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No Sword in the Hand — How David Used Disruptive Innovation to Kill Goliath

February 14, 2023
Written by Isaac Shi


David and Goliath 

Goliath is an incumbent company; no doubt he is a giant. He has muscle and a sword (product depth); he is well fed (high profit margin), and has lots of followers (market share). His technology is sword and shield; his strength is brick and mortar. 

David knew he couldn’t beat the Philistine if he was to play by the rules that enemy set forth. The only way to defeat Goliath was through Disruptive Innovation: a precision missile system — a slingshot.  

Goliath wasn’t agile enough to deal with disruptive technology; he could not move fast enough to dodge the incoming stone. His downward immobility met David’s upward mobility, and the giant came tumbling down. 

The Book of Samuel says, “Without a sword in his hand, David struck down the Philistine.” Then he used Goliath’s own sword to cut his head off. 

There are two types of innovation:  Sustaining Innovation (better & sharper sword) and Disruptive Innovation (Slingshot). Goliath was in fact good at sustaining innovation: he sharpened his sword every day, and he worked out every day like Conan the barbarian. Incumbent companies actually do this type of incremental innovation well, but they often miss out on the disruptive one, the one that will change the rules of the game forever. 

In order to dethrone the incumbent giant, an entrant company needs to establish a disruptive business model and arm it with disruptive innovation rather than exhaust its limited resources to match the incumbent’s every move. 

You need to re-define the rules of engagement in a way that favors your own strength, to slay Goliath without a sword in your hand. 

This piece was originally written by Isaac Shi on August 12, 2011

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