Are you a disruptive innovator?

disruptive innovator, start-up, entrepreneurship

If you are a start-up challenging an industry giant, that’s the way to succeed. Watch this short video outlining Harvard Professor Clay Christensen’s landmark theory:

The video speaks for itself. Or as one commenter put it: “Fantastic HBR explanation on the strategies that small companies use to disrupt larger companies. For large companies to fight back, they need to treat new initiatives as mini start-ups.”

Do you ask yourself what jobs customers need done? Are you segmenting customers by what they want done and not by size, products or demographics? Have you thought about developing basic low-cost solutions?  Do you agree with Professor Christensen that disruptive innovation create new markets and re-shape existing ones? Is this the best way to create growth for a start-up with giant competitors?

Video: Harvard Business Review – Picture: Guido van Nispen

52 thoughts on “Are you a disruptive innovator?

  1. If there is a consistency about being a success, it seems to recognize and appreciate your customers. As your video suggested, companies try to get so many NEW customers, they ignore the needs of their current ones. This means start up, innovative companies can gear their products for the other companies existing ones.

  2. Catarina — With the speed of change, it's difficult to find a niche to be an innovator before someone else is nipping at your heels with something even better, cheaper, faster. I know that Google and Apple have a raft of people who do nothing but work on potential new products or improvements to existing products.

  3. Insightful video.

    "Disruptor" is an interesting term but is fitting as business owners aim to dominate the market, they aim to progress and become competition for other businesses. Lead or be led.

  4. I often think of business as also warfare, or political in nature. It is often said, revolutionaries know how to lead a revolution, but do not know how to govern. Throughout our history this is true, those who lead a revolt, do not make it to lead the country, and if they do, they are horrible at it.
    I look at small business the same way. They are leading a revolution, with new ideas or products, against an established government (bigger established businesses).
    The bigger companies, know how to run a company, but lack the vision of creating new fresh ideas. The smaller revolutionist companies, know how to create new ideas and concepts, but do not know how to manage them. Both, need to learn from the other.

    1. Generally speaking that is often the case, William. But there are exceptions to the rule. Look at Richard Branson he was and is a world famous disruptive innovator that now runs a huge diversified conglomerate.

  5. It seems to me this is much needed today with so many small businesses competing for internet presence. Or maybe it's just the speed to disruptive innovation that needs a change? Thanks Catarina.

  6. This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath. He talks about how the great innovators are disagreeable, in the sense that they are not constrained by the rules that affect most of us. Interesting stuff!

  7. Really enjoyed the video Catarina. I do have some frame of reference having worked for many years for a global hotel chain in the travel industry. Change and response to market trends was painfully slow and frustrating for those of working in the field, which is the main reason I jumped ship and fell in love with the dynamics of small business. Thanks for the inspiration.
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  8. Really good outline of how to be an effective disruptor. I'll add one other point. A mature company will often act in a way that is mainly intended to increase its profitability. So it raises prices, lowers costs and generally reduces the value for dollar it is providing. When a lower cost disruptor comes along, the mature company has a hard time competing because, especially if they are a public company, they don't want to dilute their margin. The disruptor has the luxury of going with a smaller margin for the purpose of building their business. I would also point out, however, having worked for many years as an executive for a mature company that was the target of dozens and dozens of disruptors, almost all of them failed.

  9. I agree that it makes a lot of sense to concentrate on what the customer needs. I like the concept of classifying by job versus product, market size, or anything else. I think it would help to focus both product design and marketing.

  10. Great post Catarina. When a business stops listening to its customers and instead look internally at what they can develop next without thought to them then of course they are leaving the door wide open for the smaller business who decides to make the customer’s needs their priority.

  11. The only example I can think of that is remotely related to this is how dentist offices here in America tend to have their staff call and try to change appointments all the time. They act like it's offering a favor to allow the patient to come in at a different time. What's the worth of an appointment if they always try to change it? A a customer, I need the staff to do their job and honor my appointment ad not call to badger me to come in earlier. That's why it's an appointment. Anyway…
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      1. I've been noticing ads for fairly innovative hair dyes that I have yet to try, but it's a great idea. Something better than what can be bought in a store so a person doesn't have to rely on a colorist which can be quite spendy.

  12. This is a great post, Catarina. Very much to the point and definitely speaks to the idea that if you're not innovating, you're not growing. A friend of mine introduced me to the term "Blue Ocean" and this is video is along the same lines as that theory.

    Thank you for sharing Catarina!
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  13. Great video Catarina with a powerful and inspiring message. It is soo important to take time and research what our customers truly meed and want rather than assume we know.. Equally important is to stay connected with them so that we know when those needs change and can adapt to the new demands of our market. I'd much rather be a disruptor than disrupted! Thanks for sharing!
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  14. I loved the video for the same reasons Leora mentioned.

    Innovation can come for many sources and directions. One needs to always keep an eye out for new and interesting ideas. Who knows, it may lead to something new or a product people didn't know they needed… LOL. I think of the iPad and how it's changed technology landscape of today.
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  15. I am a big fan of jobs to be done Catarina. One reason is you focus on what the customer wants to achieve and then look at solutions, rather than have a solution and try and find customers. Also no surprise I like the low cost simple products or services rather than adding more features to try and beat the competition. 37 signals have done this well with their range of software products.
    My recent post Do Your New Customers Have Selective Hearing?

    1. Interesting Leora. Have designed a multitude of broshures, layouted newspapers and so forth for decades. But despite that, I liked the message of the video. Personally would have preferred to have professor Christensen talk about his ideas for two minutes. But, for some reason, they chose to use graphics.

  16. What an excellent video,,,so short and simple. Makes one wonder why it isn't spoken of more often. It's really evolution, right? I've seen it happen with almost every type of professional organization

  17. An excellent short video, Catarina, and highly pertinent. I agree that too many big companies focus on "adding more bells and whistles" to persuade customers to buy more / upgrade (just look at the PC software industry today – how many people use more than a very small fraction of the features of a typical Office suite?), and miss the opportunity to give customers what they really need.

    Disruptive innovation is about clearly engaging with (potential) customers and listening to them. But it's one step more than that – hearing what they say they want now (as few will look ahead) and then taking the leap into producing something that they will discover they want / need in a couple of years.

    What is interesting to watch is the number of big companies that encourage "skunk works" divisions in the business – remote from the normal product teams, and focused on "the next big thing." This enables these companies to continue servicing existing customers in the normal way, while preparing themselves to disrupt their own products with the innovations coming out of the skunk works.

  18. This concept is so simple and yet so intelligent. Large companies really do seem to lose the plot by losing sight of their customers and what they really want. I think I should start casing a few and start my own business! I am sure there is an entrepreneur in there somewhere.
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  19. Catarina — I was fortunate to hear Clay Christensen speak a few years ago. Disruption has been an ongoing theme for him. In his talk he used Harvard as an example of a big, lumbering organization that needed to find new ways to innovate to keep attracting the best and brightest students and professors. Like companies, smaller colleges and universities are becoming more specialized and building their reputations in niche fields — technology, nursing, music, etc. So it's not only big companies that have innovators nipping at their heels.
    My recent post How to Monitor What Others Are Saying About Your Brand

  20. What an excellent explanation. Quick and to the point. This sort of thing happens in the service industry all the time. I saw (still do see) this in the association world where a long established association grows so large that it starts to lose site of it's members and then a new association serving the same audience starts up (largely by disgruntled former members) and offers exactly what members want, completely disrupting the original organization.
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