Christensen has opened the world to a way of looking at innovation: sustaining and disruptive.
Sustaining innovations are those changes that keep an institution on the same trajectory both philosophical and pragmatic. Kodak improved its film products and saw no need to venture into the digital world. Its innovations were sustaining. Sustaining innovations cost Kodak dearly.
On the other hand, disruptive innovations create whole new directions both philosophical and pragmatic. Toyota entered the U.S. automobile market in the 1950’s. No one foresaw that in 2012 Toyota would sell more units globally than any other automobile manufacturer.
The Banana Republic faced a sustaining v. disruptive challenge. The company sold a very popular, Indian cotton shirt known as the Bombay Shirt. It was a huge money maker. One of the company’s founder, Patricia Ziegler, suggested that the shirt be removed from the Republic’s line.
A high-ranking executive in the company balked at the idea. His suggestion was to offer it in other colors.
“Because the shirt’s being knocked off all over the place …. [and] with so many low-end, mass market, cheaply made fashion imitations out there, our customers aren’t going to continue buying it whether we change colors or not.
“Our customers expect us to lead, not follow,” (pp. 141 &142).
The shirt was taken out of production and the Banana Republic flourished.
K-12 Public Education
Traditional K-12 Public Education is copied – charter schools, virtual schools, etc. – and attacked. We are at a sustaining v. disruptive crossroad. Should we lead or should we follow?