A Short History of Disruption

by suzanne joy campbell |


Over the last 20 years, disruption has become inseparable from digital innovation. Now it seems everyone is talking about disruption. Why the buzz and where is the opportunity?

  1. Initially, in 1997 Clayton Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma called low-end products “disruptive technologies” because rather than sustaining technological progress toward better performance, they disrupted it
  2. By 2012 in the Digital Disruption – Harnessing The ‘bang’ Deloitte identified digital disruption as “transforming the way companies and agencies operate and how they engage with their customers” and predicted one-third of the Australian economy faces imminent and significant digital disruption – a ‘short fuse, big bang’ situation.
  3. Later in The Disruption Machine Jill Lepore argued “Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. . . it makes a very poor prophet.”
  4. Catherine Livingstone described innovation as creating temporary competitive advantage – a pool of value you have until your competition catches up and you are disrupted.
  5. Mark Di Somma in An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Disruption says “the key to disruption is not in the innovation. What the truly disruptive approach does is to address and resolve a consistent frustration”.
  6. Successful disruptors including Airbnb, Alibaba, Amazon, Apple, Airtasker, Facebook, Google, and Uber have disrupted whole industries and changed both supply and demand with their fierce focus on their customers, savvy exploitation of data and analytics, scale and global reach.
  7. To help us understand these supply and demand dynamics McKinsey & Company developed a useful guide. The Disruption Dilemma, by Joshua Gans, further develops this theme and also describes the actions available to business leaders to respond to disruption.
  8. The urgency to understand and act was recently highlighted by CIOs at Microsoft’s 2015 Global CIO Summit when in a survey, CIOs responded that they believe upwards of 47% of their company’s revenues will be under threat from digital disruption.

So, formally disruption is a theory and informally disruption describes innovation, by entrepreneurs, firms or industries. This innovation has been turbocharged by digital infrastructure and the rate of change in the environment is now exponential.

“When the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight. – Jack Welch

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Suzanne Joy Campbell

BA Sydney, MLib UNSW, GDipIB Sydney, GAICD

With more than 25 years of IT and telecommunications experience, I have been privileged to work in senior roles at Telstra, MCI Worldcom, Unwired and KAZ and to lead teams to establish, restructure, rebuild, transform and grow domestic and international companies to deliver significant results for our customers.