Comparatively Speaking: Disruptive Innovation vs. Sustaining Innovation

Disruptive innovation: This process results in solutions and products that change the market. In other words, the effect is new and revolutionary. The automobile was a disruptive technology for the horse-pulled wagon. Disruptive technology is a technology that forever alters the market. Generally, it is carried out by new entrants into the market.

Sustaining innovation: This innovation that provides an incremental change or improvement to existing technology. An example is the evolution of standard nail polish to quick-dry nail polish. Another is the development of lipstick into transfer-resistant lipstick. It is often difficult for new market entrants to break through with an incremental innovation, whereas established companies have the resources to act and the customer base to respond

Another way to think of the difference is that disruptive technology is a step out of the current technology, often requiring a great deal of creativity. Sustaining innovation is a “lean out” of the current technology, seen as similar but with an improvement.

Enlightened companies are spending more time looking at disruptive technologies. This makes sense considering that regulatory changes may forbid the use of key raw materials a drastic reformulation. Enlightened companies investigate the result of this action and look for a disruptive technology that might answer the need.

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