About Christensen’s Theory of Disruptive Innovation
These days, virtually every buzzy startup is classed as a disruptive innovator. But these characterizations are often a misnomer. Incorrectly classing new competitors as disruptive innovators leads managers to misguided overreactions. Equally, brushing off potential disruptors and focusing solely on profitable upmarket niches can have fatal consequences later on. The key to sustained success lies in accurately defining disruptive innovators and monitoring their competitive trajectory.
So, what is a disruptive innovator? Disruption occurs when a small company with comparatively few resources is able to successfully challenge incumbent players. Successful disruptors begin in overlooked, low-end market segments. Over time, they improve product quality and move upmarket. As disruptors improve, they deliver comparable performance to mainstream incumbents, while maintaining the competitive advantages that enabled them to gain an initial foothold in the market. Only when mainstream customers begin to embrace this new offering at scale, has disruptive innovation truly occurred.
Source: Christensen et. al., “What is Disruptive Innovation?”, Harvard Business Review, December 2015.