A disruptive innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leading firms, products and alliances. The term was defined and phenomenon analyzed by Clayton M. Christensen beginning in 1995.1
As a reminder, Business as Mission (BAM) at its core has a Quadruple Bottom Line: 1) Profit and Sustainability, 2) Job Creation, 3) Followers of Jesus, 4) Stewardship of Resources. BAM takes into consideration, the human condition of poverty and pain with the creation of a profitable business which creates jobs, which in turn creates wealth (a Biblical value stated in Deut. 8:18). It links that with the goal of making followers of Jesus and with the importance of wise use of human and natural resources.
So how might that be innovative and how might it be disruptive?
First look at some well-known disruptive innovators. Jeff Bezos did not just improve book sales when he started Amazon. He disrupted everything – speedy book deliveries, then other products to become the world’s largest online shopping retailer. His latest disruptive talk: drones and space warehouses. His mantra, “if you are going to invent, you are going to disrupt.”
Looking back a few decades, some of us can remember the advent of the transistor radio. People first thought of them as Japanese junk, with poor quality, but they were portable and teenagers could take them to the beach easily. Gradually the sound improved and the product totally disrupted and made redundant the old cabinet radios.
I remember when a visitor showed up at our school in Brazil in the early 1970s with a portable calculator. Our bookkeeper was using a manual adding machine which did the job but was big, clumsy and noisy. I took the leap of faith and asked to purchase this calculator from the visitor before he left the country. I paid $180.00 for what today can be bought in Walmart for $5.99. Portable calculators were disruptive because they did not just improve on existing technology, they disrupted it by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and eventually affordability.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of disruptive innovation is the development of the personal computer, when the big mainframes ruled the day in the 1960s and 70s. Even the chairman of IBM, Thomas Watson is famously quoted: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." But the personal computer formed a niche market that appeared unattractive and inconsequential at first but eventually the new product completely redefined the computing industry.
Mobile phones – the same story. The idea is that the historic technology and industry concentrates on improving their product while the innovative disruptors focus on the bottom end of the market tapping into new customers with new and different needs. They create new demand and find overlooked customers. Think Blockbuster and Netflix.
Is BAM disruptive?Back to the question: Is Business as Mission disruptive innovation? BAM spokesperson Mats Tunehag likens Kingdom Business today to a 21st century reformation. The Protestant Reformation was disruptive in that it focused Jesus followers on simpler easier forms of faith – reading their own scriptures, the priesthood of individual believers and faith over works as the way of salvation, among other things.
So perhaps BAM is disruptive in the following ways:
- Business is returned to its rightful place as the only institution which creates wealth in society; it is not government, nor education, nor health care and not the church. All of these, as good and important as they are, consume wealth. Business creates it. And it is ordained by God.2
- Business is the modern means ordained by God to address the issue of poverty. It creates wealth through job creation and gives dignity, honor and empowerment to individuals, families and communities. Jesus gave the Great Commandment requiring believers to love God and love their neighbor. Today loving our neighbor is creating a job for him/her and this becomes the modern equivalent of feeding the five thousand, or healing the leper. BAM is what Jesus would do today.3
- Business and faith are easily integrated. Business leaders are together with people many hours each week so the principles of faith can be lived out in the marketplace of life. In most cultures, people learn by observing and doing and when it comes to knowing Jesus, one learns by observing a Jesus follower living and acting like Jesus in every life. Dale Losch in his book A Better Way talks about living and loving like Jesus.
- Whereas most of the 20th century became accustomed to outsourcing missional work to the professional clergy, Business as Mission is a reformation. It is the work of all believers in the workplace, not just the clergy, or those paid to be missional with their faith.
- BAM is innovative in that it is cost effective. It does not require an endless infusion of charity monies which often become toxic by creating dependency and destabilization. It addresses issues of declining mission funding, and “America first” perspective.
A replacement for the multi-trillion dollar aid industry and traditional professional mission groups?Today Business as Mission and related means such as Tentmaking 4 are disrupting the market. They have the potential (as the little guy at the bottom of the market) to replace the multi-trillion dollar aid industry, and make the traditional professional mission groups redundant in much of the world.
Business as Mission is making the product (Quadruple Bottom Line) simple, accessible, convenient and affordable. It is not just improving on what has been done in the past; it is disrupting things in modern times by returning to an old order of “faith without works is dead”, creating wealth and promoting dignified sustainability. In one sense it is an ancient idea; but because it has been largely lost, it may be considered innovative, and certainly disruptive.
1. See more at: Disruptive Innovation, Christen Institute.
2. Deut. 8:18 “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
4. Tentmaking is mission done in accordance with the model of the apostle Paul. He was a tentmaker by profession, and made a living through his work when he was on his mission journeys (Acts 18:3, 1 Corinthians 9). Today the ‘tentmaking’ label is used to describe everyone who seeks to serve the Lord in other cultures through his or her profession. It includes business people, professionals, and students bringing the gospel onwards to new places. - Tentmaking - Lausanne Movement.