|Types of Innovation|
Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.
Disruptive innovations can be broadly classified into low-end and new-market disruptive innovations. A new-market disruptive innovation is often aimed at non-consumption (i.e., consumers who would not have used the products already on the market), whereas a lower-end disruptive innovation is aimed at mainstream customers for whom price is more important than quality. However, disruptive innovations can be of superior quality.
Disruptive technologies are particularly threatening to the leaders of an existing market, because they are competition coming from an unexpected direction. A disruptive technology can come to dominate an existing market by either filling a role in a new market that the older technology could not fill (as cheaper, lower capacity but smaller-sized flash memory is doing for personal data storage in the 2000s) or by successively moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market incumbents (as digital photography has largely replaced film photography).
In contrast to "disruptive innovation", a "sustaining" innovation does not have an effect on existing markets. Sustaining innovations may be either "discontinuous" (i.e. "revolutionary") or "continuous" (i.e. "evolutionary"). Revolutionary innovations are not always disruptive. Although the automobile was a revolutionary innovation, it is not a disruptive innovation, because early automobiles were expensive luxury items that did not disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles. The market remained intact until the debut of the lower priced Ford Model T in 1908.
The term disruptive technology was coined by Clayton M. Christensen and introduced in his 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave, which he co-wrote with Joseph Bower. The article is aimed at managing executives who make the funding/purchasing decisions in companies rather than the research community. He describes the term further in his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma. In his sequel, The Innovator's Solution, Christensen replaced disruptive technology with the term disruptive innovation because he recognized that few technologies are intrinsically disruptive or sustaining in character. It is the strategy or business model that the technology enables that creates the disruptive impact. The concept of disruptive technology continues a long tradition of the identification of radical technical change in the study of innovation by economists, and the development of tools for its management at a firm or policy level.
Christensen distinguishes between "low-end disruption" which targets customers who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high end of the market and "new-market disruption" which targets customers who have needs that were previously unserved by existing incumbents.
"Low-end disruption" occurs when the rate at which products improve exceeds the rate at which customers can adopt the new performance. Therefore, at some point the performance of the product overshoots the needs of certain customer segments. At this point, a disruptive technology may enter the market and provide a product which has lower performance than the incumbent but which exceeds the requirements of certain segments, thereby gaining a foothold in the market.
In low-end disruption, the disruptor is focused initially on serving the least profitable customer, who is happy with a good enough product. This type of customer is not willing to pay premium for enhancements in product functionality. Once the disruptor has gained foot hold in this customer segment, it seeks to improve its profit margin. To get higher profit margins, the disruptor needs to enter the segment where the customer is willing to pay a little more for higher quality. To ensure this quality in its product, the disruptor needs to innovate. The incumbent will not do much to retain its share in a not so profitable segment, and will move up-market and focus on its more attractive customers. After a number of such encounters, the incumbent is squeezed into smaller markets than it was previously serving. And then finally the disruptive technology meets the demands of the most profitable segment and drives the established company out of the market.
"New market disruption" occurs when a product fits a new or emerging market segment that is not being served by existing incumbents in the industry. The Linux operating system (OS) when introduced was inferior in performance to other server operating systems like Unix and Windows NT. But the Linux OS is inexpensive compared to other server operating systems. After years of improvements Linux is now installed in 87.8% of the worlds 500 fastest supercomputers.
|Disruptive Innovation||Displaced or Marginalized technology||Notes|
|Hydraulic excavators||Cable-operated excavators||Hydraulic excavators were clearly innovative at the time of introduction but they gain widespread use only decades after. However, cable-operated excavators are still used in some cases, mainly for large excavations.|
|Refrigerators||Ice houses||Eliminating the need for the ice box and the milkman.|
|Mini steel mills||vertically integrated steel mills||By using mostly locally available scrap and power sources these mills can be cost effective even though not large.|
|Desktop publishing||Traditional publishing||Early desktop-publishing systems could not match high-end professional systems in either features or quality. Nevertheless, they lowered the cost of entry to the publishing business, and economies of scale eventually enabled them to match, and then surpass, the functionality of the older dedicated publishing systems.|
|Digital photography||originally, instant photography, now increasingly all chemical photography||Early digital cameras suffered from low picture quality and resolution and long shutter lag. Quality and resolution are no longer major issues and shutter lag is much less than it used to be. The convenience of small memory cards and portable hard drives that hold hundreds or thousands of pictures, as well as the lack of the need to develop these pictures, also helped. Digital cameras have a high power consumption (but several lightweight battery packs can provide enough power for thousands of pictures). Cameras for classic photography are stand-alone devices. In the same manner, high-resolution digital video recording has replaced film stock, except for high-budget motion pictures.|
|Minicomputers||Mainframes||Though mainframes survive in a niche market which persists to this day, minicomputers have themselves been disrupted into extinction.|
|Personal computers||Minicomputers, Workstations. Word processors||Workstations still exist, but are increasingly assembled from high-end personal computer parts, to the point that the distinction is fading|
|High speed CMOS video sensors||Photographic film||When first introduced, high speed CMOS sensors were less sensitive, had lower resolution, and cameras based on them had less duration (record time). The advantage of rapid setup time, editing in the camera, and nearly-instantaneous review quickly eliminated 16 mm high speed film systems. CMOS-based cameras also require less power (single phase 110 V AC and a few amps for CMOS, vs. 240 V single- or three-phase at 20-50 A for film cameras). Continuing advances have overtaken 35 mm film and are challenging 70 mm film applications.|
|Firearms||Crossbows, longbows and skirmish weapons||Though early muskets had less fire rate, range, accuracy and reliability than crossbows and longbows, firearms allowed essentially anyone to become an effective soldier with very little training. Earlier military units like bowmen and knights needed years of practice to master the skills. Regular infantry in Europe adopted firearms around the 16th century, but native American mounted archers, especially the Comanches, kept their bows well into the 19th century, when repeating rifles became available. Crossbows are still used today by some special forces.|
|Steamships||Sailing ships||The first steamships were deployed on inland waters where sailing ships were less effective, instead of on the higher profit margin seagoing routes. Hence steamships originally only competed in traditional shipping lines' "worst" markets.|
|Telephones||Telegraphy||When Western Union infamously declined to purchase Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patents for $100,000, their highest-profit market was long-distance telegraphy. Telephones were only useful for very local calls. Short-distance telegraphy barely existed as a market segment, if at all. So Western Union's decision was quite understandable at the time.|
|Paper||Parchment||Paper is significantly cheaper than parchment, and got its great breakthrough with the printing press. Parchment is stronger & more durable and is still used today for diplomas and other high-value documents.|
|Automobiles||Rail transport||By the beginning of the 20th century, rail (including streetcars) was the fastest and most cost-efficient means of land transportation for goods and passengers in industrialized countries. The first cars, buses and trucks were used for local transportation in suburban areas, where they often replaced streetcars and industrial tracks. As highways expanded, medium- and later long-distance transports were relocated to road traffic, and some railways closed down. As rail traffic has a lower ton-kilometer cost, but a higher investment and operating cost than road traffic, rail is still preferred for large-scale bulk cargo (such as minerals). Since rail has always been faster than contemporary road vehicles, it is viable for passengers in populated regions like Western Europe, south and east Asia and the Northeast Corridor. When urban density increases, rail systems often become more attractive, and make a comeback.|
|High-speed trains||Airliners||Aircraft were once a revolutionary technology that replaced trans-continental rail traffic, and became a serious competitor even on medium range (500 km and more). Today, as airlines are burdened by increasing fuel costs, tightened airport security and environmental concerns, and train speed increases with new infrastructure, trains in western Europe, eastern Asia and northeastern United States have disrupted short-range flights. Future trains could be competitive on trans-continental distance too. Still, as new rail lines necessarily require the construction of new tracks, the extent to which rail travel will surpass air travel remains to be seen, particularly in areas not currently served by rail transit.|
|Private jet||Supersonic transport||The Concorde aircraft has so far been the only supersonic airliner in extensive commercial traffic. However, it catered to a small customer segment, which could later afford small private sub-sonic jets. The loss of speed was compensated by flexibility. Supersonic flight is also banned above inhabited land, due to sonic booms. The Concorde service was withdrawn in 2003.|
|Computer printers||Offset printing||Offset printing has a high overhead cost, but very low unit cost compared to computer printers, and superior quality. But as printers, especially laser printers, have improved in speed and quality, they have become increasingly useful for creating documents in limited issues.|
|Plastic||Metal, wood, glass etc||Bakelite and other early plastics had very limited use - their main advantages were electric insulation and low cost. New forms had advantages such as transparency, elasticity and combustibility. In the early 21st century, plastics can be used for nearly all household items previously made of metal, wood and glass.|
|Missile weapons||Artillery||Early missile weapons, like Congreve rockets, were unreliable, and more or less experimental. They however had some intrinsic advantages - no recoil, and smaller launcher units. Guidance systems made missiles more efficient, and made most artillery pieces obsolete on land, at sea and in the air. Artillery still has the advantage of cheaper ammunition, but modern warships rely entirely on missiles for long-range combat.|
|Television / Home cinema and video recorders||Movie theaters||Television systems' audio-visual performance has been greatly improved since introduction in the 1930s. It has always been inferior to movie theaters, but the gap is closing - as color TV, HDTV and home cinema systems have become ubiquitous, while cinema technologies such as Cinemascope, 3D cinema, IMAX and THX have had limited commercial success. News programmes disrupted cinema newsreels almost at arrival, thanks to television's instant delivery time. Soap operas, animated shorts and other low-budget TV drama disrupted B movies and serial films, and drove the cinema into feature films with high budget, where audio-visual performance is critical. Pornography is another genre which has gradually moved from the silver screen to home television, as video recorders appeared (mostly since home systems offer more privacy than theaters). Cable and digital encoding has increased the range of television programs. Multiplexes increased cinema's range, at the cost of nearness. Currently, the budgets of Hollywood TV series are closing up on the budgets of feature films, and the box office mainly survives from the artificial time gap between cinema openings and DVD releases, and is sometimes a loss leader for snack sales.|
|Light-emitting diodes||Light bulbs||A LED is significantly smaller and less power-consuming than a light bulb. The first optical LEDs were weak, and only useful as indicator lights. Later models could be used for indoor lighting, and future ones will probably be strong enough to serve as street lights. Classical light bulbs for lower light indoor use remain, possible mainly because of sentimental and aesthetic value.|
|Digital synthesizer||Electronic organ and piano||Synthesizers were initially low-cost, low-weight alternatives to electronic organs and acoustic pianos. Today's synthesizers feature many automated functions, and have replaced them for home and hobby users.|
|Downloadable Digital Media||CDs, DVDs||In the 1990s, the music industry phased out the single. This left consumers with no means to purchase individual songs. This market was filled by filesharing technologies, which were initially free, and then by online retailers such as the iTunes music store and Amazon.com. This low end disruption eventually undermined the sales of physical, high-cost CDs.|
|Mobile VoIP||GSM and Roaming||VoIP technology over a wifi network, can cost next to nothing for the user and the network used in data traffic on a unit basis; compared to the standard GSM network, especially for roaming calls.
Where GSM providers would charge what is widely considered ludicrous pricing for services such as calling international countries, installing a small application on compatible mobile phones, can cost the user nothing. However, this service cannot replace GSM fully, since it relies in the ever expanding wifi enabled areas.
|Solid state drive||Hard disk drive||The solid state drive has many benefits towards the hard disk drive. SSDs have begun to appear in laptops, although as of 2009 they are substantially more expensive per unit of capacity than hard drives ($580 for a 256 GB SSD, vs. $50 for a similar size external USB HDD). The price of SSD are dropping. The SSD has replaced the Hard disk drive as the boot disk in the high end market.|
|LCD||CRT||The first liquid crystal displays (LCD) were monochromatic and had low resolution. They were used in watches and other handheld devices, but during the early 2000s these (and other planar technologies) largely replaced the dominant cathode ray tube (CRT) technology for computer displays and television sets, although CRT technologies have improved with advances like true-flat panels and digital controls only recently.|
|Mobile Telephony||Mobile Discount Operators||Mobile Discount / No Frills Operators (MDOs aka. MVNOs) first focused on a low-distribution-cost-through-internet sales model. In later times, innovations like low-priced mobile-internet tariffs were brought to market. This tripped the development of a new discount category in the market which was later entered by the large discount retail chains with own branded offerings leveraging their distribution power in the lower tier of the market.|
|Electric stove||Gas stove||Gas stoves for household use appeared in the 1880s. Electric stoves, independent of a gas source, came decades later. Though electric stoves became standard in many homes as a substitute the more expensive and bulky gas stoves, many professionals still prefer a steady, powerful gas flame.|
|Revolutionary innovation||Displaced or Marginalized technology||Notes|
|Agriculture and Pastoralism||Hunting and gathering||Revolutionary innovation. Not a disruptive innovation as pastoralism is a much more productive technology than hunting. The development of food production technology led to other disruptive technologies such as cities, writing, metal working, wheeled vehicles, and much of the remainder of world civilization.|
|Container ships and containerization||"Break cargo" ships and stevedores||In addition to efficiency these also provide a great reduction in opportunities for pilferage and integrate well with both rail and truck transport.|
|Semiconductors||vacuum tubes (US) / valves (UK)||A revolutionary innovation often falsely quoted as a disruptive technology. Systems built up with semiconductors require far less energy, are magnitudes of size smaller and more reliable than such with tubes. Semiconductor transistors revolutionized logic circuits upon its introduction by Shockley and Bardeen in the 1950s.|
|Motor vehicles||Horses as transport||See Buggy whip; feed suppliers, harness makers, horse breeders, etc also affected|
|Airliners||Road, rail and sea transport||Airliners offer unmatched speed, and quickly came to dominate inter-continental and trans-continental travel. They are however facing competition from high-speed rail (see above), especially along the heaviest-travelled routes.|
|Contact Lenses||Eye glasses|
|Refractive eye surgery||Contact Lenses||Eliminates the regimented maintenance procedure.|
|Accommodating lens implants||Refractive eye surgery|
|Overnight Delivery Service||On-hand Inventories||This revolution depends as well on cheap oil and a big amount of government investment in road infrastructure. As well the environmental cost of Air pollution of often small amounts of products are socialized (absorbed into the society at large) and not paid privately by the parties interested in the transport.|
|Internet store||Brick and mortar business||Higher possible level of privacy in purchase and sales as compared to physical storefronts.|
|Calculator||Slide rule||With the advent of semiconductors and the introduction of calculators, slide rules quickly became obsolete.|
|Fiber Optics||Copper Wire||A single optical cable can carry the same amount of data as thousands of copper wires. This massively reduced the cost of data transmission which spurred widespread availability of high-speed Internet and lowered the cost of long-distance voice communication.|
|Word processor||Typewriter||Flexible word processors with high-quality printers have superseded typewriters in all but the simplest applications, or where electrical power is not available, and manual equipment is the only practical alternative to pens and pencils.|
Not all technologies promoted as disruptive innovations have actually prospered as well as their proponents had hoped. However, some of these technologies have only been around for a few years, and their ultimate fate has not yet been determined.
Unresolved examples of technologies promoted as 'disruptive innovations'
Disruptive technologies are not always disruptive to customers, and often take a long time before they are significantly disruptive to established companies. They are often difficult to recognize. Indeed, as Christensen points out and studies have shown, it is often entirely rational for incumbent companies to ignore disruptive innovations, since they compare so badly with existing technologies or products, and the deceptively small market available for a disruptive innovation is often very small compared to the market for the established technology.
Even if a disruptive innovation is recognized, existing businesses are often reluctant to take advantage of it, since it would involve competing with their existing (and more profitable) technological approach. Christensen recommends that existing firms watch for these innovations, invest in small firms that might adopt these innovations, and continue to push technological demands in their core market so that performance stays above what disruptive technologies can achieve.
Disruptive technologies, too, can be subtly disruptive, rather than prominently so. Examples include digital photography (the sharp decline in consumer demand for common 35 mm print film has had a deleterious effect on free-riders such as slide and infrared film stocks, which are now more expensive to produce) and IP/Internet telephony, where the replacement technology does not, and sometimes cannot practically replace all of the non-obvious attributes of the older system (sustained operation through municipal power outages, national security priority access, the higher degree of obviousness that the service may be life-safety critical or deserving of higher restoration priority in catastrophes, etc).
Disruptive technology (or disruptive innovation) is a term proposed by Clayton M. Christensen to describe a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology. This is contrasted with sustaining technology, which is viewed as incrementally improving or evolving technology.
At least in the context of education, wikis are arguably disruptive technologies. Traditionally, knowledge-content was stored and held by experts, schools, publishers, etc. - even in the digital age and even with the advent of supposedly student-centered "learning management systems". However, educational wikis put a simple technology in the hands of "students" and "teachers" alike and minimise reliance on arbitrary power-structures in the educational socio-dynamic of information-brokering.