Innovating from the Front: A Methodology for Developing Effective Disruptive Innovations

Nicolas G. Starck-King


Clayton M. Christensen first coined the term “disruptive technologies” to describe why great companies fail. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, he argues that well-managed companies fail because the structure, procedures, and strategies that enabled them to become industry leaders are actually counterproductive to the development of and response to disruptive innovations. These disruptions tend to have several common attributes including improved simplicity, reliability, and convenience for the consumer. Christensen contends that listening to customer feedback and expert opinions causes companies to focus on sustaining technologies, improvements to existing technologies within the established value proposition. Using the example of Intuit and their Quicken software, Christensen demonstrates that observing how customers use a product rather than customer feedback is a more effective method of developing disruptive innovations. While Christensen’s work focuses on for-profit commercial firms, Montgomery C. Meigs observed a similar methodology in his analysis of subsurface warfare in World War II. In Slide Rules and Submarines Meigs details the scientific efforts in overcoming the threat posed by German U-boats during the first half of the Second World War. Meigs showed the effectiveness in embedding scientists and engineers forward to observe first-hand, the environment and challenges resulting from this threat. It was these embedded scientists and engineers that designed the modifications to existing technologies and created the innovations that ultimately enabled the allies to overcome the German’s tactics. Applying lessons from Christensen’s theory of developing effective disruptive innovations and Meigs’ insights on the benefits of embedding technical experts in the operational environment allows us to develop a framework for more effectively developing disruptive innovations for military challenges in the rapidly evolving battlefields of the 21st Century.


Disruptive technology; technological development

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