing to note here is that in the early days, it is difficult to imagine the application and importance of disruptive innovations if they really are, because no one has a framework to understand its value.

That's why the car was positioned as a horseless carriage. That's why TV was radio with pictures. That's why the first computer was called ENIAC -- or the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator. 

That's right, the first computer was just a calculator that cost 200,000 man hours to build, $486,804 in 1946, and used $650/hr worth of electricity to sit idle. Some times the original naming belies the importance of an innovation.

So, positioning of an innovation in the short term is not the same as long-term recognition of value and the salient characteristics that define its use. If not for the need to calculate missile trajectories more quickly and accurately during the war, the first computer might never have been built.

And what of convergence versus divergence? Most consultants and branding experts will tell you that convergence as a strategy almost always fails, because the more things you combine into one, the more compromises you have to make in design, and each individual function is sub optimized at the expense of the whole.

In disruption theory, a parallel idea says that as companies continually add sustaining innovations to better meet the needs of mainstream consumers and/or differentiate their products, they eventually overshoot the needs of most of their customers. Convergent products usually exceed the needs of all but a small minority of any prospective customer base. After all, who needs every tool on a Swiss Army knife?

That's the theory, but the reality is that when you try to apply simplistic labels to categories or products and then assign attributes or success factors based on those labels, you can miss the forest for the trees. In the case of convergence versus divergence, this is especially true, since which bucket you assign a product to varies based on whether the combined elements are truly synthesized in such a way that they cannot be separated and provide the same benefit, or whether they are just bolted together and not really integrated to optimize overall performance.

Ask yourself whether the combination of radio technology, speakers and a cathode ray tube to make a TV represents convergence or divergence? Is it the evolution of radio, or are the elements synthesized in such a way that they create something truly new?

If I turn on the TV, but listen to it from another room, is it still a TV, or is it a radio? Did the TV fail because several technologies converged? What about personal computers?

So what is the iPhone, and what is Steve really up to?

It's a handheld one of these. Fits in your pocket too.

It's a handheld one of these. Fits in your pocket too.

The iPhone is disruptive because it isn't really a phone, or for that matter, an iPod. If it was either of these, then as cool and elegant and nicely designed as it is, it would still just be an incremental or "sustaining" innovation.

Remember that the iPhone has a complete version of the Mac's OSX operating system embedded, plus it lacks a keyboard and has a truly novel interface with seamless integration between different functions. With all that, it can be considered as the first truly personal handheld entertainment and communications computer.

It can also be considered the first handheld business computer powerful enough to replace a notebook for road warriors tied of lugging all their paraphernalia through airport security. In other words, it competes in a different class of products -- not as a phone, not as a smart phone, and not as a computer.

It serves the un- or underserved need for lightness, simplicity, ease of use, true integration and is simple enough that my mother could use all the features without thinking about each being a different application or device. Competing against laptops, it doesn't yet have all the applications my PC has, but it is "good enough" that many will be ready to give it a try.

And, there are already numerous applications you can download to enhance the functionality for your needs, and many more business applications (especially things like bluetooth connectivity to a real keyboard, document editing, spreadsheets and presentation capability) which will run in Safari are likely to come. 

And, when compared to a laptop, it is disruptively inexpensive. Analogous statements are true if you evaluate it as a personal communications and entertainment computer.

This is, I think, what the huge excitement is about. People innately sense that this is much bigger than a phone, they just aren't yet able to articulate what is significant about it, and how we'll look back on Friday June 29, 2007 as one of those days when everything changed. 

And, it looks really cool and I desperately want one.

Steve's End Game

The iPhone is a trojan horse.

Steve lost the first battle between the PC and the Mac because he was less sophisticated as a business person in those days, and didn't fully appreciate how difficult it would be to convince the masses that they needed an expensive personal computer before they had even used one at work. In 1984, the Mac exceeded the needs of most potential customers, and looked like a toy to business (unless your business was about graphics or publishing).

The DOS-based PC was the "good enough" disruptive innovation of its time because it catered to mainframe users used to buying computing equipment from IBM and used to looking at green-screen character-oriented terminals.

This time it's different. Almost all of us use PCs daily. And, most of us are tired of the now clunky-seeming interface which isn't much different or easier to use than the initial Mac interface of more than 20 years ago.

And, we desperately need a single, small pocket-sized device that can handle all our business needs while on the road and enable us to leave our 10 pound paperweights at home. Something that's easy to get through airport security, and makes my life less complicated.

Moreover, at the price point of $500 or $600, this is something that every road warrior can afford today, if only as a style accessory. So, the decision won't be made or inhibited by corporate IT departments.

Sure, they'll try to block connectivity to their servers on security grounds -- they always do, because they think computers are about them, not about the users' needs. Of course, the iPhone includes VPN connectivity, and most have already got their heads around that. But so many executives will have these that just like the Blackberry before it, corporate acceptance will be very fast. And, once you've adopted the iPhone as your traveling computer, how much of a jump will it be to make your next notebook/desktop for office use be a Mac?

My Prediction

As a phone, the iPhone will be exceedingly popular. If production can keep up with the demand, I believe that Apple will sell more than 2 million before year end 2007 -- if they can scale fast enough and have a new version out in time for Christmas, maybe as many as 5 million.

Steve Job's stated target is 10 million sold by end of 2008. Given that there will probably be at least 2 more versions of this product before that, I believe 10 million is a very low estimate, set so that expectations can be smashed -- again, it will depend how fast production can gear up to handle demand and support several different models, but 20 million should be easily reachable.

As additional business applications start coming online, probably early to mid-2008, expect sales to really take off. We will no longer be judging the iPhone as a phone when that happens, but as a true micro-mini sized PC which revolutionizes the entire tech industry and rejuvenates innovation throughout Silicon Valley. At that point, the iPhone will disrupt Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung, and maybe even Nintendo (to name a few).

see Seth's Prediction Page


And, what about AT&T? Well, that truly is the fly in the ointment and Steve's Achilles Heel. AT&T is brutish about customer service, slow to innovate and slow to reform. They will try to extort every possible advantage in pricing and contractual obligation that they can. AT&T knows nothing if not how to exercise a monopolistic advantage.

Moreover, AT&T lacks the broadest service coverage, and no single carrier (in the US, at least) is right for everyone. We all know that signal strength and dropped calls vary based on where you spend most of your time.

So, if you live in an AT&T dead zone, tough luck. Their EDGE network is slow, and they don't have anywhere near complete enough coverage with their 3G services (which aren't built into this version of the iPhone anyway).

It's hard to understand why Job's wouldn't let the market decide if he wasn't going to lease his own service. With a single carrier that many will be unhappy with, Apple will take the brunt of service complaints -- if I could go anywhere, I'd blame the carrier, not Apple. 

Verizon has the best coverage and fewest dropped calls. T-Mobile has the best customer service, best rates, and happiest customers.  Maybe AT&T (Cingular at the time) was the only one willing to play ball on the technology changes that Steve wanted.

Regardless, if service complaints and customer mistreatment stories start hitting the press, expect a negative backlash that could take a serious bite out of sales growth and long term success. On the other hand, wide scale Wi-Max is a technology whose time may well have come -- it would make perfect sense for independent Wi-Max providers to bathe cities in their signal, and then AT&T could become almost irrelevant in the equation (if Wi-Fi VOIP capability exists).

Starbucks: Ripe for Disruption, or Already Disrupted?

I suspect most people have heard by now of the kerfuffle about an internal memo, leaked through a popular Starbucks fan blogsite and ultimately covered by BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN, etc., which was penned by the founder and chairman of Starbucks, Howard Schultz. Certainly the blogosphere is a-buzz with the come-to-Jesus nature of Schultz's personal revelation that Starbucks may have lost its mystique. I counted hundreds of blog postings - right up there with Britney Spears haircut and Anna Nicole Smith in popularity.

The memo itself was an interesting document that raises eyebrows and questions: although addressed to the president and other senior execs, was it always intended to be leaked via social media, into the mainstream press and back to the blogosphere?  It has certainly created a lot of passionate commentary and free advertising for Starbucks.

Was it really intended to tell the public that Starbucks knows that people are complaining and that the competitive sands are shifting? Was it a message to investors that the company needs to slow growth and fix the experience to save the brand and that it's going to cost a bundle?

Or was it just the confessions of a founder and Chairman, purging feelings of guilt about a loss of soul, and a plea to executives for salvation? (Which, incidentally made Starbucks look good while rallying those who are still passionate about the brand experience to Starbucks' defense?)

No matter which of these it was, it was a brilliant document, but it may be too little too late.

Too Little, Too Latte? Starbucks is the World's Pre-eminent Coffee Brand: How Can it Be So?

It really depends on whether the executives realize that disruption is afoot, and that there's much more going on here than the diminution of brand experience. To properly address this question, and explain why disruption is the real problem, it helps to go back to the beginning, and define the innovation that led to Starbucks becoming a household name approaching 15,000 stores around the world.

What problem did Starbucks solve for its customers?

Anyone who travelled in Europe BS (Before Starbucks) would have marvelled at the quality and variety of coffee, and the cafe culture there. Especially in places like Italy and France.

The coffees were strong, but fresh, well-prepared and a perfect complement to a day of sitting on a sidewalk under an umbrella people-watching, or to end a perfect meal, or a delightful jolt to start the day with a pain chocolat or even just toast and eggs. You would have wondered how everywhere you went, coffee could taste so strong, yet be so delicious and universally good.

On this side of the pond (outside of your favorite Little Italy restaurant), it was almost impossible to get a decent cup of coffee, and especially to get a strong cup that was drinkable. I remember wondering after every trip why it was that good coffee on our side of the pond was an oxymoron whilst on their side, it was impossible to get a bad one.

It wasn't just that most (North) American coffees were made from Robusta versus the superior Arabica beans. It also had to do with poor roasting, poor quality control, and the fact that we got used to crappy coffee during the second world war when everything was rationed and/or watered down.

By the 50s, everything was about speed and automation, and so we made matters worse by going from percolated to instant to freeze dried to Coffee-Mate powdered creamer (another oxymoron). We drank it by the gallon, rotting our stomachs, taste buds and brains in the process.

It was purely about the caffeine and the speed. (Wonder why we never distilled out the caffeine and dispensed it straight via injection?). Yes, in a few big cities, you could find that rare place that would serve a great European-style coffee, and sometimes even with a bit of the ambiance, but that was so small a percentage of consumption that it barely qualified as an exception to the rule.

The story is apocryphal, and published on Starbucks website, and in Schultz's book, about how Schultz felt exactly this way on visits to Milano, and decided that it was time Americans got to upgrade their coffee experience. And, not just create a better cup of coffee, but the same smell and feel and cultured experience and ambiance that you felt in a great Italian coffee bar. That was the beginning of Starbucks as we know it.

We'd been upgrading the experience for ourselves, as much as we could with drip coffee becoming more the norm in the 70s and 80s versus instant, but the vast majority of Americans had never had a quality cup of coffee nor enjoyed the sensuality of the European coffee culture. So, when Starbucks hit Seattle, we were ready for something different.

So What About Disruption?

Disruption theory says that products or services evolve incrementally to better meet the needs of the most demanding customers, but eventually overshoot the needs of most consumers. In this process, the incumbents that dominate the existing market build processes and operational efficiencies that enable them to maximize profitability and continually introduce new "sustaining innovations".

In the short term, these series of decisions that improve processes and efficiency are seen as good management, delivering better profits. In the long term, however, they create the opportunity for a disruptive innovator to enter the scene.

At the time when Starbucks began, the big coffee suppliers had enormously overshot the needs of their customers for a cheap, fast cup of coffee. Yet, each "innovation" they introduced kept on making the product either cheaper or faster to prepare, stripping the product of the original reasons we became addicted to it - its flavor first and foremost, but also its ability to facilitate social interaction, savor a great meal, sit and relax, etc.

So Starbucks was a disruptive innovator. It brought flavor, a friendly social setting (the "third place"), quality, plus the consistency that only a chain can do. They brought back the smells, the sensuality, and introduced to Americans a "European experience" -- and, what Schultz has described as the sense of theater.

But isn't disruptive innovation "low-end"? How does a $5 cuppa disrupt?


But, you might be saying, Starbucks introduced a high-end innovation -- disruptive innovations typically are aimed at the low-end markets and low-end needs.  Well, you'd be right, usually, but the question is: what needs were low-end, or more accurately underserved?

The characteristic that initially made Starbucks a small niche disruption was the speed. The big producers were optimized for speed above all else, not flavor and certainly not the organic pleasure of a gathering place with great smells where you hang out with your friends.

The characteristic of Starbucks' innovation that was just good enough for the original niche of coffee culture appreciators was the speed.  They were happy to sacrifice the speed of picking up a pot of coffee off the Bunn burner (ironic that they called these things burners, because that's what they did/do to most pots left longer than 5 minutes) and pouring it straight to the cup and from there to the lips, in order to drink something they truly enjoyed, and to experience the coffee bar ambiance.

Initially, potential competitors to Starbucks ignored them because the market wasn't big enough for Dunkin Donuts or McDonalds to care about. To them, Starbucks coffee drinkers were aficionados -- a tiny specialized segment that had nothing to do with the mainstream, who they perceived still mostly wanted speed.

This ignorance is typical (and logical) to mainstream vendors who aim to maximize profit by serving the largest market as efficiently as possible. It also allowed Starbucks to "fly under the radar" for a long time -- over 20 years of strong growth -- allowing them to build their market unimpeded by real competition.

Yes, there are smaller chain coffee brands, like Caribou and Peets, etc., but their presence serves to expand the market for all specialty coffee vendors, and benefits the leader, i.e. Starbucks, disproportionately. But, Starbuck has become mainstream, and they can no longer hide -- they are officially perceived as a real threat to the foodservice business of other big companies.

But Starbucks is the leader and still growing. Are you seriously saying they might be "disrupted"? By who, and how?

As noted, disruption can take a long time to play out, and the seeds are sown long before the heavy damage is done.

As Starbucks has grown, they have focused on operational efficiencies to grow faster and more profitably. Efficiencies such as automatic espresso machines, flavor-sealed packaging (which eliminates the great smell of a real coffee shop), and expanding merchandise options ("would you like some fries with that doppio mocha latte half-caf with low fat milk?") to extract every last penny of same-store sales growth.

In the process, they have incrementally sacrificed seemingly small parts of the experience -- the smell, the theater, the ambiance (who wants a line snaking around the tables while you're trying to relax or have a conversation over a cuppa?), the service quality (rapid growth almost always comes with higher turnover and poorer training -- by now, we've all experienced the surly baristas who won't go the extra mile, but still make too many mistakes), etc.

The endgame: they've reduced themselves to serving a pretty-good-but-not-outstanding cup of coffee, too slowly and at too high a price. And, more importantly, they've overshot the needs of their customers, and are ripe for disruption.

To speed up coffee service in order to sell everything else too, they installed automatic machines. Automatic machines can be more consistent, especially for inexperienced operators, but they also reduce the flavor and the authenticity of the experience, and show competitors how they too can produce a cup just as good as Starbucks (i.e. open themselves to commoditization). This was an unnecessary and ill-advised "innovation". 

Customers didn't ask for it, would probably agree that they didn't need it, and in general would feel that they are getting less for their money. Do I really need a bacon and egg (McMuffin) breakfast with my espresso?

Again, the more I overlap with my competition, the more I illustrate to them how to compete with me.  And now I smell eggs cooking, not coffee beans and fresh espresso.  Not wise.

Most fanatical customers who still are, were more fanatical 10 years ago, so what have these innovations added?

In becoming ubiquitous, the mystique is demystified, the coffee which was the central feature has become a means to sell myriad other food items and irrelevant merchandise (t-shirts anyone?), and the taste and smell and comfort have all been diminished. Yet, the high price remains. And, therein lie the seeds for potential disruption.

Because now, wanting a good cup of coffee has become mainstream, and Starbucks has become focused on speed (but not really), and efficiency, and foodservice, and add-on sales and rapid growth, they now face a new reality.

It's easy to add a pretty good cup of coffee to the menu. Especially for companies like McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts who already served coffee.  All they have to do is add middle-of-the-road or better automatic machines to their operation, and they're almost as good.

But, they excel at real speed and efficiency, and are optimized to process customers in seconds or at most a minute or two, whereas Starbucks will never get that fast without redesigning every store and adding a lot more baristas. Moreover, they are value-oriented -- i.e. cheap. For McDonalds, $1.25 for coffee is an improvement in margin, but for Starbucks, it's impossible to go that low.

So, if I can get something almost as good for 1/3 the price, is that 'good enough'? Heck, even the the local QuikTrip service stations can create a relatively decent cup of coffee or espresso now.

And, more than commoditization, Starbucks' real problem now is that the competition is 'good enough' to be disruptive and undermine their business. But here's the real conundrum Starbucks faces. It will be almost impossible to go back.

Replacing the automatic machines with better quality semi-automatic or manual, and fresh ground and hand-tamped shots means throwing out a lot of expensive machines. It means they will go a bit slower for each coffee, which also means they'll need more people and more space for brewing. And, they'll need to increase their training expense enormously.

It will be hard to explain to investors why all the superfluous merchandise needs to come out of the stores, and why same-store sales will likely decrease. It will be even harder to recognize that for the mainstream coffee consumer, a $1.25 cup of coffee is good enough, even if I can't quite bring myself to visit McDonalds, and so there will be increasing downward pressure on price.

And, if they don't want to compete on price, then they probably already have too many stores, because the average consumer won't continue to spend a premium price for a commodity that is only marginally better than the competition.

Coffee Customization at Its Finest

Coffee art from danyrolux on Vimeo.

To Schultz's credit, he recognizes that all is not well. And, he's recognizing it at a time of apparent strength. Starbucks just announced another record year where revenue grew 23%, 1177 new stores were added, and same-store sales increased 6% over the previous year (although the rate of increase is slowing, these are still impressive numbers for a $6.7B company.

If he can convince his executives and board and investors that a strategic overhaul is required to address the looming disruption, then he may well be able to avert it, but it isn't as simple now as returning to the good old days of better quality machines, better service, less merchandise, whole beans scooped out of bins rather than prepackaged in flavor-sealed bags, more uniqueness in each store, etc. They will need a plan designed specifically to address the disruption Starbucks faces from new competitors, or else the disruptor will become the disruptee.

Acknowledging that the market has changed irrevocably, and is now attracting disruptive 'good enough' solutions for quality coffee, but at a lower price and faster pace, what would you do to re-energize Starbucks and fend off a loss of leadership position in the coming years?

Links for coffee fans

Koffee Korner - coffee history and culture
CoffeeResearch.org - the science of coffee
Wikipedia - coffee history
Wikipedia (2) - all about coffee
Starbucks Gossip - blog that broke the story

There is a follow up article to this post here: Has Starbucks gone far enough?