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Understanding Patterns of Disruption by Ken Gleason, Q. Ethan McCallum

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Understanding Patterns of Disruption

Every business needs help at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an established market leader, a large firm trying to reset its course, or a startup: sooner or later, the odds are stacked against you, and a little boost will help. A big boost would be even better.

And, with a bit of luck, it happens: something comes along that makes it easier for you to enter a new market, or improves your odds of survival in the current one. Maybe a competitor folds and you can claim its business. Maybe an unlikely investor comes along and extends your runway. Of particular interest to us are those shifts—new tools or fresh takes on old ideas—that suddenly enable new products or services, make companies far more efficient, or otherwise demolish barriers to entry. For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll call those disruptive forces.

Like a lot of terms that are thrown around these days—“data science,” “innovation,” and “artificial intelligence,” to name a few—the term disruption means different things based on who’s talking.

Many trace the first popular usage of the term back to Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (Harvard Business Review).1 The book has been a staple of business schools for quite some time and has, more recently, been adopted by startup communities. Per Christensen, a successful disruptive force meets the following criteria:

It contains an enabling technology

One or more elements serve a core function in the offering. ...

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