Soapbox Round 2: ‘disruptive innovation’ debate disrupts ‘the chattering classes’

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”180″ /]It’s a Blackboard Jungle out there. Clayton Christensen rebuts Jill Lepore on most–but not all–of her views on his theory of disruptive innovation [TTA 24 June] aired in a New Yorker cover story. The forum is a follow up interview (20 June) with BusinessWeek. (Hat tip to Tom Boyle commenting on the original Soapbox. Also see a just-released HBR video interview, link below.)

Your Editor agrees with his point that his theories have been developed and updated far beyond his first (1997) book, ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, the only one she refers to.  (Similarly, I am most familiar with ‘The Innovator’s Prescription’ of 2008, but we’ve commented on his more recent relevant work, readily searchable here.) This is, unfortunately, her argument’s major flaw. It is akin to ceasing your review of WWII history with A.J.P. Taylor and Cornelius Ryan; as fine foundationally as they are, the scholarship and strategic debates will extend far beyond our lifetimes.

Mr Christensen in his rebuttal is appealingly modest in bringing up where he got it wrong (the iPhone), where his model has gone off (in 2002, a mathematician from Tuck demonstrating the causal mechanism as incorrect to that point) and that he still sees problems with the theory. Moreover, her strongest point is one he agrees with: (more…)

Soapbox: Is ‘disruptive innovation’ a theory gone off the tracks?

[grow_thumb image=”” thumb_width=”200″ /]Having publicly stood as a huge fan of Clayton Christensen’s theories of disruptive innovation, particularly the ‘broken circle of innovation’ as an explanation of our current economic stagnation (if not ‘stagflation’ which was a hallmark of my early adulthood and yes, now) and disruption in healthcare (even if it hasn’t started yet because it’s been sidetracked), this Editor was prepared to savage, demolish and otherwise lay waste to a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore (a Harvard professor of American History, for Pete’s sake).

Having read and digested the article, I am surprised in largely agreeing with Prof. Lepore. She brings forth certain weaknesses and concerns I had about the entire Weltanschauung of disruptive innovation, first as an overarching theory equivalent to Darwin’s theory of evolution. There is a veritable industry around disruptive innovation which she outlines, reminding me that hype of this type around any theory I find profoundly irritating because theories are just that–to be reality checked early and often, just like voting in the 1930s in Jersey City, New Jersey. Prof. Lepore then points out where fellow Harvard Prof. Christensen didn’t paint the complete picture (e.g. Bucyrus, US Steel) and–to me quite importantly–discounts external events and even aggressive, defensive business strategy (as Ron Hammerle’s Soapbox on sidetracked innovation pointed out). Many of Prof. Christensen’s acolytes ignore history (and business strategy) altogether in a near-religious form of Determinism-by-Innovation.

There is also another circle–a circular logic prevalent in Mr Christensen’s theories summarized aptly by Ms Lepore: (more…)