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Simplicity is always a disruptive innovation September 10, 2009

Posted by jeremyliew in economics, games, startups.

Clayton Christensen introduced the concept of disruptive innovation in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma. Summarizes Wikipedia:

Disruptive technology and disruptive innovation are terms used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically by being lower priced or designed for a different set of consumers.

Disruptive innovations can be broadly classified into low-end and new-market disruptive innovations. A new-market disruptive innovation is often aimed at non-consumption (i.e., consumers who would not have used the products already on the market), whereas a lower-end disruptive innovation is aimed at mainstream customers for whom price is more important than quality.

Disruptive technologies are particularly threatening to the leaders of an existing market, because they are competition coming from an unexpected direction. A disruptive technology can come to dominate an existing market by either filling a role in a new market that the older technology could not fill (as cheaper, lower capacity but smaller-sized flash memory is doing for personal data storage in the 2000s) or by successively moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market incumbents (as digital photography has largely replaced film photography).

I was recently talking to Trip Hawkins, CEO of Digital Chocolate, and he made the claim that simplicity and ease of use aimed at non-consumption is always a disruptive innovation that threatens incumbents. I think he is right. Some examples include the Flip, which disrupted consumer video cameras, and blogging which disrupted content management systems. Trip was talking about the rise of social and iphone gaming as the equivalent disruptive innovation that was causing non gamers to play games. Definitely something that incumbents need to watch.


1. David Kaye - September 10, 2009

Agreed. There was a good Wired piece on this topic recently:


2. Simplicity is always a disruptive innovation | Plugable - September 10, 2009

[…] Simplicity is always a disruptive innovation Friday, September 11th, 2009 | Uncategorized | bernie Simplicity is always a disruptive innovation. […]

3. chris sherman - September 11, 2009

We just added Trip as a keynote at the Virtual Goods Conference http://www.virtualgoodsconference.com

This should make for an interesting conversation.

4. links for 2009-09-11 « Blarney Fellow - September 11, 2009

[…] Simplicity is always a disruptive innovation « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog (tags: startup vc strategy) […]

5. schwinn roadster - September 12, 2009

I completely agree that simplicity is the key

6. julespieri - September 13, 2009

For me this is a disjointed post…the Christensen thought is big and so is the Simplicity one. Maybe I am missing the clear link…would not be the first time. 🙂

I think and write a lot about the simplicity topic. As an industrial designer–and now startup CEO–I think one of my best assets as a leader and product developer is understanding the power of simplicity. That probably sounds like a ridiculous claim. What about technical prowess? What about business development skills? What about the ability to inspire a team? Those all matter. But lots of people have those qualities. Understanding the value of simplicity is pretty rare and it is incredibly helpful.

An interesting fact: engineers and even designers have a tendency to throw maximum features and functionality in a product, yet studies show that the more visually pleasing, simple, and approachable a product is, the more likely that a person will engage deeply and actually use multiple functions. Why? A pleasing form inspires a calm emotional/neurological reaction which inspires more curiosity and confidence. Make sense, huh?

7. Fibol - January 12, 2010

Good post. The disruptive innovation targeting new market with the non consumption reflects the purpose of a book that I read several years ago: Blue Ocean Strategy.


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[…] Clayton Christensen suggests in The Innovator’s Dilemma, simplicity is always a disruptive innovation, Today this is more true than ever. The half-life of software is weeks and days, not years and […]

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