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Disruptive technology or disruptive innovation - what's the difference?

Posted 19th June 2011 at 08:12 AM by abraxalito
Updated 8th September 2011 at 03:11 AM by abraxalito (Added link to CMC's own webpage)

This week Bruno Putzeys posted about his innovator's dilemma. You can read that post here:


In brief he's designed and produced some disruptive technology (UcD, and now nCore) and can't quite see the way forward to turning that technology into disruptive innovation. Disruptive technology is not automatically disruptive innovation - it needs a suitable marketing strategy before its truly innovation. Bruno's using the traditional marketing plans for OEM amplifier modules and finding he's not making much headway.

'No one puts new wine into old wineskins, if it is the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins and so both are preserved'. - Matthew 9:17

Jesus might just as well have been lecturing at Harvard Business School here because this is precisely the message of Clayton Christensen's book 'The Innovator's Dilemma'. Disruptive technology requires fresh thinking - new markets are created by fresh products. Selling class D amps into fossilized class A markets is just asking for bucketfuls of crossover distortion.

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  1. Old Comment
    Although your enthusiasm for applying Clay Christensen's material is laudable, it is inappropriate here.

    From what I can tell, Bruno Putzley's technology is an improvement to the performance characteristics of the current technology that can be had for the same or similar price as the previous technology. Since you've read the Christensen's books, this is more like the example of replacing the steam engines of cable-based excavators with gas and diesel engines. It's good stuff and everyone who is currently in the market will want one, so Bruno's technology is what Chritensen refers to as SUSTAINING innovation and his problem is far more about market segmentation through product differentiation and not a case of disruptive innovation. He is doing exactly the right thing (using disruptive innovation strategy on a sustaining innovation would be innapropriate and could cause irrepairable harm to his business).

    If this was disruptive innovation, Bruno's new invention would not come from him (as he is an incumbent) nor would it originate in the hiu-fi power amp industry (it would come unexpectedly from elsewhere), it would not compete (in terms of performance) with even the existing technology, and it would have the effect (through utter simplicity and/or price and/or some other suitable strategy) of expanding the DIY market by a factor or 10 or more.
    Posted 20th June 2011 at 01:59 AM by disruptiveinnovation disruptiveinnovation is offline
  2. Old Comment
    abraxalito's Avatar
    Thanks for your comments, they show many misunderstandings of what disruptive innovation is, so I'm very happy to explain the errors in them in that others may learn from your mistakes.

    Firstly, UcD (and more recently nCore) are not merely an improvement to the current technology. This is because in some ways they're worse - in some of the distortion measurements for example. But they allow for much smaller designs because of greatly reduced heatsinking. If the SMPSU is used, also a large and heavy transformer is substituted by a compact light circuit board. Bruno himself recognises the technology as disruptive and so do those he's demonstrated it to - see the thread I linked to for evidence of that.

    Secondly disruptive innovation can and does come from incumbents - perhaps you haven't read CMC's study of disk drive formats? Without reference to the book others that spring to mind are Olympus in digital cameras and Epson in inkjet printers. However Bruno is not an incumbent here as his first offering was UcD - that's the true disruptive technology, nCore would better be seen as sustaining innovation. As I've already explained to Bruno, his technology is not an innovation until he comes up with a radically inventive marketing strategy. So your final point ignores this difference - between technology and innovation.

    What makes it clear here that we're dealing with disruptive technology (not yet innovation) is that Bruno's in a dilemma. That's how this started out, I wouldn't have gotten involved and written about it if I had not recognised the dilemma he's in. He's listening to customers but customers are telling him two irreconcilable things. This is characteristic of disruptive technology and is what's given CMC the title of his book. He notes that companies that succeed in turning technology into innovation listen to their customers. And those that fail, also fail by listening to their customers. The key insight is - knowing which group of customers to listen to and which to ignore.
    Posted 20th June 2011 at 11:36 PM by abraxalito abraxalito is offline
    Updated 21st June 2011 at 12:41 AM by abraxalito

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