Few intellectual concepts in our time have been mangled by observers more than Clay Christensen’s disruption idea. Some thoughts:

A disruptive innovation gives new consumers access to product historically only available to consumers with a lot of money or skill. Disruptors offer a different set of product attributes valued only in new markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream. – Clay Christensen

The key attribute of disruptive innovation is a new product for a previously underserved market, typically cheaper than an existing product. This is inherently pro-consumer: Disruptive innovation only works if customers buy it and if they do, lives are improved vs prior status quo. Similar, disruptive innovation is only funded by investors who believe underserved market exists, customers will buy it, lives are improved.

It’s a fabricated myth that disruptive innovation is about destruction: It’s about the creation of new products, new choices, for more people. Later, of course, the new product often evolves to squarely take on incumbents serving established customers which is cheaper and better for them too! Disruptive innovation shrinks inequality, by bringing to lower-income consumers things that only richer consumers had access to before.

If you are reading this, many of the things you own that make your life better are the result of prior disruptive innovation. The printing press disrupted books from scribes; recorded music disrupted live concerts in homes, washing machines disrupted live-in maids. Rich people always had books, music, clean clothes, etc.; disruptive innovation made these things available to many more people.

In the exact same way, sub-$50 smartphones are disruptive innovation to PCs bringing computing and Internet to far more people than status quo. To be FOR disruption is to be FOR consumer choice, FOR more people bring served, and FOR shrinking inequality. To be AGAINST disruption is to be AGAINST consumer choice, AGAINST more people bring served, and AGAINST shrinking inequality.

If we want to make the world a better and more equal place, the faster we have more Christensen-style disruption, the better!

References: Disruptive Innovation, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen Responds to New Yorker Takedown of ‘Disruptive Innovation’

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