participants in the Stanford LEAD Program

Design for Disruption

‘Disruption’ is a widely used and frequently misunderstood term. Understanding it better can help you think about your organization or team’s strategy whether you’re trying to disrupt, avoid being disrupted, or simply scanning the horizon for new trends in your industry.

This course takes a unique view on disruption by combining disruption theory research, innovation strategy, and the ways that business practitioners and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have redefined disruption over the last decade. We’ll bring these perspectives together in a framework for gauging the disruptive potential of an innovation – that is, how likely the innovation is to fundamentally change the structure of an industry. You’ll learn the critical roles that customers, value chains, and technologies play in driving such changes.

Course Introduction


While the popular press tends to focus on disruption in the technology sector, you’ll see that it happens in every industry and sector, it can be done by mature, established companies, and it’s not just for technology startups. You’ll study disruptions in a wide variety of industries, like nonprofits, pharmaceutical companies, food processing companies, and chemical manufacturers. And of course, we’ll talk about Uber, Airbnb, Microsoft, and Amazon too.

In some cases, we’ll take a very futuristic view of disruption in which you will see how a very recent discovery can lead to fascinating possibilities for disruption that may be 10 to 20 years down the line. Distinguishing between developments that will last and drive changes vs. developments that are temporary fads is something the frameworks in this course will help you unpack.

You’ll also have the opportunity to investigate how established firms (we will call them incumbents) can avoid the perils of being disrupted and left behind. You will identify the qualities of incumbents that have faced disruption successfully, and the missteps of those that have not.

Finally, you’ll work on a capstone mini project in which you will apply the course frameworks to develop a disruption hypothesis for the industry of your choosing. This could be the industry you are currently working in, an industry that you may want to disrupt, or simply an industry that’s compelling to you.

The companies and cases we’ll use in this course to learn about disruption include Impossible Foods, Starbucks, whiskey manufacturing, Warby Parker, Peloton, HIV treatment pharmaceuticals, California Health Care Foundation, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Walmart, Uber, Airbnb, Kodak, Fundbox, Dow Corning, and Fastbrick Robotics, and Pokémon Go.

Key Topics

  • The Disruption Framework and the Three Pillars of Disruption
  • Disruption via new entrants
  • Incumbent self-disruption, and when incumbents miss the disruption
  • Nonprofit vs. for-profit disruption
  • The Five Forces Framework
  • Designing a disruption hypothesis

Course Faculty

The Investment Group of Santa Barbara Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Operations, Information & Technology


Marineh Lalikian
Director, Stanford LEAD Online Business Program Executive Education