Crystar The Crystal Warrior: Exhibit A For Disruptive Innovation

Yesterday, we recapped The Saga Of Crystar, Crystal Warrior #1in 10 Panels Or Less™.

Today, we’re using that recap as a springboard into a discussion of the importance of pursuing disruptive technologies.

Moltar teaches his brother Crystar that disruptive innovation actually comes in 3 flavors: low-end, new-market, and stab-you-in-the-gut

Magic: The Disruptive Innovation

Despite his name–Prince Crystar never intended to become a warrior made of living crystal, much like his brother Moltar never expected to become a warrior made of living magma.

Nevertheless, the disruptive forces of magic (and Moltar’s inclination to stab people) change everything these two brothers ever knew, or thought, about themselves–and open up strange new worlds of opportunity and horror.

The brothers are aware of magic the entire time. They know it’s out there. But they ignore it, keep it at arm’s length, until it’s far too late to do anything except ride it out.

Disruptive Innovation: Friend Or Foe?

Disruptive Innovation (first coined by Clayton M. Christensen in The Innovator’s Solution) has essentially two forms:

  • New-market disruptive innovation targeted at consumers who do not use the products currently on the market, and
  • Low-end disruptive innovation targeted at mainstream customers who value price over quality.

Like magic in the realm of Crystar, these forces are “disruptive” because they threaten the leaders in the existing market–such as with the sudden rise to power of netbooks in the existing laptop market.

Unintended Consequences

What’s particularly interesting to me about the netbooks is that they were never meant to be the new “in” thing–they were designed for the poor. However…

In the process of creating a laptop to satisfy the needs of poor people, [inventor Mary Lou Jepsen] revealed something about traditional PC users. They didn’t want more out of a laptop–they wanted less.

With hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see how digital photography could disrupt and take over traditional photography, or how cheap flash memory could fuel so many consumer technologies we enjoy today. But this… this is something else.

Netbooks are a product, designed for one market, suddenly opening up an entirely new market.

That’s amazing to me. Not discovery of penicillin-level amazing, but at least as impressive as the origins of Coca Cola.

Learn From Crystar’s Mistakes

Crystar and Moltar live in a realm of magic, yet they ignore the magic–until they have no choice but to confront it and literally be transformed by it–or consumed by it.

There’s a lesson there.

It’s not enough to be aware of the disruptive innovation all around you–you need to embrace it, incorporate it into your strategy and planning–before it’s too late. Before your kingdom is torn asunder or the market leaves you behind.


Scott D. Anthony at Harvard Business offers this advice:

  • Put the customer, and their important, unsatisfied job-to-be-done at the center of the innovation equation
  • Embrace the power of simplicity, convenience, and affordability
  • Create organizational space for disruptive growth businesses
  • Consider innovation levers beyond features and functions
  • Become world class at testing, iterating and adjusting

Just be sure to look into the transformative crystals and magic magma before diving in.

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Christopher Cummings

Blogs about product management. Loves Jesus, his family, comic books, video games, and giant robots. Occasionally crawls through mud and leaps over fire.

5 thoughts on “Crystar The Crystal Warrior: Exhibit A For Disruptive Innovation

  1. If netbooks is an example of a Low-end disruptive innovation , then you have to remember that it was still targeted to and designed for non-consumers. It fell into price-sensitive market.

    The reality is that you cannot bring a disruptive innovation to an existing customer base. Disruption implies a non-existant market. Customers take up one distruption, but not an endless chain of disruptions. Geeks might, but geeks are not a monetizable market.

    Laptops over served their customers, so laptops became commoditized. Their cost structure erased their margin in the face of price-based competition. In that over service was the opportunity (Christensen), but its still a race to the bottom. The advantage goes to the lowest cost structure and the issolation of the market in terms of not being addressible by the incumbents.

    Don’t take the out-of-market potential, as a signal to play the same game with your in the market customers. Disrupt once, then sustain.

  2. Hi David –

    I understand what you’re saying about the price-sensitivity. I’m not sure I’d agree that geeks are not monetizable, especially given the Attention Economy we’re heading into/already in the midst of. And even if geeks aren’t directly monetizable, doesn’t focusing on the early adopters and/or early majority (vs. the mainstream or laggards) increase your chances of innovations and revenue?

    – Chris

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