So What Does Disruption Mean Again?

2 min read
Mar 7, 2017


Often corporate buzzwords get used so frequently that they lose their original meaning. “Disruption” is one of them. It seems almost every company is like a misbehaving child — intent on “disrupting” things. 

However, disruption can be a valuable way to reinvent your organization by challenging competitors and identifying growth opportunities. Used effectively, disruption is key to driving organizational change and taking your business to the next level.


Back to the Beginning

Professor Clayton Christensen, who coined the term, told HBX Blog that disruption means any innovation that “transforms a complicated, expensive product into one that is easier to use or is more affordable than the one most readily available.”

Disruption, he says, has three components: 1) Responding to competitors effectively; 2) Identifying new growth opportunities; 3) Improving understanding of what customers want.  


It’s Not Just About Technology

A primary myth about disruption is it’s all about new technology. The classic examples of disruption involve technological advancement. For example, the old titan Blockbuster being pushed out of the market by disruptive Netflix. Or the cell phone industry losing out to Apples iPhone.

But disruption is any time organizations find a more efficient, better way of doing things that attracts customers. It’s not just about being flashy and new. Discount airlines like Southwest disrupted the industry simply by undercutting their competitors and doing away with excess amenities that weren’t important to a market segment. 




Small Disruptions Can Have Big Results

Innovation often doesn’t mean developing something entirely new. Instead, it means altering an existing product or service in a way that meets customer demand. When larger competitors become complacent, smaller organizations have an opportunity to find out what they’re doing wrong and to offer something different.

For example, Instagram didn’t invent social networking. Instead, they took one component of social networking and made it their focus. Like many disrupters, they didn’t eliminate the competition, who, in fact, kept getting stronger. But they did create a space for themselves in the market. 


Why Disruption Is Essential

No matter what industry you’re in, finding ways to distinguish yourself from the competition and meeting customers’ needs is critical. Today’s strongest companies find ways to adapt to the competition and innovate.

If your company has already had some success, disruption continues to be relevant as competitors will respond accordingly. Whether your company disrupts the marketplace will be crucial to its success.





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