The sustainable development of mega-projects is a very significant part of the sustainable development of economy and society. The pattern innovation of mega-projects is a paradigm shift in the sustainable development of mega-projects [1
]. Despite having a strong influence, theories of sustainable development of projects have not paid much attention to the pattern research [3
]. The earliest research on innovation originated in Schumpeter’s book [6
], and Schumpeter argues that the introduction of “new combinations” of production factors and production conditions into production systems is an innovation. Freeman [7
] summarizes the essence of technological innovation as “the first commercial transformation of new products, new processes, new systems and services.” Ettlie [8
], Dewar [9
] and Nord [10
] divide innovation into radical and incremental innovation. When Freeman [11
] studied in the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, he divided innovation into incremental innovation, radical innovation, change of technology system and change in the techno-economic paradigm based on the degree of innovation.
Since Abernathy [12
] proposed the concept of disruptiveness in 1985, Christensen, a scholar at Harvard University in the United States, explained the concept of disruptive technology further and systematically analyzed this concept in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma” [13
]. He pointed out that disruptive technology originated in a low-end, non-mainstream product or service designed for a new breed of customers. Compared with the existing company’s products [14
], the company made a revolutionary outbreak in the process of production or operation. With the continued improvement on technical performance, it finally disrupted the mainstream market and completed the replacement. Since then, research on disruptive innovation in industry and academia has gradually become a hot topic. Some research results have gradually become the guidelines for entrepreneurs to run their own businesses. This includes the forecasting methods of disruptive technologies [15
], the different application strategies to disruptive technologies among different enterprises with different sizes [16
], and the criteria that judges the degree of technology disruption [10
]. Some advanced enterprises even require that their enterprises can identify potential disruptive technologies to cope with the impact they have on the industry when they face disruptive technologies. While most businesses are aware of these technologies before new technologies can make a disruptive outbreak, they cannot foresee how much of those technologies will be able to develop and how much of the industry’s existing technology will be replaced. For example, the disruptive development of hard disk drives [8
] is beyond the expectations of many corporate decision makers. For managers in mature industries, they do not expect development and diffusion of disruptive technologies [17
], because [8
] in mature markets, incumbent products and technologies occupy the mainstream of the market, the fixed assets and production processes, when operating habits are relatively stable, while new products use new competitive design or methods, when replacing the original mature products. Companies must face high prices to update equipment, trainers, and to compete with new rivals, which often causes significant sunk costs. Meanwhile, managers often cannot predict the destructive potential of disruptive technologies because their perception of the industry is often hampered by perceptions of existing technologies [18
], while others [9
] believe that the reasons are a lack of staff training, and an inadequate investment in innovation and technical management that tends to hinder the pace with which enterprises cope with disruptive technologies. However, from another perspective [23
], disruptive technologies are not completely isolated from the existing technologies—they can be combined with existing technologies by transforming existing products and creating entirely new products. Therefore, with a positive attitude to face the disruptive technologies, learning to understand the characteristics of disruptive technologies can become a universal understanding of business managers.
The first research on disruptive innovation in China occurred in 2001. After that, Dai Yongping [24
] proposed that the OLED screen had the potential to become a disruptive technology. This technology was adopted in the screen of Apple’s new flagship mobile iPhone X in 2017—it has gradually become a disruptive technology that was successfully predicted. Subsequently, research about disruptive innovations in China included the identification of disruptive technologies [25
], the analysis of the evolution of disruptive technologies [26
], disruptive technology analysis methods [27
], disruptive innovation mechanisms [28
], disruptive innovation patterns [31
], and industry disruptive innovations [32
]. As for research dimensions of disruptive innovation, existing research includes the technical dimension (3D printing technology [32
]), change of technology system (cloud computing [33
]; digital currency [34
]), change in techno-economic paradigm (Shared Economy [35
The research on disruptive innovation based on the background of mega-projects is not enough. Only Feng Ling [36
] analyzed China High-Speed Rail (CHSR) from the perspective of developing a path of disruptive innovation. The reasons for this are as follows: first, scholars did not break through the traditional concept of Christensen’s subversive concept that “disruptive technologies are based on market competition and occur more in the innovation activities of small enterprises”, ignoring the fact that the government’s “visible hand” plays an important decisive role in the development of mega-projects that are under the influence of large enterprises and enterprise groups; second, when studying predecessors’ research about mega-projects, researchers focus more on organizational collaborative innovation [37
], integrated innovation and management pattern innovation, etc., and ignore the research on the characteristics of innovation activities. These are the two reasons for the research deficiency on disruptive innovation in mega-projects. The research in this paper is based on the concept that disruptive innovation of mega-projects is led by the government, to provide a theoretical base of research in the field of disruptive innovation.
Based on the connotation of disruptive innovation and connotation of mega-projects, this paper constructed a disruptive innovation connotation driven by mega-projects in China, which improved the connotation of sustainable management in this area. Based on this connotation, this paper analyzed the development pattern of the high-speed rail from its development process, operation mechanism, and influence in sustainability. We concluded that CHSR is a typical disruptive innovation, as well as a sustainable development driven by mega-projects, and it also constructed a disruptive innovation pattern for CHSR. The main conclusions are as follows.
CHSR’s disruptive innovation pattern is an innovation that has three implementation subjects that include the government, enterprises, and research institutions. It relies on the interaction of three dominant factors including a policy guide, capital support, and human resources guarantee. It experienced three outbreaks that includes practical production outbreak, mass production outbreak, and mainstreaming production outbreak. It ultimately accomplished the construction and operation of the world’s leading high-speed rail system in a short time. The disruptive innovation stages can be concluded as (1) independent innovation, (2) IDAR innovation, (3) integrated innovation, (4) innovation-led.
The rapid breakthrough and technological innovation of CHSR will have a profound impact on China’s long-distance traffic in the long run. From this perspective, the development of CHSR is a disruptive development. Moreover, the contributions made by CHSR in energy conservation, emission reduction, and circular economy are obvious. From this perspective, the development of CHSR is yet another example of sustainable development. Thus, there is no conflict between sustainable development and disruptive development when it comes to CHSR project.
CHSR’s development is a sustainable development in terms of transportation efficiency, economic growth, and environmental protection in China. For transportation efficiency, CHSR is more efficient than cars or airplanes. For economic growth, the GDP of cities along the high-speed rail lines accelerated after the operation of the high-speed rail. For environmental protection, CHSR reduces greenhouse gas emission and reduce the usage of lands, energy, and noise compared with other two main kinds of transportations. However, the developmental force of the high-speed rail can be only government or oligopolistic monopolies, which may be a restriction for its sustainable development unless more market mechanisms are imposed after its operation. In addition, except for a few lines that go through dense mega cities, it can be difficult to achieve profitability in the early stages of operation, but most of them may face premature debt crisis in the short-term.