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  • Writer's pictureChrissy Wesh

Disruption is not Innovation

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

The word disruption has lost its teeth. Its edge has been blunted. It’s meaning relegated to a marketing cliche. It’s now advertising speak to describe new features, or grab headlines. Disruption and its real meaning is a shadow of its former self. I’m here to claim the word back.

There are countless articles now from companies shouting about how they are ‘disrupting their industry’.

Let’s take coca cola.

Adding a new flavour to your portfolio of drinks is not disrupting the beverage market. Despite the catchy headline. It’s an addition, a feature. I’ll dissect this further in the coming section.

So now I have told you what disruption isn’t. Let go back and look at what disruption REALLY is. There are 2 types of disruption. Low Market Disruption and New Market Disruption. Additionally success is not a requirement. Some businesses can be disruptive and still fail – Pandora being a great example of pioneering the original streaming music service (as a new market disruption) but failed after being buried by the music industry giants. However, ironically for the title of their business, once music steaming was released there was no way to put it back in its ‘Pandora’ box. This lead the way for the followers such as Spotify. Anyway – back on point.

Low Market Disruption

This type of disruption happens when a new product fits a disgruntled growing market. Gillette vs Dollar Shaving Club is a great example. What was happening in the shaving market was increasing shaver costs with each new blade and feature. Having little to no quality competition at lower price points people didn’t have any choice. The interesting disruption here was recognising that features weren’t needed, users WANTED simplicity, shavers were expensive, and they didn’t like the hassle of looking for a new shaver, getting the right blades to fit or remembering to even buy it in the first place! This primes the market hungry for low costs, no thinking, quality solution. Here enters dollar shaving club. Low price point, simple product and a subscription model to ease your cognitive load.

New Market Disruption

This type of disruption is often, but not exclusively, driven by new technology advances. We did after all move from driving a horse and cart to driving cars. More recent examples would be in the phone market, where disruption is almost exclusively driven by technology (followed closely by the change in phone branding and its link to what a phone ‘says’ about you). Touch screens started to replace the old LCD screens, internet was newly available on your phone and the introduction of pay as you subscription meant barriers to entry went down to own a ‘luxury’ product. Each technology advance disrupts the market as it iterates, and new devices appear. Say “Hello” to the iPad.

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Innovation is (of course) important in business. Iterating and putting new ideas and concepts on the market is needed to bring business growth. Coca cola should innovate and iterate by testing new flavours on the market. Disruption, real disruption, has an edge. It means we shift how we live/think/operate. We need to claim the real meaning of disruption back from the marketeers. So when we talk about the big shifts, we understand the significance of what we mean. Disruption is really about changing the market and ultimately the game being played.

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