Disruptive Technology Example and Insights

Clayton Christensen’s, The Innovators Dilemma, details a great story about a surprising disruptive innovation.

Although the book was written in 1997, it was way ahead of its time in understanding the uncertainty and requirements for learning and discovery when faced with potential disruptive innovation in your industry.

Chistensen’s story about how the Honda mini-bikes became successful in North America in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s is all about surprise insights and major pivots.

While these two concepts are part of our education program for startups. It is wonderful to find out that these concepts are not new.

A great story

Honda was making a popular delivery motorcycle called a Super Cub and sold in its domestic market, Japan. The Super Cub was cheap and easy way to commute around a big city.  In order to enter the North American market, they designed a larger more powerful motorcycle to compete with Harley Davison and other successful motorcycle companies.

Honda sent their first three employees over to California to market their new, bigger bikes and the employees brought along a Super Cub mini-bike to run around town with.

The marketing for the new larger motorcycle was not going well. The big motorcycles had lots of problems. One of the key employees needed to release some frustration so he took is little mini-bike out for ride in the hillsides of Los Angeles. He met people who liked his little bike and wanted to buy one. They would make special orders to have these mini-bikes shipped over for these customers.

Even as their efforts to market the big bikes floundered, they ignored an opportunity to sell a large order of mini-bikes to Sears.

This surprise demand for these mini-bikes is a surprise insight. If they continued to blindly and passionately focus on marketing their big bikes I would not be telling you this story!

Honda made a pivot

Honda focused on a new and different customer segment – the off-road riding community and they changed the product to be like the Super Cub. One popular model was known as the Honda Trail 70 introduced in 1969, as seen in the picture above.

If you happened to grow up in the 70’s like myself, this little mini-bike was a legend. It is still a very desirable and collectible toy for baby boomers.

Disruptive innovation – Lessons learned

  • Be open to learn and discover surprise insights.
  • Use the ‘pivot or persevere’ decision making strategy when embracing the uncertainties of disruptive innovations.

 Related articleThe Lean Startup – Pivot or Persevere

If you are a startup founder or business innovator who has a story to share about developing the capacity for learning and discovering surprise insights and the right way to make a business model ‘pivot’, please join the conversation and leave a comment below.



Author: Paul Foster
Paul's life’s purpose is to bring more cash, freedom and happiness to independent business owners. Paul wants to learn about your toughest business challenges and frustrations so he can help you tackle them.

Leave a Reply