Invention and innovation: An introduction
Invention and innovation: An introduction

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Invention and innovation: An introduction

5.11 Sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation

As it's sometimes difficult to say whether a particular innovation is radical or incremental, a useful distinction made recently is between sustaining innovations and those that are disruptive. You'll read more about these ideas in Part 3.

Briefly, a sustaining innovation is a new or improved product that meets the needs of most current customers and serves to sustain leading firms in their market position. So in this context improvements to gas lighting, say, would be sustaining innovations.

By contrast, a disruptive innovation is a new or improved product or technology that challenges existing companies to ignore or embrace technical change.

Often new companies emerge to exploit a disruptive innovation. Such innovations can seem unpromising in the early stages of their development. However if they go on to become successful they can form new markets in which established companies lose their market leadership. Edison's electric light led to the creation of a whole new system for the generation and supply of electricity and its conversion into lighting. This in turn required a whole infrastructure of companies to supply raw materials and components for what became a new industry. It had a disruptive effect on the existing market for lighting.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371