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Radical vs. Disruptive Innovation: What They Mean for Organizations

Entrepreneurs and innovative businesses are always on the lookout for new ways to leverage existing technology or create an entirely new product or service market. In this way, innovation and adaptability are the lifeblood of any successful business or organization.
Innovation is a relative term that is defined differently by business leaders and academics. It is frequently defined based on a person’s discipline or industry. Innovation can be broken down into three main categories based on their effect or impact:

  1. Incremental
  2. Radical
  3. Disruptive

Incremental innovation is self-explanatory: These are sustaining innovations that help businesses stay in the game, but do not necessarily make a big “splash.” But, what are radical and disruptive innovations? And, how do they impact businesses?

Understanding Radical Innovation

The concept of radical innovation is about leveraging core competencies for the future. It relates to looking at existing technology and figuring out new applications that focus on long-term goals.
According to the Harvard Business Review:

“Radical innovation focuses on long-term impact and may involve displacing current products, altering the relationship between customers and suppliers, and creating completely new product categories.”

Examples of radical innovation include the iPhone, which paved the way for the modern smartphone market, and the merging of farming equipment with sensor technology that provides farmers with data that is used to alter the farming industry.

Understanding Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation,” initially referred to as “disruptive technology,” is a term that was coined by Big Think expert and Harvard Professor of Business Administration Clayton Christensen. Disruption represents innovations that make products and services more accessible, affordable, and available to a larger population.
Christensen says he felt the term “innovation” would more accurately convey that it is not so much the technology itself that is disruptive, but rather the innovation itself and how technology is used in a business context.
Disruptive innovation has the potential to serve as a significantly positive force across all industries and areas of society. Examples of disruptive innovations that are now commonplace include:

  • Refrigerators, stoves, and microwave ovens,
  • Personal computers,
  • iPods and downloadable digital music,
  • Digital photography,
  • Cloud technology, and
  • Netflix and other streaming video services.
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What Do These Types of Innovations Mean to Organizations?

Big Think expert, technology entrepreneur, and philanthropist Elon Musk says that opportunities for innovation are all around us:

“I think it’s important not so much to focus on just disruption for the sake of it, but rather where is an industry either stagnant or in decline, where the product or service has stayed pretty much the same or maybe even gotten worse over time? It’s worth looking at industries which a lot of people think are impossible or think you can’t succeed at — that’s usually where there’s opportunity. If everyone thinks you can succeed in an industry, they’re probably diving in.”

For businesses to be innovative, they need to look at a challenge from the right perspective. Disruptive technology can be an enabler of innovation. However, it must be embedded in a viable business model to be successful. It is for this reason that an organization’s leadership must develop a clear strategy for creativity and innovation while still protecting their core businesses.

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