A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.
Furthermore, disruptive technologies are innovations that help create new markets and eventually go on to disrupt an existing market and value networks, displacing an earlier technology. This term, coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, is often used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect.
In 1997 best-selling book by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen separates new technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. On the other hand, disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience and may not yet have a proven practical application. Christensen believes that the main reason that successful and apparently well-run and well established organizations lose market share, and sometimes go out of business, is that they fail to recognize the distinction between sustaining and disruptive technologies.
Here are a few examples of disruptive technologies:
- The personal computer (PC) displaced the typewriter and forever changed the way we work and communicate.
- The Windows operating system’s combination of affordability and a user-friendly interface was instrumental in the rapid development of the personal computing industry in the 1990s. Personal computing disrupted the television industry, as well as a great number of other activities.
- Email transformed the way we communicating, largely displacing letter-writing and disrupting the postal and greeting card industries.
- Cell phones made it possible for people to call anywhere and disrupted the telecom industry.
- The laptop computer and mobile computing made a mobile workforce possible and made it possible for people to connect to corporate networks and collaborate from anywhere. In many organizations, laptops replaced desktops.
- Smartphones largely replaced cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants, because of the available apps, also disrupted: pocket cameras, MP3 players, calculators and GPS devices, among many other possibilities. For some mobile users, smartphones often replace laptops. Others prefer a tablet.
- Cloud computing has been a hugely disruptive technology in the business world, displacing many resources that would conventionally have been located in-house or provided as a traditionally hosted service.
- Social networking has had a major impact on the way we communicate and especially for personal use has disrupted telephone, email, instant messaging and event planning.