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Radical Innovation vs Disruptive Innovation

Radical Innovation & Disruptive Innovation is one of the more misunderstood key phrases within the world of innovation. This article will set focus on the issues of this misinterpretation.

The two forms of Innovation are often misunderstood, misused, or thought to be the same in some cases. However, that is not the truth behind the two terms. Actually, there can be drawn a clear distinguishing between them.

Both Disruptive Innovation and Radical Innovation is explained on the site. However, this article will emphasize the specific differences there is between the two.

Radical Innovation is often described as; a New Offering in a New Market. So, something that does not exist in the company’s current offering. Moreover, because it is challenging and risky to create Radical Innovation for one’s business, Radical Innovation often focused on strategy and long-term potential growth drivers. Compared to Disruptive Innovation, which is usually “product and customer-centric” in the business’s current segment. Whereas, Radical Innovation is aiming to find the revenue streams of tomorrow’s market.

Disruptive Innovation is in today’s academia and business world best known from the theory of Harvard Professor, Clayton Christenson. The model is a process in which new entrants challenge incumbent firms, often despite inferior resources. Disruptive Innovation can be achieved through entrants targeting underserved segments of the market with a product considered inferior by the incumbent’s most profitable customers. The entrants optimize their product offerings from there and move up in the market and eventually take over incumbents’ most profitable costumers.

The most important aspect to take away from the theory is the process of targeting the underserved market and working up in the market by continually optimizing the product offering. It is important because the theory also can be used by incumbents to defend against disruption.

What is the reason for the common misconception?

Various variables can be the cause of reason, that there is such a misconception of both terms. However, two apparent issues are, in our opinion, significant stakeholders in it.

One of the misconceptions of Disruptive Innovation was pointed out in 2015 just 20 years after it first was published, and by the father of the theory himself, Clayton Christenson. In a paper, he published in Harvard Business Review named “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”, he argued that his theory was becoming “a victim of its own success.” The theory has been picked up by many scholars since it first was published; unfortunately, it created too broad a use of the term.

In the paper, he mentions: “Many researchers, writers, and consultants use “disruptive innovation” to describe any situation in which an industry is shaken up, and previously successful incumbents stumble. But that’s much too broad a usage.”

He further states that too many people who speak of “disruption” have not read a serious book or article on the subject. Which leads us to the second apparent reason; the general conception of the word “disruption” does not equal to the theory’s use of it.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the term disruption is defined as – “the action of completely changing the traditional way that an industry or market operates by using new methods or technology.” This definition does not support the theory’s definition of Disruptive Innovation. Furthermore, it could seem that the mainstream just adds this description with the description of Innovation and believes that equals Disruptive Innovation.

When providing the issue perspective, it is understandable why the mainstream interpretation of the two terms occur. Nevertheless, it is an issue that harms the credibility of academic work in the field of Innovation.


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