Disrupting the Theory of Disruption

You probably know that I am a big fan of Clayton Christensen. He was here recently in Australia and I spent the day with him (along with about 200 others). I feel his definitions of sustaining and disruptive innovation make sense. His models and examples resonate. His anecdotes hit home.

So I was extremely interested to read the unbelievably scathing attack on Christensen in the New Yorker by Harvard historian Jill Lepre. It is a sharp critique of his 1997 book the Innovator’s Dilemma, which popularized the idea of disruption. The critique relooks at the case studies in the book, amongst debunking almost the entire notion of disruptive innovation. 

To quote:

Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that. It doesn’t explain change. It’s not a law of nature. It’s an artifact of history, an idea, forged in time; it’s the manufacture of a moment of upsetting and edgy uncertainty. Transfixed by change, it’s blind to continuity. It makes a very poor prophet.

And more:

The handpicked case study, which is Christensen’s method, is a notoriously weak foundation on which to build a theory. But, if the handpicked case study is the approved approach, it would seem that efforts at embracing disruptive innovation are often fatal.

Read the article here. What do you think?

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