Understanding the Difference Between Disruptive vs. Radical Innovation

We say it all the time, but innovation is the lifeblood of any successful business. It’s simple—companies that don’t innovate don’t survive. RIP.

However, we admit that “innovation” is a pretty vague term that can encompass a lot of things. To get more specific, there are three types of innovation: sustaining, disruptive, and radical. Sustaining innovation is common and consists of incremental improvements that help a business stay competitive but aren’t particularly revolutionary. Companies that have managed to stay in business for any length of time are probably comfortable with sustaining innovation.

But what about the other two types—disruptive and radical innovation? Today we'll explain the difference between disruptive vs. radical innovation, examples of each, and how to harness them both to transform your business into a kickass innovation machine.


What Is Disruptive Innovation?

Disruptive innovation improves existing products and services by making them more functional, accessible, or affordable. It begins when an innovator identifies a gap in their industry that isn’t being capitalized on as well as it could be. Then, they develop an improved product or service to take advantage of the gap, hopefully providing the business with a significant competitive advantage.

Apple is an excellent example of a company that has mastered disruptive innovation. Think about all the Apple products that have been massively successful over the years, like the Macintosh PC, the iPod, and the iPad (Not the iPhone, though—we’ll get to that in a minute. And this isn't going to be an iPhone vs. Android discussion. We are classier than that). Apple didn’t invent personal computers, mp3 players, or tablets. Each of those products existed before Apple introduced its version, but it improved the existing concepts and made them more marketable through disruptive innovation. Now, Apple is one of the biggest companies in the world—and it’s largely thanks to disruptive innovation.


What Is Radical Innovation?

In contrast to disruptive innovation, radical innovation focuses on fundamentally changing behaviors and business structures to secure long-term competitiveness. Radical innovation may displace current products, invent completely new products, or revolutionize entire industries.

Radical innovation even has the potential to change peoples’ lives. For example, no single product has come to define modern society so much as the iPhone. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it wasn’t the first smartphone on the market—but none of them had ever had the kind of radical impact the iPhone did.

What was different about the iPhone that made it radical vs. disruptive innovation? There were a lot of reasons it was successful, but two important features were the touch screen and the App Store.

Smartphones before the iPhone were unwieldy, usually requiring a keyboard with tiny buttons or a stylus that was impossible not to lose within the first five minutes. The iPhone’s touch screen, with support for gestures like pinching to zoom, was intuitive and easy to use in a way that had never been pulled off.

However, user-friendliness isn’t enough for a product to be successful. Early smartphones and PDAs weren’t just clumsy to use, they also weren’t all that useful. Most people didn’t have a smartphone before 2007—and not just because they couldn’t afford one, but because they didn’t think they needed one. Smartphones were a niche product for the most high-tech users.

The App Store changed all that. Not only was the iPhone easy to use, there were things you could use it for. Remember the tagline? “There’s an app for that.” The App Store made the iPhone useful. But more than that, it laid the foundations for an entire economy of online services that changed not just the mobile phone industry but the very way we live and work. Companies like Uber, Snapchat, and Venmo owe their existence to one product—the iPhone. Now that’s radical innovation.


Disruptive vs. Radical Innovation: Embrace Both With KICKBOX

Just as with Apple, disruptive vs. radical innovation doesn’t have to be a one-or-the-other choice. The most innovative companies constantly disrupt their industry while always looking for the next big radical innovation.

Radical innovation doesn’t just happen on its own, though. Businesses that have successfully revolutionized their industries did it by employing winning innovation strategies to make it happen.

rready provides leaders with all the tools they need to cultivate disruptive and radical innovation in their organizations. Our proven KICKBOX methodology generates bottom-up innovation by tapping into the potential of your entire organization. From there, we help you identify the next big idea and take it all the way to execution.


rready will take you beyond disruptive vs. radical innovation ideas and prime your organization to produce consistent, powerful innovation from the bottom up. Contact us today to get your journey started.

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