Skip to content

Radical Innovation

Radical innovations (sometimes referred to as breakthrough, discontinuous or disruptive innovations) provide something new to the world that we live in by uprooting industry conventions and by significantly changing customer expectations in a positive way.

Ultimately, they often end up replacing existing methods/technologies. You often find smaller companies and start-ups being much stronger at radical innovation. Big companies are much better at incremental innovation than they are at radical innovation.


Radical innovation is often defined as the commercialization of products and technologies that have a strong impact on two dimensions:

  1. the market, in terms of offering wholly new customer benefits relative to the previous product generation in the category, and
  2. the company, in terms of its ability to create new businesses.

girl reading a dictionary


I often find the best way to get an understanding of something is to have an example. So I have listed some examples below…

AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) Service

AOL was the first to launch a modern, Internet-wide, GUI based messenger service in May 1997. Other text-based chat systems existed prior to AIM (for example the Unix ‘talk’ command. However, for the majority of Internet users, this provided a revolutionary new way to communicate in real time between two or more computers / electronic devices.


Amazon’s Internet-based approach to selling books enabled it to offer many more books than a traditional bookstore, this ultimately led to a number of traditional bookstores going out of business.

Nowadays you can purchase almost anything on Amazon. As of 2018 Amazon was that largest online retailer in the US.


Transistor Technology

Transistors developed by Bell Labs uprooted the major players in the electronics industry who were all at the time focusing on vacuum tube technology.



Virgin One’s Mortgage Account

The Virgin One mortgage account reduces interest charges by combining debt with savings and income.

Digital Photography

It is rare these days that you see anyone with a camera that takes film and many retail outlets now offer self-serve digital photo outlets where you can download your images, select, crop and resize them and then print them onto photographic paper. Gone are all the “post your film in an envelope for processing” type services.

digital camera

Additionally, there are now many websites that have business models driven on the back of the digital media revolution Flickr and Picasa are examples.

Click on examples of innovations for a list of important breakthrough innovations in the last fifty years. The page also provides an ability for you to add to the list with innovations that you feel have had a positive impact on society.

Market Transformation Or Creation

Gary Hamel a leading researcher and author on innovation argues that it is the only way for incumbents (the largest company in a certain industry) to renew their lease on success.

Innovations of this nature often cause a dramatic change. They can transform existing ideas or markets or even create new ones.

Click on examples of innovations for a list of important breakthrough innovations in the last fifty years.


Hamel G (2002) Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life, New York, First Plume Printing

Katz R (2009) Innovator’s Toolkit: 10 Practical Strategies to Help You Develop and Implement Innovation (Harvard Business Essentials) , Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing

O’Connor, Gina Colarelli; Ayers, Alan D Building a Radical Innovation Competency, Research Technology Management, Jan/Feb2005, Vol. 48 Issue 1, p23-31

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Martin Gilliard is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

You may also be interested in my other website covering topics on leadership and personal development.