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Clarifying the disruptive innovation puzzle: a critical review

Sucet Jimena Martínez-Vergara (Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)
Jaume Valls-Pasola (Faculty of Economics and Business, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 16 April 2020

Issue publication date: 27 May 2021




Disruptive innovation theory has attracted the interest of researchers and practitioners across many areas, resulting in the development of new business models and strategies. Despite the increasing scholarly attention, its definition has not yet been understood, the understanding of the term “disruptive” and the complex nature of this innovation has provoked some misinterpretations, and the meaning remains ambiguous. To address this confusion, this article undertakes a critical review of disruptive innovation in an attempt at providing a solid theoretical grounding.


The review examines the key issues of published articles, identified after conducting a search in the Web of Science scholarly database. The analysis highlights the basic definitions of disruptive innovation, showing its evolution, types and its characteristics. This article also examines the behaviours adopted by the actors associated with disruptive innovation (i.e. incumbents, entrants and customers).


Overall, this article finds that disruptive innovation has its own elements to be identified, requiring an in-depth analysis to avoid confusing with other innovation approaches. The findings suggest that disruptive innovation affects businesses and sectors in varied and complex ways because customers from low-end market and mainstream market appreciate this innovation. Further, its impact on practice is huge and incites further efforts in establishing a stronger theoretical grounding.


Our research contributes on the evolution of this theory, helping to better understand the phenomenon of disruption and can be used for different types of research settings.



Martínez-Vergara, S.J. and Valls-Pasola, J. (2021), "Clarifying the disruptive innovation puzzle: a critical review", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 24 No. 3, pp. 893-918.



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