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Disruptive Innovation to New Inventions Success
Disruptive Innovation to Business Innovation

Disruptive Innovation

Some of the most powerful new products and services are created through disruptive innovation. Some believe that this kind of revolutionary innovation is the rarest but the best kind of innovation. As the name implies, it causes a disruption in the marketplace. The opposite, sustained innovation, is simply to refine, improve, or enhance what is already available.

Toy Wagon-Patent Drawing

Sustained Innovation

While sustained innovations are gradual improvements in an already-established product or service, disruptive technology can actually creates a new market. Something that has never been demanded before now is in demand because it suddenly fills a "need," and it may even present itself to be a perceived "need" to many people.

Sustained innovation is easier to maintain, and those businesses that have been successful at a sustained innovation are almost impossible to successfully compete against by a new company or one that is trying to break into the market that the established incumbent company dominates. These companies have carved out a niche in the market, they have established their reputations for quality, and they know just how to approach their customers and qualified prospects. They have been so successful that they have vast resources at their disposal, from marketing resources to legal-issue resources.

Sustained innovation would be exemplified by Microsoft Window's technology. Microsoft comes up with a new version of Windows every few years or so, and is constantly coming up with "updates" to existing Windows software that all Windows users can download from the Internet for free. However, there was a disruptive technology called the Apple MacIntosh computer, which first gave people the mouse-click and the window-based/ user-friendly personal computing technology that we are all so familiar with today. From the time that Apple computers first went on the market, the lifestyles of many people changed -- never to be the same again.

Disruptive Innovations Rock The World

Established companies, like Microsoft, Sony, AT&T, and DeWalt can be trumped by disruptive technologies. They are too slow to react and adapt to change. Eventually, one of the big companies will figure out the value of the new disruptive product and buy out whatever company owns it. It is really the only way they can get that kind of innovation. Why?

Established companies are inadequate at developing disruptive technologies because it goes against the fundamentals of their business. It makes no sense for them to risk R&D dollars in finding a way to "ruin" everything they have developed. The internet and the music industry are powerful examples of this. Disruption can take the focus off of their company, and can cost them revenues by having people spend their money on something other than established company wares. In fact, disruptive innovation has the capability to destroy an established market niche.

Disruptive Examples

In 1981 when MTV launched itself, "video literally obliterated the radio star." MTV was very disruptive; it changed the whole fabric of the music business, so that today, music DVD and ringtone sales are way up, while CD sales are way down. File sharing added a second punch. These disruptive innovations gave people something new to demand -- a constant musical multimedia experience that people could only enjoy before by attending concerts.

In another music example, the disruptive innovation called the compact disc (CD) nearly destroyed the tape, LP and "45" record industry in less than a decade.


You might notice that disruptive innovations very often start out as failures. Sales are very low, and they have a hard time, at first, breaking into public awareness; mainly, because they are expensive and their sales volume is so low that the innovators need to recoup advertising costs. But they become successful, in time, because they give the public something novel, and the first few people who buy the innovation quickly spread the word about how great it is. Viral marketing (people talking) can launch a disruptive innovation into stardom overnight!

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