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Encyclopedia of Technology and Innovation Management by Gina Colarelli O'Connor, V. K. Narayanan

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Chapter 6. Disruptive Technology

Erwin Danneels

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A disruptive technology is a specific type of technological innovation. In essence, a disruptive technology initially appeals only to a marginal market segment, but because of its improvement over time it can eventually satisfy the mainstream market. As a consequence, entrant firms that supported the disruptive technology displace incumbent firms that supported the prior technology.

The term "disruptive technology" was coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, and was widely popularized through his best-selling book the Innovator's Dilemma (1997). Despite the popular appeal of the concept, the essential characteristics of a disruptive technology remain ill-defined, and discussion about disruptive technology has often been muddled.

The concept of disruptive technology and its associated mechanisms are very complex. They consist of several conceptual building blocks, including (a) trajectories of performance, (b) market segments, (c) incumbency, and (d) allocation of resources.

A technology performance trajectory portrays the changes (improvements) of one or multiple technologies over time. Graphically, it contains the passage of time on the x-axis and the relevant performance metrics on the y-axis. A demand performance trajectory portrays the changing levels of performance required by various market segments over time. Graphically, it contains the passage of time on the x-axis and the ...

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