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:
1. 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.
2. Does it target larger markets? Sustaining innovations target large markets with a mix of existing and new customers. For existing customers, they goal is to get them to upgrade. New customers come from targeting new verticals or regions with largely the same solution. Growth also comes from the bitter fight with similar rivals over marketshare.
3. Sustaining innovations get more complex over time, typically reaching a point of very high complexity. The availability of support may factor more into the customers buying decision. Complex solutions with long sales cycles and support needs are characteristic of products undergoing sustaining rather than disruptive innovation.
By Sean Campbell
By Scott Swigart
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