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Disruptive Innovation vs. Sustaining Innovation

Understanding the Difference

Disruptive Innovation vs. Sustaining Innovation

GUEST POST from Chateau G Pato

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, innovation is often seen as the key to success. Companies are constantly seeking ways to gain a competitive advantage and stay ahead of the curve. Two concepts that often come up in discussions about innovation are disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation. Understanding the difference between these two types of innovation is crucial for companies looking to navigate the ever-changing marketplace effectively. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between disruptive and sustaining innovation and provide two real-world case studies to illustrate their practical applications.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation refers to the introduction of a new product, service, or business model that fundamentally changes the existing market dynamics. It often disrupts traditional industries, displacing established products or services. Disruptive innovations usually start by serving niche markets or addressing the needs of under-served customers, eventually gaining traction and undermining existing market leaders. They often offer unique value propositions or bring significant cost advantages, enabling them to capture previously overlooked customer segments.

One prominent case study of disruptive innovation is Uber. Before Uber entered the transportation industry, traditional taxi services dominated the market. However, Uber brought a revolutionary business model by leveraging technology to connect passengers directly with drivers using their own vehicles. This disruptive approach offered several advantages like lower fares, real-time tracking, and cashless payments, giving it a competitive edge over traditional taxi services. This innovation not only transformed the ride-hailing industry but also revolutionized urban transportation around the world.

Sustaining Innovation

In contrast to disruptive innovation, sustaining innovation refers to incremental improvements made to existing products, services, or business models. It focuses on enhancing features, quality, or performance, helping companies improve their current market position or maintain a competitive advantage. Sustaining innovation allows companies to meet customer demands, keep up with changing market trends, and strengthen their market share by appealing to existing customers.

Apple’s evolution in the smartphone industry provides a compelling case study for sustaining innovation. When the first iPhone was introduced in 2007, it completely transformed the mobile phone landscape. However, instead of betting everything on a single disruptive innovation, Apple consistently pursued sustaining innovation by releasing new iterations of the iPhone each year. These subsequent models offered incremental improvements like faster processors, better cameras, and enhanced user experiences. By continually enhancing their product, Apple was able to maintain its market dominance and keep customers engaged, despite fierce competition from rival smartphone manufacturers.

Understanding the Difference

Differentiating between disruptive and sustaining innovation is crucial for businesses looking to adapt and thrive in today’s dynamic market environment. Disruptive innovation represents breakthrough changes that challenge existing norms, while sustaining innovation represents iterative enhancements aimed at maintaining market leadership.

By understanding the difference between these two forms of innovation, companies can make informed decisions about their strategic direction. They can identify opportunities for disruptive innovation to explore new markets, attract under-served customers, and potentially disrupt established industries. Simultaneously, they can also focus on sustaining innovation to enhance their existing products or services, ensuring they stay relevant and competitive.


Disruptive innovation and sustaining innovation play distinct roles in driving business success. While disruptive innovation can revolutionize industries and create new markets, sustaining innovation is essential for maintaining market dominance and satisfying current customer demands. Striking the right balance between these two forms of innovation can shape a company’s growth and longevity in an ever-evolving market.

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