People are often confused with the concept of disruption; a term that unfortunately became an all-purpose technology industry buzzword, drained of meaning. Disruption became a fad because it simply sounded cool. It seems like everyone wants to be a disruptor now, but many still fail to make the distinctions between “disruption” and “innovation”. Think of it this way: disruption is innovation, but all innovations are not disruptions.
The term “disruptive innovation” comes to us from Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and his excellent 1997 book: “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. Christensen defines disruptive innovation as a type of innovation but different from the more common types of sustaining and radical innovation. A disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient. In that sense, it is both destructive and creative.
Recently, I came across a great tweetstorm from Marc Andreessen, cofounder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, in which he succinctly explains in only 15 tweets what Clay Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory is and what it does.
“Few intellectual concepts in our time have been mangled by observers more than Clay Christensen’s disruption idea. Some thoughts:”
CC: “A disruptive innovation gives new consumers access to product historically only available to consumers with a lot of money or skill.”
CC: “Disruptors offer a different set of product attributes valued only in new markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream.”
“The key attribute of disruptive innovation is a new product for a previously underserved market – typically cheaper than existing product.”
“This is inherently pro-consumer. Disruptive innovation only works if customers buy it – and if they do, lives improved vs. prior status quo.”
“Similar, disruptive innovation is only funded by investors who believe underserved market exists. Customers will buy it, lives improved.”
“It’s a fabricated myth that disruptive innovation is about destruction. It’s about creation – new products, new choices, for more people.”
“Later, of course, new product often evolves to squarely take on incumbents serving established customers – cheaper & better for them too!”
“Disruptive innovation shrinks inequality, by bringing to lower-income consumers things that only richer consumers had access to before.”
“If you are reading this, many of the things you own that make your life better are the result of prior disruptive innovation.”
“Printing press disrupted books from scribes; recorded music disrupted live concerts in homes, washing machines disrupted live-in maids.”
“Rich people always had books, music, clean clothes, etc.; disruptive innovation made these things available to many more people.”
“In exact same way, sub-$50 smartphones as disruptive innovation to PCs bringing computing & Internet to far more people than status quo.”
“To be FOR disruption is to be FOR consumer choice, FOR more people bring served, and FOR shrinking inequality.”
“To be AGAINST disruption is to be AGAINST consumer choice, AGAINST more people bring served, and AGAINST shrinking inequality.”