business

The Disruptors of the Decade

Posted on Harvard Business Review: January 14, 2010 11:45 AM

Near the end of December, I created a survey with a single question: "Which companies do you think have done the best job of driving growth through disruption—transforming what exists or creating what doesn't through simplicity, convenience, affordability or accessibility—between 2000-2009?"

More than 3,000 individuals nominated close to 300 different organizations or individuals (a few may have been less serious, such as the three nominating my mother).

I sifted through the nominations, and identified the most frequent nominations in three categories: established high-technology companies, established non technology companies, and emerging companies (at least as of 2000). I then turned to a handful of disruptive experts to get their perspectives. Without further ado, the results:

Established high-technology companies

Winner: Apple
Runner-up: Cisco Systems
Other finalists: Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft, and Dell

Apple was, probably not surprisingly, readers' most-nominated company. More than 800 readers individually named the Cupertino colossus, who drove disruption in music (iPod), mobile phone (iPhone), and retailing markets (branded company stores). As one of my experts said, "Apple is the iconic company of the decade."

A slight contrarian was Clayton Christensen. He picked Cisco, noting, "Everything that is done over the internet is enabled by them, and they are not done yet. Apple gets points for its historic efforts, but I really worry about its sustainability over the next few years."

Established non high-technology companies

Winner: Wal-Mart
Runner-up: Verizon
Other nominations: Dow Corning, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Ford

Dow Corning received the most nominations in this group by a wide margin. Of course, about 80 percent of those nominations came from the same Internet Protocol address, which might trace back to Dow Corning headquarters in Midland, Michigan. That's not to dismiss Dow Corning's excellent decade. The company's low-cost Xiameter distribution model is a case study example of how companies can create growth through business model innovation.

But Wal-Mart was the winner in this category. The company earned points for continuing to drive disruption in a range of different categories. As one of my experts (whose company is a Wal-Mart supplier) noted, "The move from boots to suits has given them the ability to master change so they can keep disrupting." Ford could be an interesting one to watch over the next few years with its strategy of creating small cars that are built on global platforms.

Emerging companies

Winner: Google
Runner up: Amazon
Other Nominations: eBay, Research in Motion, Facebook, Netflix

My own bias at the start of this contest was that Amazon deserved to take the crown as the overall Disruptor of the Decade. What impresses me so much about the company is the diversity of its disruptions. As Christensen told me, "The thing about Amazon is, it isn't just retailing. It is what it is doing to publishing and Web services. I think it is very well positioned to be an integrated provider that makes cloud computing simple."

Still, it's hard to argue with Google's disruptive success over the 2000s. "Google has brought new consumption of information that was previously inaccessible to the masses," one expert commented. "And, I think we've only seen the beginning as they try to own and integrate all of our information needs."

Facebook is the newest company on the list. One of my experts said he expects Facebook to be acquired, but "if it survives it would be this decade's disruptor."

What's next?
As the 2010s begin, my guess is that the disruptive titans of the next decade are more likely than not to:

Come from outside the United States. 100% of the shortlisted nominations were U.S.-based companies (though European and Asian companies received a number of nominations). That won't be true when we re-run the competition in 2020.

Be in health care, education, or cleantech. These three industries are screaming for disruptive innovation, and the innovators that deliver the disruptive goods are well positioned to create massive success stories.

Originate from established companies. Admittedly, some of the nominations in the "established non high-technology" company left a bit to be desired. But expect "old line" incumbents to increasingly figure out how to use disruptive innovation to their advantage.

Thanks to everyone who participated in picking the Disruptor of the Decade!

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE