What Are Examples of Disruptive Innovation?

October 20, 2021

First, let’s start with the definition of disruptive innovation. According to Investopedia, “Disruptive innovation refers to the innovation that transforms expensive or highly sophisticated products or services—previously accessible to a high-end or more skilled segment of consumers—to those that are more affordable and accessible to a broader population. This transformation disrupts the market by displacing long-standing, established competitors.”

If it is disruptive innovation, it is not “the process of improving or enhancing products for the same target group; rather, it involves the technologies used to make them easy to use and available to the larger, non-targeted market.” It may be safe to simplify this definition by saying it’s every entrepreneur’s dream opportunity. Although it’s not a concept that should be thrown around lightly, it is significant to identify disruptive technologies as they are emerging, both in terms of early investment and market opportunities.

From Harvard Business Review's "What is disruptive innovation?"

Let’s dig into three examples of disruptive innovation, and see how their process evolved. 

Evolution of Photography


Photography is a space where we observe several disruptive innovations. Before the camera was invented by Alphonse Giroux, people had to go to portrait artists to get their portraits done. After the invention of the camera, the target audience for portraits of people became much broader and new movements like getting rid of the obsessions for realism started to appear.

In the 20th century, the use of film cameras was quite broad. Human beings were constantly recording their moments to make them immortal. However, after the invention of digital cameras, film cameras were replaced by digital ones. Kodak lost its dominance significantly since it rejected digital cameras. There has been no need to buy films to take a shot of your moments since the invention of digital cameras. It is much easier to process your shots. However, after the cameras on smartphones became much higher quality, people have been taking photos using cell phone cameras. It is a lot easier and makes it possible to share the photos with everyone, quickly.

Evolution of Computers

Personal Computers

Personal computers affected previous computing forebears like the mainframe computer, much as smartphones disrupted laptops and personal computers. Mainframe computers were the earliest expression of digital technology. They were strong, but they cost a lot of money and took a lot of talent to own and operate. They were only accessible to the top institutions and universities, and they cost several million dollars each. Meanwhile, they could only be operated by specialists with years of experience. Later followed minicomputers, and then came the desktop computer. It quickly made its way into people's homes all around the world. Laptops (and later smartphones) continued to democratize technology with a little more time and ingenuity. When compared to the previously privileged, centralized market, the computer market exploded; many more people could now afford these products.

Evolution of Education Technology

Online Education

Online education, as a term, actually dates back to the early 2000s. For instance, Columbia University tried to share its lecture series online. You can also find a bunch of invaluable courses on MIT OCW. However, they were not successful at reaching their content out to the masses. Most of these platforms were just academic content and they were not giving certifications when completed. Around ten years later, the era of MOOCs (massive online open courses) started thanks to the efforts of Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, edX, etc. They did not just consist of academic courses; they also included numerous courses on all other topics ranging from photography to business courses. They were successful at capturing the attention of the general public because they began giving certifications when finishing these different courses. These certifications benefit people while finding jobs and trying many other things. On MOOCs, the courses are not only given by academic institutions but also companies (even individuals). When it came to the pandemic, online education became a must. We were obliged to online education. However, online education is still in its early stages. There are a lot of pain points that should need to be handled. For example, on MOOC platforms, the churn rates are considerably high; a lot of people are beginning the courses and not finishing them. If these problems are fixed, will this be enough to put online education on the map of disruptive innovation? 

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