What is disruptive innovation?

Jan 2, 2018 Blog  Disruptive Innovation


We all like to experience new ways of travelling and trying out new cooking dishes, but at the same time we are afraid to get into a self-driving car or eating food that was cooked by a robot chef – interesting, isn’t it?

The term ‘disruption’ means different things to different people – according to assistant professor of innovation at EHL, Carlos Martin-Rios, the media often use it to “denote a form of breakthrough that takes place in rapidly-changing markets”.  He says however that it means something different to academics and some business leaders.  According to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s theory, “disruption describes a process whereby relatively small companies with few resources are able to successfully challenge, often to the point of up-ending, incumbent businesses”.  Disruptive innovations are however different from sustaining innovations.  Disruptive innovations originate either in low-end markets or new markets, whereas sustaining innovations  make good products better.

Christen argues for example that “Uber does not qualify as a genuinely disruptive company as it didn’t originate either as a low-end opportunity or in a new market, primarily targeting non consumers”.  He makes a similar claim about Airbnb, saying that “Airbnb’s sustaining innovation effectively capitalises on improving the efficiency of the system, but it would not break the established industry’s rules anytime soon”.

Martin-Rios said that self-driving cars “will be truly disruptive for the automobile industry if they are aligned with their developers’ ultimate goal: that consumers will no longer need to have their own personal car anymore”.

He said that a potential disruptive innovation in hospitality would be the way it is delivered to customers and highlighted the following two examples”

  • 3-D printers: Hotels ‘printed’ using concrete will open up a new field for hotel/temporary housing development, valuation and real estate. Using the currently-available technology, a San Francisco-based start-up, Apis Cor, can 3-D print a hotel in one day. 3-D printing of buildings will allow accommodation hosting opportunities to develop and disappear very quickly in new areas, according to changing destination popularity, or to extend capacity following a surge of visitors, for example.
  • Virtual reality: headsets or physical spaces will change the very notion of tourism. We will virtually travel not only to places, but in time as well. As another colleague, senior lecturer Remy Rein, commented to me recently: why would we physically travel to 21st century Rome, if we can ‘virtually’ visit Rome in the 1st century BC and experience ‘real-time’ how the Colosseum was built?


The full article can be read here.

Image: Allen Ellison via Flickr (CC 2.0resized)


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