What is Disruptive Innovation?

In today’s world, it seems that we hear the term “disruptive innovation” thrown around on an almost daily basis.  But what does it really mean?  Let’s take a closer look and see what really constitutes disruptive innovation.

Innovation in general is finding newer and better ways of doing things.  Disruptive innovation occurs when the new idea is so transformative that it shakes up an entire industry or population.  Successful innovators usually go on to become market leaders in their industry.

In order to become a successful innovator, one cannot be afraid to take chances even if that means failing on occasion.  Many people and companies considered as disruptive innovators have failed on numerous occasions.  Learn from your failures and continue to push the envelope.  Here is a look at 15 examples of disruptive innovation - some successes and some failures.

Examples of Disruptive Innovation


The iPhone is arguably one of the most disruptive innovations to ever come along.  The introduction of this device completely changed the cellphone market, and it also changed people’s expectations for future devices.

Its ease of use, combined with the latest features, made people embrace it.  Even today, the release of new iPhone models is highly anticipated and watched closely on a global scale.  The iPhone also changed the way that people wanted their content delivered, and it paved the way for other disruptive innovations after it. The iPhone was truly a successful disruptive innovation.


Napster was a disruptive innovation that allowed people to share digital files with each other with complete ease.  People began heavily using the service, but that is when the trouble started.  People started sharing copyrighted data, and things went downhill from there.

Napster became the target of many lawsuits as well as individual users of the platform.  People became afraid of being on the platform and the service ultimately failed as a result of everyone’s misuse.


Nothing has changed the transportation industry quite like Uber.  Uber found a way to run a taxi service without even buying a single vehicle. Today, Uber is the world’s largest taxi service.

Gone are the days of trying to flag down a cab to get a ride somewhere, never knowing for sure what you’ll owe at the end of the ride.  Uber allows users to select a ride from their seamless smartphone app, and they know exactly what the fare will be before agreeing to the ride.  It also lets drivers make money by working on their own schedule.  Uber has been a huge success.


MySpace was a disrupter in the early days of social media.  It allowed users to add friends and communicate with each other through their profile.  In fact, it was one of the first social media platforms available.

The concept definitely caught on, but MySpace itself did not keep up.  People lost interest and moved to other social platforms, so MySpace ended up failing in the end.


Shipt makes grocery shopping a breeze!  By using Shipt, you can order groceries from your local store through their app, and someone delivers them to your house at the time that you specify.

This is a huge innovation for working professionals, new moms, or anyone else who doesn’t have the time to visit the store.  Shipt has expanded to other items beyond groceries and was recently acquired by retail giant Target.  Shipt is absolutely a successful disruptive innovation.

Google Glass

Google Glass was a highly anticipated device that most thought would really take off.  However,concerns over the device grew, particularly around its discreet recording capability.  The device soon became banned in many locations, and sales flopped. While Google Glass is still in use in some applications today, it is generally considered a failure.


The invention of the DVR completely revolutionized the way that people watch television.  No more needing to be in front of the TV at the exact moment your favorite show airs,and you no longer have to sit through those boring commercials!  A DVR is present in most homes today, and most people probably couldn’t do without one. It was a true game-changer.


Upon its introduction, the Blackberry device was ahead of its time.  People had never been able to send and receive email from their handheld phone before, and those were features that people loved.  However, as smartphones progressed, BlackBerry refuses to move away from their tiny physical keyboard.  This ultimately led to people ditching the devices, and the company eventually stopped producing them altogether.


Netflix is a disruptive innovation that has become a household name.  Starting out renting DVD’s and video games through the mail, Netflix was able to come up with a service that changed the game.

Their streaming service allowed people to watch content whenever and wherever they wanted. Today, the company creates a lot of its own content, and it has become a huge success.


HD-DVD was set to become the replacement for traditional DVD’s by allowing people to watch High Definition video at home.  That is until Sony’s Blu-Ray came along.  Sony was able to create partnerships with studios and content providers that Toshiba was unable to land.  This essentially killed HD DVD, and the Blu-Ray went on to become the standard even to this day.


Facebook has been one of the largest disruptive innovations to society.  With nearly 2.5 billion users, it’s obvious that this was a successful innovation.  The platform allowed users to communicate and share their daily lives with friends in a way never before seen.  

Beta Max

This is one of the oldest inventions on the list, but it had an opportunity to be huge in its day. The Beta Max could have become the standard for video recording instead of VHS, but it didn’t happen.  Sony decided to keep its Beta Max technology proprietary which greatly limited the ability of others to make compatible items. In the end, VHS won out and Beta Max went by the wayside.

Digital Cameras

The world of photography had a massive change when digital cameras were introduced.  No more buying film and waiting days for the negatives to be developed.  People could snap multiple images and simply delete them if they didn’t turn out well. The digital camera industry is huge today, and photographers have not looked back.

Built-in Vehicle GPS

When vehicles began to have the option of a built-in GPS, it seemed like something that everyone would want. Simply input an address, and the car would direct you where to go.  However, problems soon arose with that scenario.

The maps inside the GPS became quickly outdated, and it was quite expensive to update them at the dealer. Also, the prevalence of cell phones with GPS which was always up to date had a detrimental effect.  Many cars today still include GPS, but most people prefer to use their phone.


It’s impossible to have a list of disruptive innovators without including Amazon.  You can order almost any product that you can think of, and it can be at your doorstep within two days.  Amazon’s level of service is what every other company in the world is compared to. They have truly changed the game, and they are a huge success.