The theory of Strategic Disruptive Innovation introduced by the Harvard strategy scholar, Clay Christensen, has changed the way we understand paradigm shifts in management. It describes a framework and process where a product or service powered by technology enablers takes root in efficient forms or applications. This can occur through:

  • Cutting down costs and bureaucracy
  • Being people-friendly
  • Being more accessible
  • Displacing established policy norms and outcompeting massive companies and organizations

The theory is applicable to both private and public sector entities. Governmental organizations have benefited greatly from it, including public universities in the U.S. and the fiscal growth policy implemented by rising economic powers in Africa like Ghana and Rwanda.

Disruptive innovations are not necessarily ambitious upstarts that dramatically alter how business or policymaking is done. They consist of principles, products and services that are simple, actionable and affordable. They also have the potential to transform an industry and upend the status-quo over time.

In addition, the theory’s influence has spread far beyond the corporate world. Innovative disruption is now being utilized as a framework for overcoming social challenges such as improving access to education and healthcare, empowering women and reducing unemployment rates.

At the crux of Christensen’s argument is the assumption that corporate giants and public sector organizations face the dilemma of focusing narrowly on success by listening to customers, investing in new ventures and building distinctive capabilities. Therefore they run the risk of ignoring disruptive, fast-moving and trend-setting innovations. This theory provides leaders with a blueprint for identifying and responding to these disruptive forces as well as supporting the public interest.

Case study: the UAE

The recently announced visions in the GCC region including the Saudi Vision 2030, Oman Vision 2040 and the UAE’s new national vision ‘We the UAE 2031’, provide a powerful and innovative framework for reshaping policymaking. They also encapsulate a drive to further globalize and diversify the economy and invest in transformation projects.

The UAE’s new vision will launch 50 projects to shape the next half-century of development. The vision will also oversee the development of many long-term plans and strategies for specific economic sectors and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence. It presents quantified economic KPI targets, such as doubling the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) from AED 1.49 trillion to AED 3 trillion and raising the tourism sector’s contribution to the GDP to AED 450 billion.

While it is useful to look at performance against KPIs, this is only one part of assessing the relative success of the vision. By studying the reality through the theory of disruptive innovation, the UAE may be better equipped to understand and anticipate future forces majeures. This can transform how policymaking leaders reflect on the government’s actions. It also enables the UAE to be considered an early disruptor, first regionally then globally.

Dubai’s meteoric rise in the fields of commercial aviation, real estate development and tourism is now part of our collective memory. While similar real-world examples are plentiful, Dubai was the first city globally to establish a government entity, the Virtual Assets Regulatory Authority (VARA), that has a legal and regulatory framework to deal with the issues pertaining to virtual assets including crypto and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Another example is the ‘Sukuk Al Waqf’ initiative launched by the Awqaf program and Minors Affairs Authority in partnership with the Mohammed bin Rashid International Center for Endowment and Endowment Consultation. This endowment was designed to disrupt the traditional ecosystem and steer it towards contributing to social development, instead of only focusing on charity.

The above success stories may have materialized without former knowledge of the theory. However, as the world gets more complex, there is value to be harnessed from leveraging a theory and the lessons learned from its implementation in various markets.

In the age of rapid technological leaps and unexpected trends, there is a need for heightened situational awareness, rejuvenated operating models, new technologies and the willingness to phase out existing practices and cultural attitudes. The disruptive strategy offers a proven path to accomplish a future-focused vision while transforming public sector performance and services.


Disruptive Innovation Online Course | HBS Online
What Is Disruptive Innovation?
‘We the UAE 2031’ vision - The Official Portal of the UAE Government


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