What is Disruptive Innovation?

According to the father of The Theory of Disruptive Innovation Prof Clay Christensen, the theory goes that a smaller company with fewer resources can unseat an established, successful business by targeting segments of the market that have been neglected by the incumbent, typically because it is focusing on more profitable areas.

Prof Christensen is a firm believer in theories.

These theories are not long essays in the academic sense of theoretical concepts. These are simple statements of what causes things to happen and why.

They principles on how to approach, think and solve problems.

In his amazing book How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay shares a story of how Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, requested him to visit Intel head office and explain his famous theory of disruptive innovation.

When Clay arrived, Andy said he could only spare 10 minutes and asked Clay to explain what it means for Intel. Clay instead showed Andy a diagram of his theory and began walking him through it.

Ten minutes in, Andy interrupted impatiently: “Look, I have got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.

“Andy, I can’t.” Clay persisted and went on to share the story of the disruption of the steel mill industry.

When he finished the story, Andy said: “I got it.” and explained how it applied to Intel.

Clay knew that Andy knew more than he would ever know about his business.

Instead of telling him what to think, he taught him how to think.

A great lesson for us to apply as and when we are asked for advice by our clients, students, team members and friends, let’s focus on setting a frame.

As Clay puts it:

“When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.”  

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