Innovation Is Not Necessarily Disruptive

U.S. Army

According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), they introduced the theory of “disruptive innovation” to the world in 1995.  For over twenty years the concept has been out there, has gathered article after article and study after study.  And yet, to hear HBR talk about it, disruption theory is misunderstood.

There’s another troubling concern: In our experience, too many people who speak of “disruption” have not read a serious book or article on the subject. Too frequently, they use the term loosely to invoke the concept of innovation in support of whatever it is they wish to do. Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.

If you read the article then you discover that there is a basic assertion built into the theory about the markets that a disruptive innovation needs to target.  Uber, according to the article, is not disruptive because it didn’t target the markets that are key to disruptive innovation: low-end and new market.  Essentially Uber is just a better taxi than the taxi industry.  If, however, you look at Uber from the perspective of a limousine service then it is more likely to be disruptive as it most certainly targets the lower end of the business and is working its way upwards in the market.

So, can a public sector body introduce disruptive innovation?  No.  It can be innovative, indeed it must be innovative to be relevant.  But disruptive?  Hardly.  The market is limited and there are no competitors.

Can a public sector body use disruptive technologies?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean that the end result is disruptive.  It may be merely innovative or, at worst, status quo.

Let’s take a look at something once again.  facial recognition.  My driver’s license has my picture on it.  If that picture is stored, and you try to log into a website on your phone, the app could use facial recognition to see if you are the same person as the one listed on the drivers’ license in your name.  If it matches then you have a heightened level of security:   biometrics.  Now would this change be considered:

  • disruptive
  • innovative
  • disruptive innovation

The technology, cheap access to facial recognition capabilities. is disruptive in nature.  Adding biometrics to your login is definitely innovative.  But does the marketplace think that it is a disruptive innovation?  Based on the fact that the market is probably limited to those that require government service, and that service cannot be done anywhere else, it is probably not categorized as a disruptive innovation.

But just think of the possibilities of using disruptive technologies in innovative ways.

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