MWC19 Theme Report: Disruptive Innovation


Disruptive innovation, a term coined by Clayton Christensen, describes a process by which:

  • A product or service takes root initially in applications at the bottom of a market which is not cost effective for traditional vendors to serve. This is enabled by a business model and/or technology (typically both) which is the ‘innovation’. At this point it is a complementary offering to the established vendors.
  • Then it relentlessly moves up market by improving on the basic level of functionality while retaining the functional or price advantage it enjoyed previously.
  • At a certain flashpoint the service becomes ‘good enough’, significantly displacing established vendors and/or causing them to radically restructure their price and/or business models to compete. This is where the ‘disruptive’ element comes in.


Innovation drives market disruption, which in turn drives innovation


  • Challenger media, such as Buzzfeed, with free-to-consume business models and straightforward distribution but little paid investigative journalism
  • Challenger communications tools, such as WhatsApp and WeChat, which outpaced traditional telecoms in functionality despite a lack of universality.
  • Challenger banks, such as Starling Bank, whose lack of legacy infrastructure allows them to compete profitably at small fractions of incumbents’ fee structures.

Industry impact

Disruptions caused by services such as Uber, WhatsApp, Twitter and Spotify have caused market leaders in many industries to look hard at their own positions. They question what combinations of “technology + business model” are likely to undermine them and respond appropriately.

It’s a high-stakes game.

According to BCG, only 1 in 3 major companies responds effectively to market disruption.

“Trillions of dollars of shareholder value have vaporised… but companies that do make the transition often create even more value than they had originally”

Today, even the prospect of market disruption demands a response from established market players

Working on the basis that disruption will inevitably come from some source or other, the question then is, what do companies do about it? There are a few strategies typically employed

  • Nothing… which can be a viable option if they feel disruption is some way away.
  • Buying potentially disruptive companies to profit from, or minimise the impact of, any coming change
  • Building a sub-brand or department to act as ‘the disruptor’ while maintaining the main brand in business-as-usual mode
  • Moving first to disrupt the market, though this typically faces resistance from shareholders and internal stakeholders. This tends to involve disrupting your company’s present business
  • Or a combination approach; for example, preparing the ground in internal technology and processes to allow for a rapid pivot when they feel the market has reached a tipping point.


Disruptive Innovation at MWC19 Barcelona

Disruptive innovation in industries around the globe is being supported by technologies to do with connectivity; identity; data storage and analytics; security and privacy; IoT and more. Much of the capabilities in the telecoms industry are therefore becoming integrated as foundational parts of new, disruptive business models. As cutting-edge technology becomes more mainstream, it sets the scene for new forms of market disruption, for the TMT industry as much as for those affected by it.

The Disruptive Innovation theme aims to help executives gain the benefit of best practices from disruptors, those responding to disruption and those preparing for it. With luck, it will help delegates fall within the ‘1 in 3’ companies responding effectively to market disruption.

Conference topics will include:

Pressing the “Self-disrupt” button: Lessons from the front lines
Monday 13.30 – 14.30
No company wants to be left behind when their industry changes, and we are seeing more major companies taking a lead to reinvent themselves rather than be disrupted. For those that can successfully make the change, the rewards in shareholder value can be significant… but analysts BCG estimate that only 33% of companies respond effectively to market disruption, far less lead it.
Changing the culture, focus and activity of a company is unquestionably tough on everyone in the C-suite, operationally and personally. Join us as we talk about the challenges and solutions from those who have gone through the process first-hand.

Disrupting the Financial Services industry
Monday 16.00 – 16.45
If there is one industry more regulated than telecoms, it’s banking – so much so that within ‘fintech’ there is a whole branch of ‘regtech’ to assist with compliance. 2019 will see new regulations in many markets, partly to address new technologies and services such as the use of distributed ledger technology.
A new generation of banks and financial services companies are coming up, and are required to meet many of the same regulations as established institutions. What implications does this hold for genuine disruptive change in the financial industry, and who is best positioned to reshape it? Find out here.

Can the first true digital societies be ‘emerging markets’?
Thursday 11.15 – 12.15
In Rwanda blood transfusions are delivered by drone and in India digital identities are almost universal. There is a lack of legacy infrastructure and thinking which enables emerging markets to deploy radical new solutions and services, supported by increasingly-affordable new technology.
However, more developed economies feature strong governance, established technology ecosystems, relative stability and a wide skill base.
There is no doubt that society is changing fast wherever you look, but in very different ways. So where in the world will we see this first come to fruition in a truly digital society? Have your say alongside our panel of experts.

Social Innovation and the disruptive power of movements
Thursday 12.30 – 13.30
We are living in a time of outrage. Hacking, the Panama Papers, corruption, environmental damage, fake news, real news… it is easy for people to lose trust in corporations and institutions. Indeed, the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer showed declining trust in every country in the survey.
The good news is that, as a response to perceived wrongs, people are engaging with movements that look to right them, such as Fair Trade, Black Lives Matter, #metoo, Never Again, environmentalism and so on.
At a time like this, doing good business by doing good seems like the only sane response – to engage with customers by being part of the cure. Many companies are now starting up explicitly with social innovation at their heart (as, in fact, the World Wide Web did), but it is also possible for established organisations to compete, given a willingness to rethink their businesses – just ask Ikea or Unilever. This session will examine best practices and practical experience for building social innovation into companies.

Disruptive Innovation in transport: Future Mobility
Thursday 14.30 – 15.30
Change is coming in how we travel; from electric vehicles and ride-sharing to flying taxis, autonomous vehicles, personalised mass transit, drone deliveries and more. These elements will play out very differently in urban, suburban and rural areas. How we bring these elements together will not just define business opportunities but shape our societies and urban landscapes for years to come.
Join us to share provocative discussion and insights from leaders across the globe.