Disruption vs Transformation

May 9, 2017 - 4 minutes read

When you hear the term disruption, most people think Uber, AirBnB or Apple. In some way, each brand has transformed an existing experience – be it hailing a cab, booking a room or buying music – using digital technology in a streamlined often, elegant and secure way. These brands have created new value propositions, liberated choice and removed layers of complexity on our behalf.

This is all magical innovation, but you may be surprised to know that it’s not technically termed disruption or digital disruption or disruptive innovation to be precise. A quick online search will disrupt your thinking and expose the myths of disruption while at the same time shedding light on this modern business phenomena and delivering new insights that are valuable when thinking about our own business endeavours.

The dictionary notes that disruption is a disturbance or problem that interrupts an event, activity, or process. Meanwhile, according to Wikipedia, digital disruption describes what happens when new digital technologies and business models affect the value proposition of an existing product or service. The same source notes that a disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network that eventually disrupts an existing one and displaces established market leading firms, products and alliances.

In a 2015 essay in the Harvard Business Review, Clayton M. Christensen explained that a disruptive business is one that starts by either satisfying the less-demanding customer or creating a market where none existed before. Many brilliant businesses have transformed and expanded markets, turned them upside down with innovation and clever pricing models, but few create an entirely new category that resets consumer expectations and changes the world.

This is all largely academic, but the thinking represents a counter point and challenge to our day-to-day emphasis on existing market growth, supply chain efficiency and increased productivity. What about the customers who we don’t have a relationship with and how do we open up markets that are yet to exist. Or put another way, what are the customer needs we are yet to meet?

Business transformers have succeeded by finding ways to deliver a product or service in ways that offer more choice, security, scale and convenience. Business disruptors succeed by envisioning a consumer’s evolving needs, anticipating the future market context and ensuring their product or services’ desired relationship with that consumer.

This strikes a chord with me, as the disruptive impulse connects with our purpose as a pharma company to extend access to medicines to patients in markets where that access currently doesn’t exist, while in mature markets we want to transform the market through innovative market, partnerships and traditional innovation.

A commitment to transformation will take us far, but it’s clear that our long-term business success requires a disruptive mindset to ensure we anticipate the needs of consumers across different continents, cities and towns, cultural, social and economic context. Disruption is meeting the future medical needs of a patient we haven’t met or perhaps doesn’t yet exist.

Meeting that future patient need means embracing digital e-health solutions, big data analysis and most of all a patient focus to challenge existing concepts and assumptions. It’s a journey, but an important one that requires disrupting our own thinking.