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The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong

Clayton M. Christensen coined the phrase “disruptive technologies” in an article co-written with Joseph Bower. Later it leads to the term “disruptive innovation”, which refers to “the selling of a cheaper, poorer-quality product that initially reaches less profitable customers but eventually takes over and devours an entire industry.” In recent New Yorker Issue, article The Disruption Machine reveals worries and panics people have from disruptive innovation.

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market, according to Wikipedia, a disruptive innovation to the traditional encyclopedia.

There are other examples for these “fickle consumer trends, friction-free markets, and political unrest” along with “dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and mind-numbing technology advances,” in the venture capitalist Josh Linkner’s words. Examples of “[t]hings you own or use that are now considered to be the product of disruptive innovation” are innumerable, such as “your smartphone and many of its apps, which have disrupted businesses from travel agencies and record stores to mapmaking and taxi dispatch”.

On the contrary, a sustaining innovation does not create new markets or value networks but rather only evolves existing ones with better value, allowing the firms within to compete against each other’s sustaining improvements. Indeed, “disruptive innovation as a theory of change is meant to serve both as a chronicle of the past and as a model for the future”, it should consider more of human betterment in terms of creating values.

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