Christensen popularized the idea of disruptive technologies as a concept in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”, published in 1997. The phrase struck and is now irreplaceable as a buzzword for tech start-ups as they seek to gain mass appeal for their products.
According to veteran management consultant Shamayun Miah, it is often misunderstood and misapplied in business jargon.
“Disruptive technology not only refers to breakthrough technologies that add value to products but also inventions that add to their accessibility and affordability, expanding their consumer base,” he adds.
Shamayun Miah thinks that even early-stage tech start-ups working with limited means can aim towards developing disruptive technology.
“It’s about inventing an entirely novel method of doing business, making things better, faster, more efficient and adding enough value for people to make the switch without much resistance,” says Shamayun Miah.
He contends that start-ups have been the drivers of disruptive technology due to their unique position on the market. Start-ups are definitionally risk-tolerant and do not shy away from creating or experimenting with novel ideas. On the other hand, traditional, entrenched firms tend to focus on their strengths and make slow incremental progress over a protracted period.
“It is difficult to prepare for Disruptive technologies as they can appear suddenly. Established players usually lack the flexibility to adapt quickly to new threats,” says the seasoned consultant.
This provides an opening for disruptive businesses to target overlooked customers and get their foot in the door.
Shamayun Miah is of the opinion that revolutionary changes are mostly in the domain of start-ups.
He says, “Tech start-ups are particularly geared to find creative ways to make products less expensive and more accessible.”
The aim of moving their product upmarket, to eventually displace pre-established products and services isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds, clarifies Shamayun Miah.
“To create a disruptive technology is to create an advancement that significantly alters the way that consumers, industries, or businesses operate. It’s no wonder that most tech start-ups fail in their early stage,” adds Miah.
Not all established companies are blind to disruptive technologies, and many recognize their potential and seek to incorporate them in their operations sooner than others.
Risk-avoidant firms may wait to observe how technology performs for their peers before adopting it themselves.
While both approaches have their pros and cons, Miah thinks that failure to adapt may result in companies losing valuable market share to competitors.
He explains that for a technology to be disruptive, to sweep away the systems or habits it seeks to replace, it must have recognizably superior attributes.
Miah says, “A lot of technology that we take for granted such as cars, electricity, and TVs were disruptive technologies in their time. The market found them to be better alternatives to horses and oil lamps.”
The most recent example of a pivotal disruption is the rise of blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.
While it has gained tremendous traction over the last few years, Miah believes that its implications for financial institutions such as banks and the stock market remains to be seen.