Linking disruptive & incremental innovation

Updated: Jun 14, 2019

In the recent article 'Incremental Vs. Disruptive innovation' I introduced the primary difference between these two types of innovation.


Knowledge is the starting point for incremental innovation, which aims at creating a better, faster and cheaper version of the current product or service (status quo).


The starting point for disruptive innovation is creativity. Differently from incremental change, disruptive innovation aims at creating a different solution to a customer problem. This solution takes form in a new product or service.


As well as suggesting a different solution to a well-known customer problem, disruptive innovation enables businesses to re-frame their understanding of the client's problem.


The ability of an organisation to re-frame the perception of a problem depends upon creative thinking.


See video Full Screen.


It's worth here to highlight three different but complementary ways of business thinking:

  • Strategic thinking: focusses on the competitive advantage of an organisation, it developed through the 70's and 80's. (Internal view of an organisation).

  • Design thinking and human centred design: focus on the customers' needs. (External view of an organisation).

  • Creative thinking applies both to the internal and external view of an organisation and is a mental posture rather than a theory.

The result of disruptive innovation is not a polished new product or service, but rather a prototype a new 'raw' version of a new solution.


This point is critical. Here is where disrupting innovation meets incremental innovation. Creative thinking has done its course; now rational thinking is accountable for turning a prototype into a finished product valuable to the customers.


Despite what we might think, incremental and disruptive innovation are not mutually exclusive, and one is not better than the other; they play a different part in the innovation journey of organisations. In maintaining a sustainable innovation effort, organisations need to master both disruptive and incremental innovation.

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