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Disruptive innovation in the 21st century

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Destructive innovation is described by Wikipedia as:

A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt 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.


The innovation usually used as an example is that of IBM being disrupted by the development of the personal computer and the rise of Microsoft. If you look back in history, destructive innovation has taken place in the art world every time a new art movement has developed. It also happens in music as one type of music like rock replaces another like jazz as the most popular music.

Disruptive Innovation as a threat

Disruptive innovation is a threat to a enterprise that isn’t diverse. Popular genres of music, movies and art will be at risk as innovation threatens to capture public imagination with something different. Companies like Apple concentrating on a fairly narrow band of technological products can be at risk and even the chip makers like AMD are at some risk. Even the mighty Google could be at risk if someone came up with a new way of searching the internet and displaced their advertising model. The shift from computer use to smart phone and tablet use is providing opportunities for new innovation that threatens a number of companies and provides opportunities for others. In politics, new ideas can disrupt the traditional way of thinking and change political thinking and political history quite suddenly.


Fracking is another example of disruptive innovation that is being used to extract shale gas and oil. It can change economies and make western countries more self sufficient in oil and gas. It is also changing the politics of the middle east as western countries are no longer so dependant on oil from the region.


Biotechnology is another example of disruptive innovation. Genetically modified crops promise to give us more food and better food. It promises farmers disease free and more stable crops. Biotechnology is also helping us understand disease and can revolutionise medicine in many ways. The most promising destructive innovation could be in gene therapy. Innovation might not just mean cures for diseases,  but also innovations to increase life expectancy. Innovation often needs something to drive it and the limitations of cosmetic surgery and other treatments could drive disruptive innovation thinking to produce new ways to help people join the ranks of the ‘beautiful people’.

The internet

The internet is bound to be a driving force for change, but can we expect a sudden change? It’s already possible to type a question into a search engine and get a coherent answer in reply. How long before we can ask a computer a question using our smart phones and not only get a computer to reply, but take some action like paying a bill or investing our money?


The power to innovate using technology is in fewer hands now. In the 1980’s people were learning to understand computers. Bill Gates learnt to programme using the BASIC programming language. There are fewer young people now that understand computers and can program them. We need education to leave the school and universities and come into people’s homes. We need disruptive innovation in education.

We have already seen many forms of disruptive innovation changing things and creating wealth. From the personal computer to the jet engine. The question is what company or industry will be disrupted next and what innovation could do it?

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