How do you perceive the word "disruptive" , when talking about a new product


When you hear that a new product is “disruptive”, do you think first of the benefit that it may bring to you, or do you perceive it to be a marketing gimmick for the company selling it? Or is it something else?

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Robert Faller
9 months ago

13 answers


I think the term may be overused and imply that a product or service will create or transform a market but actually be hyped by marketing.

Over my fifty years of observation of markets there have been transformational products that impacted a market and spawned more competition in response to the initial event.

Transistors, lasers, networking communication, the desktop computer, Google, Facebook, Apple in several areas, GPS systems, to name a few. But within a market as it is emerging I agree that once the breakthrough has reached a critical success point much of what follows is evolutionary.

Sandy Waters
9 months ago
Thanks, Sandy. As always, excellent and helpful perspective! - Robert 9 months ago
Agee with Hype - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

I expect 'disruptive' to mean that there is a characteristic of the product that will change the way that people engage with it compared to others in that category. I also expect that change to become the new normal for that product category.

Nick Wilsher
9 months ago
Thanks, Nick - interesting perspective; particularly the part about it becoming the new normal. - Robert 9 months ago
Disruption has been dummied down - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

For me, "disruptive" means going beyond incremental innovation into the realm of "transformational" innovation. It's hard to define perfectly, but you know it when you see it. Netflix disrupted Blockbuster Video. iPhone disrupted flip phones. Digital photography disrupted film. Automobiles disrupted horses. Typically, when I see true disruption, it is accompanied by the bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy of the incumbent because it's a big deal.

Paul Brown
9 months ago
Well said - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

I see it depending on the context. Disruptive, within the description of a particular technology within a business plan, it means that the technology will be able to transform the landscape of existing technologies and self-impose as the technology of choice. This will be due to higher efficiencies, lower costs, and a considerable better connection between products and consumers, and such benefits would be accompanied by numbers and business cases. If it is within the marketing context, I see the term "disruptive" as slightly negative or as gimmick. The reason is that disruptive companies rarely portray themselves as "disruptive" (e.g. Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, etc), but rather bring products and technologies to the market that are finally accepted as disruptive. The reality is that all these disruptive products face in many cases a considerable level of resistance from the status quo and are only finally confirmed as disruptive by the markets.

Sygi Cobos
9 months ago
Context is King - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

A lot of good comments here, but the cynic in me admits that "disruption" has the same Buzzword Bingo feel as "agile", "innovation", or phrases like "it's like Uber, but for ...".

Less cynically, I'm a simple man who considers the term in its most simple sense! Disruption for me is about novel entries to the market that not only step outside standards for the product, but more-so ignore the process by which their more traditional competitors would reach the customer experientially. This is especially true where they can more genuinely meet the need of the consumer, and avoid the environmental or structural limitations of traditional players.

For example, right now I'm hungry and would like a pizza. I'm too lazy to find my phone, much less drive to the pizza shop. A disruptive player would somehow realize this hunger and laziness (perhaps buying some of Zuckerberg's data and running it through Watson's giant AI brain, or whatever the clever kids do these days), and then have someone turn up at my door with a large half-and-half pepperoni / Hawaiian*.

*Don't respond if your comment is about pineapple not belonging on pizza. We know that you are entitled to your opinion (even when it is objectively wrong).

AJ Rollsy
6 months ago
Trust you now feel better - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
I still haven't eaten. So not really. - AJ 6 months ago
Sugar low! - Dr. David E. 6 months ago

I have a new perspective on the use of the term disruptive. I apply a limited view of it to situations where a new idea, process, or practice, causes a market response that indicates a discernible change. Tariffs for example, are disruptive, and in many ways. Since there was no way to predict the action of imposing tariffs, there is little way of determining the full impact of the outcomes. A tariff could cause the ultimate demise of a market, but would less likely immediately cause a new market to emerge (certain appliances get too expensive causing the supply chain to react, forcing distributors to source less expensive alternatives). So disruptions that are based on technology breakthroughs can generate ripples that spawn new markets, transform existing ones, and possibly eliminate others. Although important to predict, it would be more important to determine the ripple impacts and change to the market dynamics. Another hypothetical example would be the commercialization of fusion energy production. The ripple effects would be massive.

Sandy Waters
6 months ago
Tariffs for example, are disruptive = been around for hundreds of years? - Dr. David E. 6 months ago

You missed the point of my comment David. We are no better today with our ability to forecast disruptions and the ripple effects. Likewise, we are not able to predict disruptions related to technological breakthroughs and when or if the ripples will profoundly impact business. We observe that many companies are disruptive adverse from a planning point of view and seriously misjudge the impact of a disruptive event.

Sandy Waters
6 months ago
We are no better today with our ability to forecast disruptions and the ripple effects = AGREE! - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
I have seen many companies come out with what they perceive to be disruptive approaches, only to have them fall flat because no one had any real interest; except the product development manager who was pushing it in the first place...It is also clear that one must look at disruptions in two directions - its impact toward future offerings - and the potential negative impact on others. - Robert 6 months ago
Agree - product development manager is not a disruptor - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
to a point. For example, Crest Whitestrips was a significant disruptor to the tooth whitening category, bringing at home whitening to a market that , up to that point, had to depend on a dental professional to perform, at a cost often exceeding $500. With the introduction of Whitestrips, it would only cost 1/10th of that; so clearly a disruption to that market. But most products aren't disruptive - Robert 6 months ago
Teeth Whitening = ROCKED THE WORLD? - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
when you see the state (color) of people's teeth in other parts of the world - yes, at least with regard to this particular segment. But fully agree that most product development managers aren't going to disrupt the world, but may impact their own particular small space. - Robert 6 months ago
OK then - exciting - Dr. David E. 6 months ago

To be honest, I would not really think much at all, as "disuption" as word is very much in fashion and can mean everything from a slight evolution up to a product revolution.

Patrick Henz
6 months ago
Perfect - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
Agree taht any terminology can become "in fashion', although that was not the intent of the question. Rather, I was interested in your perception as to what constitutes something that is truly disruptive to a market as opposed to just another iteration of something already available. - Robert 6 months ago
OK - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
As consumer I understand that a "disruptive" product would disrupt myself and my general lifestyle. So it has to be different and relevant for for me. - Patrick 6 months ago
Agreed - Dr. David E. 6 months ago
that helps - thanks! - Robert 6 months ago
Welcome!! - Patrick 6 months ago

Evolvement of the consumer product usually going by incremental improvement of the characteristics, for example smart phones. In this matter I will take word "disruptive" for modular smartphone (unfortunately now stopped) , when significant capability is added. Other word similar is "breakthrough" which no anymore a buzz word in marketing (tear and wear effect)

Andrey Zolotavin
9 months ago
Thanks, Andrey - much appreciate your perspective on this. - Robert 9 months ago
Agreed. - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

Add to my list of long term successful disruptive innovations CRISPR gene splicing and repair capabilities, and the seemingly endless application of Artificial Intelligence to every market segment and processes found within each.

But CRISPRs promise is one that has the potential to impact every life globally in a significant manner, and will have a future time ripple effect that we cannot fully imagine.

Likewise, AI will be embedded in an inestimable number of applications, products, services.

But consider that CRISPR and AI together clearly bring new meaning to the term disruptive innovation. The sum of the two bringing about massive global economic impacts.

Sandy Waters
9 months ago
Agree, Sandy - this combination should prove to be extremely disruptive!! - Robert 9 months ago
CRISPR is much hype; right now - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

I submit that were we to have commercially viable fusion energy production we would experience multiple disruptions to a number of industries and markets that could benefit from a new energy production cost point. A lower cost energy producing technology will transform a great number of businesses, and alter manufacturing processes far more than other disruptors like solar and wind power.

Sandy Waters
9 months ago
Yes, I agree; however, don;t you agree that the lower cost approaches that are more viable, such as solar and wind, which are plentiful and clean, can provide just as much disruption if used adequately? - Robert 9 months ago
Robert, ultimately i believe fusion will dominate the landscape of energy production. It will have its own pros and cons, but both wind and solar take enormous amounts of space and do not produce continuously, and as global environmental changes are shifting weather patterns they may become less reliable. Whereas i see fusion able to generate power anywhere able to use the existing grid, - Sandy 9 months ago
yes, good points. My general concern with fusion is the ""what if" scenario; but agree with your perspective none the less. - Robert 9 months ago
Agree with Fusion - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

I think that today the word "disruptive" is overused, the same as "AI". Depending the context I would see what this new product is offering me to understand if perceive it as disruptive or just as evolution of existing solutions.

Patrick Henz
8 months ago
Totally agree - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

What about Today? 

A decade or so ago, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

Since then, these ten health care/insurance business model-styled case study examples sought to explain how the digital players would do things differently, more efficiently, with less time and less anxiety.

Much like the nascent ABJ initiative, special attention was paid to their potential service offerings, revenue model, perceived market performance, strategy, and perceived technology innovations that would impact the health insurance industry in the future.

  1. Oscar health
  2. Shuidi
  3. ZhongAn
  4. BIMA
  5. Clover health
  6. Bright health
  7. Forward
  8. Bind
  9. Collective health
  10. Ottonova

PS: I gave my nephew a birthday present. They next day, he asked me for another gift. So, I reminded him of my BD present the previous day. His reply: "What have you done for me lately."    

Well - The future is now. So, how are these companies - first touted as "industry disruptors" - performing, today?

Any thoughts?

Dr. David E. M
8 months ago
Several are UGH! - Dr. David E. 7 months ago

Have some input?