PYJ — Disruptive Innovations



The Positive Youth Justice Model may be viewed as a type of “disruptive innovation.” Popularized by the Harvard business academic, Clayton Christensen, the concept of disruptive innovation describes changes in a marketplace that introduce new ways of thinking and acting and that alter traditional assumptions. Not all innovations are disruptive; most are “sustaining.” Christensen suggests that disruptive innovations are not merely improvements to existing arrangements and assumptions—i.e., not simply the proverbial “better mousetrap.”

Disruptive innovations are produced by market environments in which an existing product or solution has become so entrenched, so expensive, and so complicated, that fewer and fewer people or organizations are able to afford it or access it. Rather than simply joining the competition to serve an increasingly smaller niche of elite consumers (i.e., with ever-better sustaining innovations), a disruptive innovation emerges to bring an entirely new method or product to what has become a much larger, under-served market.


In the current market for effective youth crime prevention, the sustaining innovations that have long dominated the market would be more effective and more sophisticated approaches to law enforcement as well as the growing number of individualized, therapeutic treatments. For more than a century, policymakers in the U.S. have been willing to spend considerable amounts of money to pursue stronger and more certain law enforcement (e.g., policing, prosecution, and incarceration). At the same time, the helping professions have been working to expand upon the increasingly expensive array of research-based programs for reducing deviant behavior at the individual level with various treatment techniques.

pyj_disruptpic2The Positive Youth Justice Model, on the other hand, may be the disruptive innovation that offers a valuable and desired product (public safety) to a large segment of the market (communities) that has been under-served and out-priced by traditional suppliers (courts, corrections, probation, treatment) that are focused on meeting the demands of an increasingly smaller, elite market (local and State governments).

Of course, even a disruptive innovation has to be effective in order to succeed in the long run. Thus far, researchers find evidence for the possible efficacy of the Positive Youth Justice Model (i.e., it could work based on what we know about adolescent development). The next task is to establish its effectiveness (it actually does work in practice).

Clayton Christensen on Disruptive Innovations