Disruptive innovation was first introduced by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in a 1995 Harvard Business Review (HBR) paper co-written with Joseph Bower. The concept was further elaborated and popularized in Christensen’s 1997 bestseller The Innovator's Dilemma, and in the articles and books he’s written or co-authored since then. Few business concepts have been as long and widely used.
But as often happens with serious ideas once they become popular, disruptive innovation has joined the pantheon of trendy, overused business buzzwords, - stretched and applied way beyond its intended meaning. It’s even led to a rather strong backlash in a 2014 New Yorker article by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore.
20 years after its introduction, Christensen has revisited his original concept in What is Disruptive Innovation?, co-written with Michael Raynor and Rory McDonald, and just published in HBR’s December issue. The authors aim to define what disruptive innovation is and what it isn’t, as well as to update the theory based on the experiences of the past two decades.
“The theory of disruptive innovation… has proved to be a powerful way of thinking about innovation-driven growth…,” they write. “Unfortunately, disruption theory is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. Despite broad dissemination, the theory’s core concepts have been widely misunderstood and its basic tenets frequently misapplied. Furthermore, essential refinements in the theory over the past 20 years appear to have been overshadowed by the popularity of the initial formulation. As a result, the theory is sometimes criticized for shortcomings that have already been addressed.”