Technological innovation is understood as the use of knowledge to create new products, services or processes (or improve existing ones) using technology as the innovative vehicle.
There are three types of technological innovation: radical, incremental and disruptive, the latter being the one we are going to focus on in this article.
What is disruptive innovation and what are its characteristics?
The origin of the term disruptive innovation dates back to the mid-1990s, when Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen coined it in the Harvard Business Review.
The author defined the concept as a technology that causes a major change and abruptly disrupts the way industries, businesses and consumers operate.
Characteristics of disruptive innovation
Disruptive innovation has a number of peculiarities:
- Disruption as a process. The evolution of the product or service takes place over time, so innovation is still a form of experimentation. If the innovation is a success, its arrival on the market will affect companies in the sector.
- It moves the competition. The appearance of a new rival on the market causes the competition to rethink how to improve the product or service.
- Different business model. The creation of a new product can lead to a change in the business model, as for example the possibility of surfing the Internet from mobile phones.
- It may or may not succeed. Although the examples below are disruptive innovations that have become established, this may not be the case. Multiple factors such as what the product brings to the user, the need for the product, the moment at which it is launched or other factors can tip the balance in one direction or another.
Examples of disruptive innovation
Numerous aspects of our daily lives are marked by disruptive technologies, some of them with a long history (such as the wheel, automobiles, telephony or the internet) and others more recent, such as artificial intelligence or blockchain.
The wheel is considered the quintessential example of disruptive innovation, one of the great contributions of the Mesopotamian peoples some 4,000 years ago. Its relevance goes far beyond the mere revolution it brought to the world.
The mass production of the first automobiles, specifically the Ford T launched in 1908, meant a total change in the transport system of the society of the time. Although it is true that cars were already available at the end of the 19th century, their very high price meant that they were a product reserved for a minority of society, so the disruption came with the popularisation of their use and the absolute modification of mobility.
The telephone succeeded the telegraph and completely revolutionised communications, a technology that spread at the end of the 19th century in the USA and later in Europe, making communications much faster. This disruption was followed by others such as mobile telephony.
The popularisation of the internet in the 1990s is another example of a disruptive technology that has affected each and every one of us in our daily lives in thousands and thousands of examples that anyone can think of without having to spend much time thinking about it, from leisure to work, from healthcare to news.
Very briefly, we could consider this technology as the combination of algorithms programmed so that a machine can carry out tasks performed by humans. AI is increasingly affecting our daily lives in a wide variety of areas.
One of the most innovative technologies of recent times, not only for its versatility but also for the trust and security it offers. It works like a blockchain in which all nodes are connected to each other, guaranteeing the traceability of processes by creating a single registration network that reduces risks and costs.
Benefits of disruptive innovation
In addition to the advantages of disruptive technologies for social progress, they also enable the development of new business models to reach previously inaccessible markets, so that disruption is an opportunity for companies.
It also means savings for businesses by helping to increase productivity by updating obsolete strategies and structures that are not flexible enough to meet the needs of constantly changing markets.
Likewise, companies can find market niches with which to respond to needs that other companies are failing to meet.
As for the advantages for users, we can conclude that disruptive technologies have meant, mean and will mean, at very different moments in history, a before and an after in the progress of society.