Disruption: A Word in Search of Meaning

Part Five

As we close out this series on the search for the meaning of the word “disruption,” we will explore the strategic drivers of disruptive innovation in organizations. I would suggest quite simply that the focus on disruptive innovation in most organizations today is driven by survival and the desire to grow.

So, let’s go through of list of meanings that we are working with, starting with big innovation or big change. If you have a big pile of money and time and feel lucky, this is an option. There are successful moonshots, but they are called “moonshots” because, well, we haven’t been to the moon in a long time.

Technology driven disruption is critical. It enables companies to serve customers faster and more efficiently, therefore saving money. It may even put a company in a position to take market share from competitors. It is important for survival and sometimes produces growth.

Reinvention is at the core of survival. Today, continual reinvention is the standard and the type of reinvention will determine how much growth will be produced.

Developing products and services that are simple and inexpensive, assuming they accomplish a job customers are searching to hire a product or service to do, is probably the most reliable route to survival and growth. Simpler and less expensive products enable companies to move out to increasing larger circles of customers, until, as in the case of the smart phone, virtually every person on the planet is a potential customer. That is real growth. That is survival. And that is disruption.

Any company can disrupt employing this meaning. And almost every company will be disrupted by others employing this meaning if they are not proactive and strategic.

None of the meanings outlined in this series is wrong. Some, however, are more helpful if the goal is survival and growth.

And please, when talking with others about disruptive innovation, ask a simple question, “When you say ‘disruptive innovation,’ what do you mean?” If you really want to live on the edge, you can say, “So what I hear you saying is . . .” No, don’t do that—you might get disrupted!



This five-part series is about the search for meaning for the word “disruption.” In this first installment, we briefly looked at the meaning often assigned before disruption was associated with the word “innovation.”

In Part Two, we explored some of the more common meanings assigned to the word “disruption” in business.

In Part Three of this series, we examined the counterintuitive meaning Clay Christensen assigns to disruptive innovation. A recently published interview with Christensen by Innovation Leader, included a question from our own Disruption Lab member, Eric Thrailkill. Christensen descirbes disruption this way, “Every market has a set of concentric circles around it that represent larger populations of people who have progressively less money and less skill. A disruptive innovation is not an innovation that makes good products better, but rather it makes [something] so much more affordable and accessible that much larger populations of people have access to it.”

In Part Four, we discussed the advantages of limitations of the different meanings we assign to disruptive innovation.

We closed out this five-part series on the search for the meaning for the word “disruption” by exploring the strategic drivers of disruptive innovation in organizations.


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