Disruptive Innovation

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that first creates a new market for low end customers, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.

Disruptive innovation initially caters to lower end market and gradually captures the mainstream market displacing the existing players ex. Plastic injection syringes which were considered inferior to glass syringes, but over a period of time replaced glass syringes. Infact plastic is now used in many products which were earlier made of wood, glass or steel.

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There are lot such examples, starting from horse carriages getting replaced by Ford cars to smart phones replacing PC, telephones, calculators, camera all put together.

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Clayton Christensen is professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and is architect and authority on disruptive technologies.


He has identified 5 skills (called discovery skills) which make up what he calls as “Innovator’s DNA”. These five skills are Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking and Experimenting. Innovators score high on these skills compared to non-innovators, though innovator’s may not possess these skills in same amount. Ex. Pierre Omidyar of eBay is very high on questioning and observation, while Michael Dell is high on experimenting and networking. Score on these skills is called as DQ quotient. All founder CEOs of innovative companies are high on DQ.

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Christensen talks about other set of skills called as Delivery skills or execution skills, which brings ideas generated by discovery skills into reality, they are- analysing, planning, implementing and executing.


Culture of your organisation depends on what skills your CEO encourages. If he is high on discovery skills he is likely to encourage innovation, if he is high on execution skills, he will favour status quo and improvement of existing process.

For business both are must. If a founder is high on discovery skills and low on execution, he will look for CEO who has high execution skills ex. Omidyar (high on discovery and low on execution) hired Jeff Skoll, high on execution, as CEO for eBay.

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