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The big lesson from disruptive innovation.


About Philosophically

I think, therefore I am.


Disruption and disruptive technology are not always about business.

You can blame Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen for introducing the term ‘disruptive innovation’. He coined the phrase and was one of the first academics to write extensively on the subject.

Disruption and Innovation.

Disruption and Innovation. Image source: Shutterstock

Personally, I try to avoid the term. Despite the precision with which Professor Christensen defined the term, I have found that most references to disruptive innovation are not being used to describe innovation that is ‘disruptive’. Few innovations are truly disruptive. Indeed, only a few so-called, innovations are truly innovative.

Christensen’s concept of disruptive innovation has a very specific meaning. It refers to an innovation that creates a new market and value network that would eventually disrupt an existing market and value network and displace established market-leading firms, products, and alliances. Therefore, the ubiquitous and inaccurate use of the term should be lamented.

Also, to be lamented is the commonly held view that disruption or disruptive innovation is all about technology. It most certainly is not! Indeed, disruption is more frequently associated with changing business models than it is with changing technology. And even less commonly associated with new technology. Neither Uber or Airbnb involved new technology but they were both disruptive.

Disruption and disruptive technology are not always about business. It involves much more than business and applies in all areas or aspects of life. It is found in business, medicine and science more generally. It is also found in society and politics. Karl Marx if nothing else, was disruptive. His impact on the world has endured for more than 100 years and will endure for another 100 years to come.

One thing that we can all learn from disruption, disruptive technology and disruptive innovation in general, is that our parents, or at least my parents lied to me.

My parents told me that change is best facilitated from within. That is simply not true.

The recent examples of disruptive innovation like the Apple iPhone, Amazon, Google search and of course, Airbnb and Uber have taught us that disruptive change almost never comes from within. 

Disruptive change rarely starts in a large established organisation. Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos were and are anything but insiders.

  • Karl Marx was anything but an insider.
  • Donald Trump is anything but an insider.
  • Now I am not suggesting that either Marx or Trump have had a positive influence on the world. They have not. But both were disrupters. And both have caused significant change albeit not all good.

    There has been an increase of criticism over recent years ion the state of politics in this country and elsewhere in the world. Most of the change has been promised by insiders who are people working within the system. The most obvious exception is Pauline Hanson. Although I would argue that she is also operating within the system, albeit at the fringes. She has also been less innovative in her thinking despite being a disruptive force.

    I have come across few informed people who cannot see a real need for change in the way our politics and society operates. While some of the solutions vary from person to person, I would argue that the real change will never come from inside the system. The need for disruption simply highlights the need for outsiders to identify it and sell it to the community.

    The fact that voters in the USA even considered Trump, one million voters in Australia supported Hanson and more than 50% of Brits supported Brexit suggests that people are open to change and disruption. Surely there are less self-serving people than Trump, Hansen and Boris Johnson who can inspire the population and drive disruption that will benefit the populace.

    I cannot see how insiders will ever deliver that innovation. It is up to we outsiders to do that.

    Whether or not you want to engage in this journey, you should never be deceived by those who suggest that change should come from within. Disruptive change comes from outsiders. Insiders may tinker, but they already have a vested interest in not supporting disruptive change. They are already indoctrinated into believing that change should be measured.

    I would argue that while Donald Trump is possibly the dumbest, most ego-centric and dangerous man ever to hold high office in the United States. But he still got a convincing sales message. 

    It is indeed time to ‘drain the swamp’ and no-one inside the swamp will facilitate the change. 

    So, what are your ideas?

    What innovations do you think will benefit us all? What evidence do you have to support your innovation?

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