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Incremental Vs. disruptive innovation

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

t's the difference between incremental and disruptive innovation? I'm asked this question more and more often.

As a picture is worth one thousand words, let's create it together.


Download here a PDF version of this image.

We can understand incremental innovation through the work of specialists and technicians. As hikers walking the long trail, experts spend their lives learning, refining and mastering the best practices in their field. Their work is essential, and many nations lack of a sufficient number of specialised workforce.

Disruptive innovation, on the other hand, is something instantaneous, and most likely to happen when we are not 'consciously' thinking about our product or service. Furthermore, I would suggest that the more we know about our product or service, the more difficult is for us to stumble upon disruptive innovation.

The fundamental differences between incremental and disruptive innovation are their starting point and their desired outcomes.

Knowledge is the primary source of incremental innovation. By knowing their product and the processes required to manufacture it, experts apply and adapt new technologies to improve efficiency and reducing errors and defects. Incremental innovation aspires to perfection.



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Creativity and not knowledge is the starting point for disruptive innovation. Let's define creativity the ability to shift our perception of one or more parts of our current strategy.

As you can see from the picture above, disruptive innovation is not about creating something better, faster or cheaper than our current product, but rather something different. It's worth highlighting here that this difference is not in the activities required to manufacture our product, but rather in the value that it creates.