Sustaining vs. Disruptive Technologies

In Professor Clayton Christensen's book The Innovator's Dilemma, Christensen spends a lot of time talking about "sustaining technologies" versus "disruptive technologies". Both forms of innovation are good for society, but the two differ in one key way: whether said innovation "improves" (sustaining) or "revolutionizes" (disruptive). 

We discussed this topic in our humanities class this week, comparing and contrasting the two. What are they, really? 

Sustaining technologies improve upon an existing technology. Pfizer is commonly brought up as an example of this, as their main business model is developing new and improved drugs. 

Disruptive technologies disrupt an industry. They introduce technology that has never been seen before, or use it in ways never thought of before, such that a successful "disruptive" innovation will force existing companies to either adapt or die off. Netflix is a good example of a disruptive innovation as their "streaming from home" model was unheard of at the time, and has likely contributed to the death of Blockbuster (who failed to adapt). 

Photo: Unsplash

Amazon, then, would arguably fall under both categories. While it started as an online bookstore ("sustaining" in that it improves how consumers buy books), it can now be said to "disrupt" the online shopping industry. Thanks to Amazon, free and fast shipping has become reality. Kohls - the previous largest retailer (which had heaps of innovation before Amazon) - hasn't gone bankrupt per say, but is no longer the powerhouse that it once was before Amazon. 


  1. I think that it is interesting to know a lot about the tech and company's that are sustaining and adapting and others that are being disruptive and are not adapting.


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