Disruptive Innovation vs Destructive Innovation: A Guide for Today’s Leaders | Entrepreneur

Disruptive Innovation vs Destructive Innovation: A Guide for Today's Leaders | Entrepreneur

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, the word “innovation” gets thrown around quite a bit. However, it’s crucial for leaders, especially those in C-suite roles, to grasp the nuanced differences between Disruptive Innovation and Destructive Innovation. Despite the similarity in names, they are not interchangeable.

Several years ago, I was one of five keynote speakers at the Asian Disruptive Leadership Summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The day before the event, they held a press conference with the speakers at a table and the media asking questions from the room. A young man directed a question to me. He asked, “Mr. Deming, can you tell us the difference between disruptive and destructive innovation?” In a few words, and more conversationally, I described it as follows.

What is disruptive innovation?

Disruptive Innovation is a term coined by Clayton Christensen in 1997. It refers to a process where a smaller company, often with fewer resources, manages to challenge established industry leaders. The disruptors do this by targeting overlooked market segments or creating new markets altogether. Over time, these disruptors refine their products or services and start attracting a broader audience, eventually undermining the existing market leaders.

Key characteristics of disruptive innovators:

Why these matter

These innovators didn’t just create products; they created markets and shifted paradigms. They started with niche audiences and scaled up, eventually disrupting and often dominating their industries.

So, the lesson here? Be the Amazon or Tesla in your space. Think about the niches that are overlooked and how you can bring them to the forefront. It’s not just about technology; it’s about vision and having the courage to redefine an industry.

What is destructive innovation?

On the flip side, Destructive Innovation refers to technologies or practices that harm or make existing models obsolete without adding significant value to the industry or consumers. In some cases, they may offer short-term gains, but the long-term ramifications could be detrimental. Destructive innovators often leave a trail of unintended consequences.

Some examples:

Key characteristics of destructive innovators:

Why these matter

These companies either disrupted without adding lasting value or operated in ways that had negative long-term impacts. The key takeaway here is that innovation without sustainability or ethical considerations can often lead to destructive outcomes.

Understanding these examples can be a cautionary guide. It reminds us that innovation shouldn’t just be groundbreaking; it must be responsible and sustainable to be truly transformative.

Why the difference matters

So, why should you care about the difference? Well, the path you choose has profound implications for your business model, market positioning, and long-term sustainability. Whether you’re a seasoned executive, a budding entrepreneur or a forward-thinking sales director, understanding these terms can help you steer your company in the direction that leads to long-term success rather than a short-lived buzz.

Your choice could be the difference between leaving a legacy of growth and innovation or just becoming a cautionary tale in someone else’s keynote. So, the question isn’t if you should disrupt, but how will you disrupt responsibly and effectively?