What Did The Innovator’s Dilemma Get Wrong?

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Back in 1997, Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovators Dilemma suggested that successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs. He argued that such companies will eventually fall behind newcomers to the industry which can move fast unhampered by legacy thinking and technology. Christensen called this "disruptive innovation" and gave examples as diverse as the personal computer industry, milkshakes, and steel minimills.

The theory of disruptive innovation has since had a profound impact in how we think about innovation in general.

In a recent New Yorker article, Jill Lepore, Professor of American History at Harvard University, takes down the disruptive innovation theory. Plenty of people have sniped at Christensen’s highly influential theory of disruptive innovation down the years but it has taken a fellow Harvard Professor to dismantle it in what Christensen calls a “criminal act of dishonesty.”

In fact we need to applaud Lepore and whatever errors she has made. She has opened up strategy to real debate. She has also challenged the value of the business guru and taken a swipe at the elite nature of business thinking.

In my recent column for Forbes, I comment on the discussion and give my view of what Christensen’s book The Innovators Dilemma got wrong.

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