Browse Definitions:
Definition

disruptive technology

A disruptive technology is one that displaces an established technology and shakes up the industry or a ground-breaking product that creates a completely new industry.  

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the term disruptive technology. In his 1997 best-selling book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," Christensen separates new technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology lacks refinement, often has performance problems because it is new, appeals to a limited audience and may not yet have a proven practical application. (Such was the case with Alexander Graham Bell's "electrical speech machine," which we now call the telephone.)

Here are a few examples of disruptive technologies: 

  • The personal computer (PC) displaced the typewriter and forever changed the way we work and communicate.
  • The Windows operating system's combination of affordability and a user-friendly interface was instrumental in the rapid development of the personal computing industry in the 1990s. Personal computing disrupted the television industry, as well as a great number of other activities. 
  • Email transformed the way we communicating, largely displacing letter-writing and disrupting the postal and greeting card industries. 
  • Cell phones made it possible for people to call us anywhere and disrupted the telecom industry.
  • The laptop computer and mobile computing made a mobile workforce possible and made it possible for people to connect to corporate networks and collaborate from anywhere. In many organizations, laptops replaced desktops. 
  • Smartphones largely replaced cell phones and PDAs and, because of the available apps, also disrupted: pocket cameras, MP3 players, calculators and GPS devices, among many other possibilities. For some mobile users, smartphones often replace laptops. Others prefer a tablet.
  • Cloud computing has been a hugely disruptive technology in the business world, displacing many resources that would conventionally have been located in-house or provided as a traditionally hosted service. 
  • Social networking has had a major impact on the way we communicate and -- especially for personal use -- has disrupted telephone, email, instant messaging and event planning. 

In his book, Christensen points out that large corporations are designed to work with sustaining technologies. They excel at knowing their market, staying close to their customers, and having a mechanism in place to develop existing technology. Conversely, they have trouble capitalizing on the potential efficiencies, cost-savings, or new marketing opportunities created by low-margin disruptive technologies. Using real-world examples to illustrate his point, Christensen demonstrates how it is not unusual for a big corporation to dismiss the value of a disruptive technology because it does not reinforce current company goals, only to be blindsided as the technology matures, gains a larger audience and market share and threatens the status quo.

See also:  disruptive innovation, digital disruption, IT innovation, business innovation, IT transformation

This was last updated in December 2016

Continue Reading About disruptive technology

Join the conversation

1 comment

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

Yesterday, I had 3 hrs class but I didn't understand sustained and disruptive innovations but thanks to God this morning I landed on this helpful site. Keep it up!
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:

SearchCompliance

  • PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board)

    The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) is a Congressionally-established nonprofit that assesses audits of public ...

  • cyborg anthropologist

    A cyborg anthropologist is an individual who studies the interaction between humans and technology, observing how technology can ...

  • RegTech

    RegTech, or regulatory technology, is a term used to describe technology that is used to help streamline the process of ...

SearchSecurity

  • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

    The Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES, is a symmetric block cipher used by the U.S. government to protect classified ...

  • identity theft

    Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personally identifiable ...

  • spear phishing

    Spear phishing is an email-spoofing attack that targets a specific organization or individual, seeking unauthorized access to ...

SearchHealthIT

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...

  • mass notification system (MNS)

    A mass notification system is a platform that sends one-way messages to inform employees and the public of an emergency.

  • disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)

    One approach to a strong disaster recovery plan is DRaaS, where companies offload data replication and restoration ...

SearchStorage

  • ZFS

    ZFS is a local file system and logical volume manager created by Sun Microsystems to control the placement, storage and retrieval...

  • CIFS (Common Internet File System)

    CIFS (Common Internet File System) is a protocol that gained popularity around the year 2000, as vendors worked to establish an ...

  • GlusterFS (Gluster File System)

    GlusterFS (Gluster File System) is an open source distributed file system that can scale out in building-block fashion to store ...

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • Tier 0

    Tier 0 (tier zero) is a level of data storage that is faster, and perhaps more expensive, than any other level in the storage ...

  • PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive)

    A PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive) is a high-speed expansion card that attaches a computer to its peripherals.

  • SSD caching

    SSD caching, also known as flash caching, is the temporary storage of data on NAND flash memory chips in a solid-state drive so ...

SearchCloudStorage

  • RESTful API

    A RESTful application program interface breaks down a transaction to create a series of small modules, each of which addresses an...

  • cloud storage infrastructure

    Cloud storage infrastructure is the hardware and software framework that supports the computing requirements of a private or ...

  • Zadara VPSA and ZIOS

    Zadara Storage provides block, file or object storage with varying levels of compute and capacity through its ZIOS and VPSA ...

Close