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  • 18 Breaking Disruptive Innovation Examples 2023

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    Introduction to Disruptive Innovation

    Sometimes, building a unique brand that stands the test of time isn’t just about finding out where you fit in the current market. It’s more about finding an entirely new way to break even. To help you begin your journey towards disruptive innovation, we’ve put together a list of disruptive innovation examples.

    These are some of the best companies that, one way or another, have transformed their industries. With these disruptive innovation company examples, you can also learn how to position your brand or business for success.

    You can learn much more about innovation strategies in our new book, How to Create Innovation, which describes comprehensive approaches including mindsets, structures, and strategies to innovate in less time, with fewer resources, and more success. 

    You’re invited to register for the download now!

    Related: Innovation Examples: 10 Companies That Transformed Their Industries

    But before we proceed, let’s take a closer look at what disruptive innovation is.

    What Is Disruptive Innovation?

    Disruptive innovation is the process whereby a new company storms a market, outperforms, displaces, and disrupts established brands and players. Such a company eventually transforms the market and changes the way successful businesses operate.

    It is usually an innovation strategy that makes highly sophisticated and expensive products or services, which begin by being available only to high-income consumers, more affordable, and accessible to a larger consumer base.

    This transformation and innovation disrupt the market by displacing established and long-standing competitors.

    Disruptive Innovation
    Disruptive Innovation

    Disruptive innovation does not improve or enhance products and services for the same target consumers. Rather, it is a process that leverages technologies to make such products and services affordable and available to a larger, non-targeted market. A perfect example of disruptive innovation is seen in the introduction of music downloads, which replaced compact discs (CDs).

    When it comes to growth, most organizations think about revenue. The revenue model is however only one part of the equation. Achieving an “unfair advantage” and establishing an operating, value, service, and experience model are all important sections to look at. The UNITE Business Model Innovation Patterns allow you to accelerate or even create exponential growth by including a unique set of patterns in your business model!

    Business Model Innovation Patterns
    The UNITE Business Model Innovation Patterns
    Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the 10 types of innovation from Doblin, the SS Business Models from the University of St.Gallen, and the Business Model Gallery

    Related: The UNITE Business Model Innovation Patterns

    How does Disruptive Innovation Work?

    Disruptive innovation begins with a new brand identifying a gap in the industry that has been neglected, or a fraction of the population overlooked for a while. They will eventually develop an improved product or service that is more affordable and convenient, reaching the target population and consumers who had been previously ignored.

    Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how it works:

    (1) Identifying a market gap:

    Disruptive innovations often emerge when entrepreneurs identify a gap in the market for a particular product or service. For example, the rise of electric vehicles was a response to a growing demand for more sustainable and eco-friendly transportation options.

    (2) Introducing a new product or technology:

    The next step is to introduce a new product or technology that addresses the market gap. This new product or technology may initially be less refined or less functional than existing products, but it provides a solution to the market gap.

    (3) Gaining traction:

    As the new product or technology gains traction, it begins to disrupt the existing market and value network. Customers start to switch from traditional products to new ones, and the new products become more popular and widely adopted.

    (4) Disrupting the existing market:

    As more customers adopt the new product or technology, the existing market begins to feel the impact. The traditional players in the market may struggle to compete with the new product, and they may be forced to either adapt or lose market share.

    (5) Creating a new market:

    Over time, the new product or technology becomes the new standard, and the existing market is completely disrupted. A new market and value network is created, with the new product or technology at the center.

    What makes a successful Disruptive Innovation?
    What makes a successful Disruptive Innovation?

    Disruptive innovation views less profitable spaces as the entrance point to gaining a foothold in the industry. Then, through continuous innovation and improvement, these companies can break even in the wider competitive market. Usually equipped with better products and services and an understanding of customer experience, the company can displace other established brands from the market.

    Related: https://digitalleadership.com/blog/jobs-to-be-done/

    These established brands tend to make the initial mistake of overlooking the strategy and approach of the new entrant, and before they know it, they are displaced for good.

    15 Examples of Successful Disruptive Innovations

    1- IBM Disruptive Innovation

    IBM (International Business Machines Company) is a multinational technology company based in the United States. The company is recognized globally as a disruptive brand, thanks to its innovative computer hardware and incredible technology. The International Business Machines Company launched into the technology market, intending to make the most outstanding solutions around. And today, they are the world leader in mainframe computers and nano-technology.

    The Disruptive innovation of IBM Brand

    IBM single-handedly changed the way we process data today. The company became a machine learning and artificial intelligence pioneer with the technology/design of “Watson.”

    Moreover, they helped NASA track the flight of orbital technology. The company also created the first computing machine globally and is the brains behind the development of the first universal product code and barcode reader.

    Indeed, without IBM’s disruptive innovation, we would not have recorded tremendous success in innovative technology as we have today.

    2- General Electric Disruptive Innovation

    General Electric is also one of the best disruptive innovation examples. It is an American multinational conglomerate based in Connecticut. General Electric is considered a disruptive innovation company example because it founded the first Radio Corporation in 1919 and pioneered electric motors, electric lamp manufacturing, and lighting fixtures.

    The Disruptive innovation of GE brand

    Without this disruptive company, the radio as you know it today would never have been in existence. General Electric is the company behind the establishment of international radio stations and the manufacturing of radio sets. The company also made the first TV broadcast demonstration.

    Moreover, their technical know-how in power generation indicates they created the first aircraft turbo-supercharges, which ushered in jet engines in 1941.

    Indeed, General Electric owes most of its innovative technologies to the research of scientists like Thomas Edison and Michael Faraday, who discovered electricity. Nonetheless, the world would have been a much darker place without the technology/innovation of GE. Before the innovation of General Electric, we didn’t have the electrified, brightly lit, and modern world we have today.

    3- Ford Motors Disruptive Innovation

    Ford might not have been the automobile company responsible for the creation/manufacturing of the world’s first car, but it did change the way automobile companies made automobiles.

    Therefore, it disrupted the automobile industry for good. In 1913, Ford positively affected the automobile industry forever by designing the world’s first moving assembly line. This innovation meant that the company could mass-produce new vehicles that were affordable for all customers.

    The disruptive innovation of Ford Motors

    Before Ford’s disruptive innovation, it was practically impossible for anyone outside the high/royal class to own a car. However, with Ford’s mass production strategy, it became possible for the average class to own a vehicle.

    4- FedEx Disruptive Innovation

    FedEx is another disruptive innovation company that transformed its industry. It single-handedly helped to deliver the concept of “express” mail. Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, beat all limitations to change the way mail and packages were transported worldwide by purchasing an aviation firm.

    The Disruptive Innovation of the FedEx brand

    FedEx began with a mission and vision to tackle the challenges and inefficiencies in the shipping practices. As a result, the concept of “express mail” delivery was birthed.

    FedEx’s disruptive innovation became a reality because one man decided to beat all odds and make a difference. This is the core value of all disruptive brands.

    5- Google Disruptive Innovation

    As the list of disruptive innovation company examples goes on, Google is one brand worthy of mention.

    Google is at the forefront of coming up with new ways to change the world. It is a search engine solution that made it possible for the world to find answers/solutions to pressing questions with just one click. Today if you want to find the answer to “anything,” you simply “Google it.”

    The Disruptive Innovation of the Google Brand

    The Google brand is far more than just a search engine solution. Over the years, it continues to pioneer new innovations and technologies like virtual assistants, smartphones, and more.

    Google now gives IT experts access to open-sourced technology in the developer space, which they can use to develop their own customized machine learning-powered apps.

    6- Sony Disruptive Innovation

    From 1950 to 1980, the Sony brand changed the way the world perceived video and audio products. Although the company was not responsible for the manufacturing of the world’s first transistor, it introduced a classic design in 1957 that altered the way people listen to music.

    The Disruptive Innovation of the Sony Brand

    In 1960, Sony introduced the first color television, thus changing the global standard for entertainment technology. Again, in 1979, they came up with another innovation that transformed our ability to listen to music. Over the years, Sony has carved a niche for itself as an industry innovator and disruptive brand.

    7- Walmart Disruptive Innovation

    Most disruptive brands made their names by making their products and services more accessible and affordable to a wider target market. Netflix, for instance, made movies more accessible to people who did not want to go out to buy movies whenever they wanted to watch movies. On the other hand, Walmart made shopping more accessible to everyone regardless of their locale by offering the lowest prices possible for all products.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Walmart the Brand

    Within a short time, Walmart became one of the most popular online stores in America because it came up with an innovation that seeks to make products and services available and accessible to consumers at cheaper prices. The more they experienced rapid expansion, the more they were able to discount their products and services. Thus, they attract millions of customers weekly across different regions.

    8- Visa Disruptive Innovation

    Visa is the first disruptive innovative brand in the financial industry. In 1958, the world experienced a radical change in the way people spent money when the Bank of America issued their first credit card.

    As at that time, the credit card had a small spending limit of $300, and the unfortunate part was that the card only worked in California. However, this ushered us into an era where people could spend credit rather than physical cash.

    The Disruptive Technology of Visa brand

    The credit card innovation was a welcomed development, and by 1974 it had gone global. In 1976 the marketing department decided to change the name to a universal one- as such, the name “Visa” was birthed.

    Visa literally changed the way we buy things. With a quick flash of a card, you can instantly pay for products and services without carrying piles of cash everywhere you go.

    9- McDonald’s Disruptive Innovation

    You might want to wonder why McDonald’s is featured in this disruptive innovation company example. But the fact is, without McDonald’s innovations, you might not have fast food the way you know it today.

    This brand started small in San Bernardino, California, with two brothers making fast but delicious burgers. It became a global brand through the collaboration of a man called Ray Krok for $2.7 million.

    The Disruptive Innovation of McDonald’s

    Currently, the McDonald’s brand is one of the most renowned brands in the world. They are unique arches in over 119 countries, with numerous burgers and fast-food restaurants established on the foundation of their concept and vision of fast food.

    10- Facebook Disruptive Innovation

    Obviously, Facebook is one of the best disruptive innovation company examples that changed the way we communicate with people across the globe. Facebook is one of the most significant disruptive brands online with its numerous social media platforms.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Facebook

    Mark Zuckerberg, the brain behind Facebook, was a Psychology student at Harvard who wanted a simpler way of connecting with friends online. Facebook was originally designed as an application to help undergrads connect and meet with each other in college.

    The initiative quickly outgrew the Harvard campus and today it’s the most popular social media platform in the world.

    Facebook currently has over 1 billion active users, and over 50% of adults check their accounts immediately after they wake up every morning.

    11- Amazon Disruptive Innovation

    When Jeff Bezos wanted to start his own online retail company, he originally intended to call it “Cadabra.” However, when someone mistakenly confused the name for the name “Cadaver,” he immediately changed the name to Amazon instead.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Amazon Brand

    The name of this innovative brand is more significant than you can imagine. Bezos chose the name “Amazon” with the intention that it will rank and come first in the search list- as algorithms were in alphabetical order back then. Moreover, he also liked the fact that the name contained both an “A” and a “Z” since he wanted the online store to sell products from every niche across the globe.

    Amazon was the first company to disrupt the way we buy products online and is one of today’s ultimate disruptive brands. It had grown to become the one-stop-shop for practically everything you need.

    12- Apple Disruptive Innovation

    When Apple first stormed the technology space. It wasn’t a disruptive or innovative brand– it was nothing but an overpriced computer company. Then, in 2001, Apple released its very first innovative iPod, which made it easier for people to carry music wherever they went.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Apple Brand

    The success of the iPod led to other innovative devices from Apple. The company made one of the world’s first mobile touch-screen devices and led the mass production of other important smartphones. If it wasn’t for Apple’s disruptive innovation, there’s little chance that we will have touch-screen smartphones by now.

    Although many other companies have emerged over the years offering mobile touch-screen devices like Apple. However, Apple remains the company that changed how we use technology and ensured we always have portable devices within our reach.

    13- Netflix Disruptive Innovation

    Netflix is another disruptive innovation brand in the world. They initially started as a pretty boring innovation, mailing out DVDs to customers who wanted a blockbuster-like experience at home.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Netflix Brand

    Initially, the company targeted people looking for easy entertainment who might not be interested in watching the latest chart-topping movies. However, after they experienced a level of success in the marketplace, the founders and brains behind Netflix decided to restrategize their business model. They moved from their (digital) business strategy of mailing DVDs to streaming.

    Netflix vx. BLOCKBUSTERS Disruption
    Netflix vs. BLOCKBUSTERS Disruption

    The exclusive decision to grant customers access to streaming movies online meant that Netflix could officially displace Blockbuster out of business. Now, many people across the world use Netflix as their official movie streaming platform.

    14-  Uber Disruptive Innovation

    Uber is one of the most disruptive innovation companies in the world. In towns and cities worldwide, taxi cabs have proven to be the best form of public transport, especially when you are in a hurry and cannot wait for a bus, train or even your car. Naturally, therefore, you need to shell out extra cash for a taxi cab.

    The Disruptive Innovation of Uber

    Uber decided to carve a niche for itself as one of the ultimate disruptive brands by making transportation more available, accessible, comfortable, and affordable. With just a push of a button, you can have a car sent to you right where you are without wasting much time.

    Uber created lots of opportunities for people by allowing them to become passengers or drivers based on their individual needs. If you’re looking for a ride, you can get something more modern and cheaper. If you need extra cash, you can use your car to make additional income. Uber is transport re-defined.

    15- Crypto Currency Disruptive Innovation

    Disruptive innovation has entered the world of finance. Bitcoin along with other digital currencies are altering the way we view money. According to Peter Diamandis observes, cryptocurrencies have made cash “more digitized, dematerialized, and democratized than ever before.”

    Related: Digitization vs Digitalization: Differences, Definitions, and Examples

    Bitcoin is also a method for individuals to take “money” from the hands of bankers. What is the reason bankers, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve have so much control over financial and economic affairs, in the first place?

    16- Tesla Disruptive Innovation

    Tesla is disrupting the traditional automobile industry by introducing electric vehicles (EVs) that challenge traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in terms of performance, range, and sustainability. Here are a few ways that Tesla has disrupted the traditional automobile industry:

    • Electric powertrains: Tesla’s EVs use electric powertrains, which are more efficient and sustainable than traditional ICE engines. This has allowed Tesla to offer vehicles with longer ranges and faster acceleration, which are more appealing to customers.
    • Innovative design: Tesla’s vehicles feature a minimalist and futuristic design that sets them apart from traditional vehicles. The company’s focus on design has helped to break down the stigma around EVs and make them more appealing to a wider range of customers.
    • Direct-to-consumer sales model: Tesla has disrupted the traditional automotive sales model by selling its vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing traditional dealerships. This allows Tesla to control the customer experience from start to finish and to offer a more streamlined and efficient purchasing process.
    • Over-the-air updates: Tesla has disrupted the traditional automotive aftermarket by offering over-the-air software updates that allow the company to improve its vehicles after they have been sold. This has given Tesla a significant advantage over traditional car manufacturers, which typically only offer updates during scheduled maintenance appointments.
    • Focus on sustainability: Tesla has disrupted the traditional automobile industry by focusing on sustainability and environmental responsibility. The company’s EVs emit significantly less greenhouse gases than traditional vehicles, and Tesla is working to expand its battery and charging infrastructure to make EVs more accessible to customers around the world.

    17- DropBox Disruptive Innovation

    Dropbox disrupted the traditional file storage and sharing industry by introducing a cloud-based file storage and collaboration platform. The company’s innovative approach to file storage and sharing has created a new market and value network centered around cloud-based file storage, and it has challenged traditional file storage providers to keep up with the demand for more accessible and convenient storage options.

    Here are a few ways that Dropbox disrupted the traditional file storage and sharing industry:

    • Cloud-based storage: Dropbox was one of the first companies to offer cloud-based file storage and sharing. This allowed users to store and share files from any device with an internet connection, which made it much more convenient than traditional file storage solutions.
    • User-friendly interface: Dropbox’s user interface was designed to be easy to use and intuitive, even for non-technical users. This helped to increase the adoption of cloud-based file storage and challenged traditional file storage providers to improve the user experience of their products.
    • Collaboration tools: Dropbox introduced collaboration tools that allowed users to work together on shared files in real time. This made it easier for teams to collaborate on projects and challenged traditional file storage providers to keep up with the demand for more flexible collaboration tools.
    • Integration with other tools: Dropbox integrated with other productivity tools such as Microsoft Office, Google Docs, and Slack, which made it easier for users to use Dropbox within their existing workflows. This has helped to increase the adoption of Dropbox and challenged traditional file storage providers to integrate with other productivity tools.
    • Security and privacy: Dropbox has invested in security and privacy features to protect its users’ data. The company has implemented strong encryption, multi-factor authentication, and other security measures to ensure the privacy and security of its users’ data. This has challenged traditional file storage providers to improve the security of their products and to ensure the privacy of their users’ data.

    18- Spotify’s Disruptive innovation

    Spotify disrupted the traditional music industry by introducing a music streaming service that allowed customers to listen to music on demand. The company created a new market and value network centered around music streaming and has challenged traditional music companies to adapt to the new market dynamics.

    Here are a few ways that Spotify disrupted the traditional music industry:

    • On-demand streaming: Spotify was one of the first companies to offer on-demand music streaming, which allowed users to listen to any song they wanted, whenever they wanted. This was a radical departure from traditional music models, which were based on ownership of physical or digital music files.
    • Personalized recommendations: Spotify introduced personalized recommendations based on a user’s listening habits and preferences. This helped to increase the value of the service for users and challenged traditional music companies to improve the quality of their recommendations.
    • Integration with other tools: Spotify integrated with other tools such as social media platforms, music production software, and fitness apps, which made it easier for users to use Spotify within their existing workflows. This has helped to increase the adoption of Spotify and challenged traditional music companies to integrate with other tools.
    • Music discovery: Spotify has invested in music discovery features, such as curated playlists, that help users find new music and artists. This has helped to increase the value of the service for users and challenged traditional music companies to improve their music discovery features.
    • Licensing agreements: Spotify has entered into licensing agreements with major music labels and publishers, which has allowed the company to offer a large and diverse music library to its users. This has challenged traditional music companies to enter into similar agreements with music streaming services.

    Disruptive Innovation Contention with Example

    There is a contention as to what makes an innovation or technology “disruptive.” The term has been used to describe technologies and innovations that are not truly disruptive.

    We want to state categorically that technology is only disruptive if it had never been in existence and is not an iteration of existing technology. For instance, the internet was disruptive because it was not an iteration of previous technology.

    A classic example of the disruptive nature of the internet being unleased was how it restructured the bookselling industry.

    Amazon Kindle displaced and disrupted the bookselling industry because it could display its innovation and inventory without owning a physical store in any location. By so doing, it makes books available and accessible to all customers, regardless of their physical location.

    In contrast, the Model T car is not a disruptive technology because it improved existing technology, and it wasn’t generally accepted upon its launch. However,

    the automobile industry witnessed a major turnaround when mass production brought down prices; thus moving the entire transport system from hooves to wheels. The system of mass production, in this sense, meets the criteria for disruptive innovation.

    How to Create Innovation?

    Creating innovation is not always an easy task, but it is crucial for businesses to stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing environment. At Digital Leadership, we have written a book, “How to Create Innovation”, which is a comprehensive guide to help businesses of all sizes and industries to create innovation. Our book is written by industry experts who have years of experience in creating innovation for businesses.

    The book features over 50 tools and models that can be used to generate and implement innovative ideas. From ideation to execution, “How to Create Innovation” provides a step-by-step guide to help businesses at every stage of their innovation journey. Whether you are a start-up or a well-established organization, our book provides the guidance and tools necessary to foster an innovation culture and drive growth.

    Frequently Asked Question


    Here we have them: the top disruptive innovation company examples. Each of the companies featured in this post has significantly disrupted and transformed their industries. You don’t necessarily have to impact the world like the brands mentioned above to get ahead of the current market, but you need to find a unique way of standing out from the crowd.

    Related: Unfair Advantage: What is it, and how do you find yours?

    In a world where self-differentiation is becoming more of a challenge, disruptive innovation companies will always stand out.

    If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy our articles on Innovative Strategies and Innovation Strategy in Business, Creativity and Innovation , Customer Jobs to be Done, Disruptive Technology Trends & how to measure innovation.

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