Nondisruptive Creation: Rethinking Innovation and Growth

It’s time to dispel the myth that innovation must be disruptive. Nondisruptive creation is an alternative path to growth.

In recent years disruption has become the battle cry of business. Disruption occurs when an innovation creates a new market and business model that cause established players to fall. We love the ease of taking, sharing, and storing digital photographs — a disruption that led to the demise of both Kodak and the once ubiquitous film market. Millions of us benefit from Uber’s driver-on-demand service, even as it displaces existing taxi companies.

Not surprisingly, many have come to view disruption as a synonym for innovation. Scores of articles offer advice on how to succeed as a disruptive innovator and how to defend against a disruptive challenger. Corporate leaders are continually warned that disruption lurks around every corner and that the only way to survive, succeed, and grow is to disrupt their industries or even their own companies.

But is disruption the only way to innovate and grow? Is it even the best way? Our research and analysis over the last three decades suggest that the answer is no. Disruption may be what people talk about, and it’s certainly important and all around us. But we found that a single-minded focus on disruption leads companies to overlook another building block of innovation and growth — one that we would argue is more important.1

That other building block is what we call nondisruptive creation, which offers a new way of thinking about what’s possible. It highlights the immense potential for creating new markets where none existed before. This is creation without disruption or destruction. All the demand generated by this kind of innovation is new.

Most companies remain stuck in the mindset that in order to create you must disrupt or destroy. The time has come to fully embrace the idea that you can create without destroying. Nondisruptive creation breaks the existing frame on innovation and growth and allows for a much broader view of how they are generated. It expands the conversation about where real opportunities reside.

In this article we define nondisruptive creation; outline its distinctive advantages for established companies, startups, and society; and offer a framework to help leaders charged with driving innovation achieve the kind of growth that best suits their companies. We then spotlight which strategies trigger nondisruptive creation and which lead to disruption.

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