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Is 2019 the end of “disruptive innovation”?

By John Cleary
18/07/2019

Is 2019 the end of “disruptive innovation”?

For years, the tech industry was alive with cries for more “disruptive innovation”. But, in the past few years, many are instead calling for an end to the buzzword. In 2016, The Guardian created a post titled, ‘Why it’s time to retire “disruption”, Silicon Valley’s emptiest buzzword’. In 2019, Digital.com released an article titled, ‘Why “disruption” is the ultimate empty startup buzzword (hint: an ad agency just trademarked it)’.

Three years on, it’s still around. We’re still talking about it, even if it’s telling others in the technology industry the term is dead. So why and how is “disruption” still affecting industries across the world?

Buzzword or business?

Clayton Christensen, a professor at the Harvard Business School, defined the concept of “disruptive innovation” as ‘entrenched, dominant products or services becoming unseated in the market due to competition from smaller rivals who offer solutions more simply or at a better price’.

As our consumer habits have evolved to become more reliant on the internet and technology, it’s no surprise disruptive innovation in Christensen’s sense has manifested itself across markets. Look at Airbnb. The creators made a low-cost solution for low-value customers to find suitable accommodation across the world, all available in one app on their phone.

As the service grew in popularity, it ventured from offering an air mattress on the floor of someone’s living room to some of the world’s most beautiful, eccentric, and exclusive properties for rent anywhere from a few days to weeks on end. It caters to both high-value customers and the cost-conscious. Since its conception, Airbnb has grown to list around 4 million accommodations, more than the top five major hotel brands combined. It’s a classic case of disruptive innovation. It drives change in the market and in industry behaviours, often forcing hotels to lower prices in peak times, and calling for stricter regulations against Airbnb to protect themselves.

With countless other examples of disruptive innovation, and a sturdy definition of what it means, the issue with disruption can’t be that the process is no longer valuable. What’s the problem?

It’s annoying

There’s a reason we call them buzzwords. Just like a persistent insect buzzing around your head, the overuse of a term can be a little in your face, especially when it’s often used incorrectly or simply as a marketing tool. Lately, the term disruption has people thinking, do words mean nothing anymore?

The process of disruption hasn’t become redundant, with new products threatening the status quo all the time. We should still continue to shake up our markets through creativity and improvement. But, the use of “disruption” has become so overused, it’s started to lose its meaning, with fewer people understanding the origin and reality of what the term means.

It might seem strange this is enough to discourage the use of the term, particularly by experts in the industry. But the overuse of buzzwords can actually hinder the progress they claim to depict. “Disruptive technology”, “disruption”, or “disruptive innovation” might make us sound like we’re being creative and thinking outside of the box to ourselves and sometimes others. But they narrow our thinking. They force us to cram our ideas into a restrictive box of what it means to be “disruptive”.

No disruptive app caused a market shift by being a copycat or through constricted thinking. Maybe it’s time to leave the buzz behind and get back to being creative.

At Createk, we develop innovative web applications using our technological expertise and a heap of creativity. It doesn’t matter the size of your business, our applications can propel you to the top of your industry. All you need to do to get started is get in touch with us on 0330 995 0685.

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