Gandhi – The Disruptive Innovator

A blog post from my MBA days in Japan — 2007

I wrote this post in 2007 when I was a MBA student in Japan but not many people get to read it at that time. I was lucky that I was able to share this with the super humble Clayton Christensen, back then, who took time to send a note of appreciation: I even got the privilege to meet him and work with him. Hope you like the interpretation.

So what is disruptive innovation? According to Innovator’s Solution, the disruptive Innovation is all about commercializing a simpler, convenient product that sells for less money(low end disruption) and appeals to a new or unattractive customer set(New market disruption). This is the phenomenon that so frequently beats successful companies. In the process,either the technology linkages or the market linkages are affected by a disruption.Disruption can be done in the “Not so good enough” market and can be achieved through new channels of distribution, sales force etc.

Successful companies ignore disruption initially only to repent later as the low end disruption swamps the entire market. If you enter a market with a sustaining innovation,the incumbents will destroy you.

Let us apply this to the Indian freedom movement.The British empire is the successful incumbent. Indian National movement is the new entrant in the fight against the British empire. They have to choose a product or service that will allow them to differentiate in this fight. The product could be war, violence, guerilla attack,suicide bombing etc. If Indians entered into the freedom struggle with the above mentioned products(sustaining innovation), it would have been a bloodier battle and it would have been easy for the incumbent, who has sophisticated weapons to beat the entrant who has nothing but swords and sticks.

In this case, bloodshed is the cost.Traditionally,in a battle, the more blood you shed, the more you loose.Profits are the territories won.In this case, the overserved customers are the people who just want to retaliate only when there is a threat and otherwise are against violence.They are dissatisfied with the guilt they have to carry on for their life for the violence they unleashed on others.

Traditionally, the military segmented people based on muscle power, war training, physical strength etc. But Gandhi’s approach was similar to the ‘jobs based approach’ of Prof.Christensen .In a jobs based approach, the chosen product should help the customer to do a job in a simpler and convenient way.

What is the primary job that needs to be done for the customers?

1. People wanted to contribute to Independence but are scared of taking weapons or loss of life

2. Their value system/ religious affiliation won’t allow them to kill people

3. Taking the law in their own hands was not right and would leave them with ever lasting guilt

4. They cant take the shame of going to jail

5. They dont want to undergo military training and spend time/effort on this

6. They want to contribute without doing all that what is being generally done.

Gandhi chose Non-Violence as the product to beat the incumbent. Non-Violence satisfied all the above and even delighted them because they were reverred for their moral courage and discipline, going to jail became an honour because they are doing it for a bigger cause and it left them with no guilt instead causing the incumbent to feel the guilt.Also, it gave self respect to people who otherwise would not have used their power in any other way.It is a highly differentiated product and for the people who believed in violence, it had strong barriers to entry.

I think non-violence is a disruptive innovation because it attracted more people( non-consumers of violence or Moderates), who otherwise would have avoided participating in this movement becuase of violence and various other guilt inducing factors. Finally,it even converted the traditional consumers of violence or Extremists also into non-violence.

Most disruptive innovations are affordable and simpler to use that they enable a whole new population of people to begin owning and using the product. In this case, the Moderates who are actually non-consumers in the freedom struggle, find this product convenient, affordable and easy to use.

Non-Violence cannot be sold through the traditional distribution methods. Big Retailers like Panipat, Kurukshetra, Kalinga (famous battlefields in India) may not find this product attractive as their corporate values dont match and the margins are very poor(the entrant cannot kill enemies) in the short run.Gandhi created new channels like Satyagraha, Quit India Movement to sell this product.

The incumbent initially did’nt take this competition seriously.They thought that this is nothing before the might of the empire.But the disruption happened in such a way that the empire couldn’t face the dilemma whether to prepare themselves against the sustaining innovations (war) or the disruptive innovation(Non-violence). Those group of customers who would not have participated in the freedom struggle otherwise, chose to use this product because of the convenience. Also, the product did’nt require them to go to the big retailers (battlefields) and instead new innovative, cost effective channels were created.

Thank you Prof.Christensen for disruptive innovation and Thank you Gandhiji for non-violence.

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