If It Isn't Disruptive Innovation Then What Is It? Try 'Quantum Innovation' On For Size


Excerpted from a Forbes.com article by Craig Hatkoff and Irwin Kula: Is a new lexicon in disruption emerging? Adi Ignatius, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, recently interviewed Professor Clayton Christensen on the heels of Professor Jill Lepore’s now-famous rant about disruptive innovation in The New Yorker. The ensuing controversy put Christensen and his theory at the center of the storm. But his comments in the interview held some interesting clues as to how he sees the future of disruptive innovation. He admitted to the HBR editor-in-chief that “the choice of the word ‘disruption’ was a mistake I made twenty years ago.”  Christensen’s comment begged the question: if not ‘disruptive’ innovation then what should it be called?

During the interview Christensen made some off-the-cuff comments about  his own concerns  regarding the out-of-control usage of the term “disruptive.” So casual were his comments about the problematic semantics of disruption that it likely flew right over the heads of many. But there it was. What was Christensen saying? Disruptive Innovation? A mistake?? A stark contrast to what Lepore and other naysayers would have you believe. But Lepore did raise some valid points in the  academic pile-on in The New Yorker. Even if inadvertent, she  made a contribution to the theory as Christensen acknowledged in his interview; since the introduction of the term in the mid-nineties the use of the terms “disruptive innovation” and “disruptive” has proliferated beyond all reason.

It follows that if everything is disruptive, then nothing is disruptive. From a branding point of view there are simply too many definitions and meanings for the family of disruptive nouns, verbs and adjectives. The imprecise usage, both explicit and nuanced, have hijacked a common and consistent understanding of the theory while diluting its intent, potency and development. Was there an alternative label floating around somewhere in the innovation space?…

Read the full Forbes article online on the Off White Papers blog. Originally written by Craig Hatkoff and Irwin Kula and published on August 21st, 2014, the Off White Papers are part of Forbes’ Leadership section, contemplating the deeper, disruptive angles of historically and emerging innovations from healthcare and politics to arts and culture.   


Angela Brugioni