Disruption: It's What's Happening

Not that long ago, the word “disruption” wasn’t exactly popular. Its use was typically linked to a negative or bothersome situation.

Webster defines disruption as a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, or event. It’s fairly easy to see why disruption was so disruptive but that was “then,” and this is “now.”

In the “now,” disruption has morphed into what academic and consultant Clayton M. Christensen coined as “disruptive innovation.” The term “disruptive innovation” refers to a situation, new product or service or other significant change that transforms industries. A good example is a new company entering a market, disrupting and outperforming the established players, and eventually transforming either the market itself or the way consumers interact with it.

As Christensen’s theory gained traction, it led to the term “disruptive innovation” being used more and more loosely. Soon, any company that achieved rapid success in its formative years could be considered a “disruptor.” In an article for Harvard Business Review, Christensen and his peers called disruptive innovation a victim of its own success.

Jessie Moore, in an article for ideadrop.com, brought additional clarity to “innovation disruption” by pointing out:

Disruptive innovation is a theory:  before it was a strategy or an industry buzzword, “disruptive innovation” was a hypothesis. Christensen sought to understand how new businesses were able to accelerate in growth, meet their customers’ needs and take legacy brands out of the picture.

Disruptive innovation is a framework:  companies that can be considered “disruptive” all in one way or another follow a common series of processes. These processes acted as the bridge between theory and practice and were soon considered a template for long-term success.

Disruptive innovation is a business model:  businesses began to see the disruptive innovation framework as a step-by-step guide to dominating their market. All they needed to do was take this set of processes and apply it to their specific organization.


Today, while the concept has been most closely tied to technology and the digital revolution, the Forbes Technology Council has identified a wider group of industries and services who are on the cusp of “innovation disruption”. They include:

  1. Doctor’s office visits
  2. Financial/legal services
  3. Healthcare diagnostics
  4. Education
  5. Data protection
  6. Customer service
  7. Automotive
  8. Security

As with any significant change or transformation, there are industry leaders whose “innovation disruption” transformed the entire industry, and for the company created sustainable success, and established significant competitive differentiation. Some examples are:


Terry and Tony Pearce—the brothers behind the mattress brand, took on the industry and turned it upside down with a high-tech mattress designed to offer best-in-class spinal support at a price that anyone can afford. While the mattress itself is disruptive enough, so too, is the company’s business model. Instead of using retail stores, Purple uses a direct-to-consumer model that means consumers avoid distributor, wholesaler, and retailer mark-ups. They can also try the mattress for up to 100 nights before asking for a refund.


Airbnb is one of the most significant examples of a disruptive brand. This innovative service provides homeowners an opportunity to rent their homes and apartments out to travelers at significantly low prices. Airbnb puts a huge dent in the way the hotel industry works, and it’s meant that more people than ever before are exploring the world.


BrewDog may be one of the most disruptive brands in the alcoholic beverage industry. Since 2007, BrewDog has brought more variety, and personality to the marketplace. The product it introduced might not have been entirely new, but the strategy it uses to market that product is very different. Bored of the industrially brewed lager in the UK, BrewDog decided to make a change by shaking up the way companies communicate with their customers. Their beverages capture the imagination and make people take notice.


Patagonia might not be a company that’s as well-known as many consumer brands, but it belongs on this list of disruptive brand examples thanks to its reputation for world-changing marketing strategies and exciting new products.

Devoted to their mission statement, Patagonia created a brand that built the best possible products for customers, while protecting the earth at the same time.


Whether you call it disruption, innovative disruption, or transformation, it’s really about change, lots and lots of change, and that is no longer disruptive.