Three Reasons an Innovation Might Not Move Mountains
Just as important as recognizing a disruptive innovation, you also need to be able to identify those innovations that are merely sustaining, meaning that they represent incremental shifts that are not likely to create deep-seated changes in an industry. Affirmative answers to the following questions can help differentiate sustaining innovations, so you don’t mistake them for disruptive ones:
- Is it focused on extending an existing product or service? An innovation that improves upon an existing approach but doesn’t redefine it is likely to be a sustaining innovation, rather than a disruptive one, corresponding to a competitor in Porter’s Five Forces, rather than a substitute.
- Does it target larger markets? When an industry tries to push innovation into a large market, it must overcome a larger amount of inertia than when it targets a smaller market, making it more difficult for the innovation to take hold and be disruptive of the status quo.
- Disruptive innovations often start out as a simple substitute for a more complex solution. Sustaining innovation, on the other hand, is an inexorable march to higher complexity: one more feature, one more option, pricing tiers, support tiers. Don’t think you’re being disruptive with version 9 of your product. You’re not.
None of this is to say that sustaining innovation is bad. Disruptive innovation puts competitors out of business, but sustaining innovation generates the lion’s share of revenue.
This entry continues a series of three blog posts related to recognizing disruptive innovation in your industry. The previous one, “Three Ways to Predict When Your World is About to Change,” identifies characteristics of a disruptive innovation (as opposed to a sustaining one). The last post in the series, “Three Habits of Highly Disruptive Competitors,” describes the characteristics of competitors that are likely to launch disruptive innovations.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart