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136 of 138 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2011
This book is full of insight. Here's a summary, in case you want to get a good feel of what's in the book or want to refresh your memory without re-reading the whole book.

(Here, the term "technology" refers to not just engineering and manufacturing, but also marketing, investment and managerial processes -- anything that transforms the inputs of production, like land, labour and people to products and services of higher value.)

(Some of the examples are partly my own conclusions.)

- Why is it so hard to *sustain* success?
- Is success so unpredictable as it sounds?
- This book is not about poorly-run firms. It's about why well-run firms often lose. It addresses the first question above and partly the second.

- Innovations can be sustaining (better than the previous product on the same terms) or disruptive (worse than the previous product when judged by the traditional criteria, but better in different ways).
- Sustaining vs disruptive is different from incremental vs radical. The latter comparison is about the degree of change; the former about the dimensions on which the judgment is made. For example, moving from a 1 GB to a 2 GB hard disc would be an incremental change, and moving to a 1 TB hard disc would be a radical change (1000x capacity), but both are sustaining changes, since the things that matter are the same (capacity, cost per GB, etc). Whereas moving to an SSD is a disruptive change, since it performs worse than a hard disc on the traditional criteria (capacity, cost per GB, number of write cycles) but is better in terms of new criteria (speed, size, power consumption, withstands shocks, etc). So, forget about incremental vs. radical: it doesn't matter here.
- Incumbents beat newcomers at sustaining innovations, but lose with disruptive innovations.
- Disruptive innovations are often technically simpler than the previous generation. Example: PCs vs. mainframes. So the incumbent usually has prototypes of the disruptive technology in their labs -- they just choose not to bring it to market or to be committed about it. The failure is a business one, not a technical one.
- The essence of a disruptive attack is to force the incumbent into a position where it has to destroy its strengths in order to compete.
- A disruptive firm takes its technology as a given and asks, "who can I sell this to?" whereas the incumbent takes its market as a given and asks, "what technology can I develop for this market?"
- When a firm tries to determine what's right, it does so in the context of its value network. For example, better for an enterprise hard disc maker might mean higher reliability or built-in encryption, while for a laptop hard disc maker, better may mean smaller size or lower power consumption.

- A firm may think it's listening to the market, but it's usually listening to its market -- a subset of the entire market.
- Markets that don't exist can't be measured, so it's harder to find data in support of them.
- Firms that are well-managed and do the right thing (like listening to customers, investing resources to build higher-performance products that yield higher profits, going by data, etc) often can't handle disruptive innovations, and lose. If anything, the "right" thing may be counter-productive. This is why it's an innovator's dilemma.

- Technology improves in S-curves. Improvements are slow initially when a technology is new, then rapid as it's understood, then again slow as it matures. This repeats for each generation of technology.
- Disruptive innovations are worse initially in traditional terms (3.5-inch hard discs had lower capacity than 5.25-inchers), so they struggle to find a market and find a marginal one, but technology often advances faster than the market needs, so they become good enough along that dimension (capacity, in this example), and their other advantages come in to the picture (portability, price, reliability, etc), so they take over from incumbents.
- At some point, they may also beat the traditional technology on its own terms (capacity), because they are on a different S-curve, i.e., a different generation of technology, that eventually beats the older one. But this happens in only some cases. Even if the original technology retains its advantages over the disruptor for ever, the market doesn't care, since both technologies are over-serving market needs along that dimension. The other dimensions where the disruptive technology is better become competitive advantages. (It doesn't matter whether 3.5 or 5.25 inch discs have more space, if both have more than you need. The small size of 3.5-inch hard discs was more important, since it let manufacturers build smaller computers.)
- The position that a firm occupies in the market dictates the firm's organizational structure, cost structure and margins. A mainframe component supplier may have a high cost structure, with an expensive sales force, because that's needed in the mainframe market. When a mainframe component supplier evaluates the PC business, the low margins will cause their profits to go down, below their cost structure, leading to loss, so the rational thing for them to do (from their point of view) is to not enter the PC market. Besides, their org structure and values will come in the way.
- A downmarket company looks upmarket and finds higher margins, so is happy to go upmarket. The upstream guys, however, as described above, do not find the low-end market appealing, so it's a one-sided fight, with a disastrous outcome for the incumbents.
- This is worth repeating: companies find it tempting to move upmarket but hard to move downmarket.
- By the time the disruptive product reaches the mainstream market, it's too late for the incumbent -- the upstart has the experience and volumes, etc. Besides, the incumbents have little time to react -- they enjoy a lot of success and profits till the day the disruptive technology becomes good enough, at which point the market switches over, and they die quickly.

- Setting up a separate division in the incumbent company generally doesn't work. The division isn't given enough resources, or the cost structure or the management structure or the parent organization's values come in the way.
- One effective strategy for an incumbent is to take a stake in a disruptive company so that it can eat its cake and have it too.

- Sound resource allocation causes companies to move upstream (margins are higher) but not downstream.
- There are three theories on who makes decisions and allocates capital at big companies. One says that it's senior management. The other says that middle managers first filter out ideas that lead to low margins, or are incompatible with the firm's strategy, or don't have a ready market, etc, and pass on only the "good" ideas to senior management. Senior management merely thinks they are making important decisions, but the actual decisions have already been made by middle managers. The third theory ("resource dependence") says that the customers really drive the direction of the company, resource allocation, etc -- they have more of a say in the company's decisions than the people in the company.
- Even when a senior manager decides to purse a disruptive strategy, the people in the organization are likely to ignore it or, at best, cooperate reluctantly if it doesn't fit *their* model of what it takes to succeed as an organization or as individuals within an organization. Well-run companies are not populated by yes-people.
- Another reason it's harder for a company to move downstream is that their customers can themselves be moving upmarket. The company may not notice it's moving upmarket.
- There are five reasons why it's hard to respond to a disruptive attack, but if you understand them, you can use them to your advantage.
1. Customers effectively control resource allocation in well-run companies.
2. Small markets don't provide sufficient growth for big companies.
3. Applications for disruptive technology is unknowable in advance, and you need to fail your way to success.
4. Organizations have capabilities, processes and values independent of the people within them. These strengths within their current business model are disabilities when dealing with a new market.
5. Technology supply may not equal market demand.

- It's critical for a company to develop disruptive innovation early, but not so important whether it's early or late with sustaining technology.
- Companies are able to make huge, multi-year, bet-the-company investments on sustaining technology, but can't make small, technologically-straightforward investments on disruptive technology.
- Developing a new market is considered risky, but it's actually less so, and more promising, than to enter an existing market dominated by entrenched companies.
- The size of the organization should match the size of the market. A big company can't attack a small market. Instead, create a spinoff or acquire a small company (and run it as a separate business).
- Small markets cannot generate the revenue that a large company needs, to grow at a good rate. Being big is a very real disability for an organization.
- Building new markets requires iterations -- repeated failures till you succeed.
- A big company can't usually speed up the growth of the market to make it attractive to it.
- Asking users what they want may not help, either -- they don't know.

- Emerging markets are discovered together by suppliers and customers -- they are unknowable ahead of time by either party.
- Strategies and plans for dealing with disruptive innovation should therefore be plans for learning and discovery rather than plans for execution.
- People are trained (both at school and on the job) in managing existing markets, but not in discovering new ones.
- Applying management and investment strategies for sustaining innovation to disruptive innovation will be disastrous. For example, these processes demand quantified data on the size of the market, revenues, etc.
- Act as if your forecasts for the market are wrong, rather than that they are right.
- More important than coming up the right strategy right out of the gate is to make sure you don't run out of resources or credibility until you iterate to find the strategy that works.
- A big company penalizes managers for failing, making it hard to iterate.

- Managers think about whether people in the team have the capability for the job, but they should also think about whether the organization itself has the capability for the job.
- An organization's capabilities derive from resources (people, cash, equipment, brands, etc), processes (how to do a particular task; processes can be formal or informal) and values (what's important?). Looking at these three separately helps us better understand what an organization can or cannot do.
- Clear, consistent and broadly understood values are important as a company becomes bigger, since they allow employees to act autonomously and consistently, but they also define what an organization cannot do.
- Companies have processes to bring sustaining technologies to market, but not disruptive technologies. This is partly because disruptive technologies show up rarely.
- In a startup, people (resources) account for much of what gets done. Over time, processes and then values become more important. As this happens, it becomes harder for the company to change to new problems. Processes are less flexible than people, and values even less so.
- This is because the very raison d'etre for processes is to do the same thing consistently, over and over again -- processes are meant to *not* change. The other reason is that processes result in the creation of organizational boundaries, which in turn resist a change in the process.
- Some big companies, like McKinsey, have taken this to an extreme -- hundreds of MBAs join, and leave, every year, but they churn out solid work year after year, because the organization's strength is in its processes and values, not people.
- Small companies are actually more capable of disruptive innovation than big ones, despite having far less resources, because their processes and values aid rather than come in the way of disruptive innovation.
- Processes can impede disruptive innovation because of their task-specific nature -- you can't ask one process to do two fundamentally different things.
- One way of looking at a potential acquisition is to ask: am I paying for resources, processes or values? To what extent is each responsible for the company's success?
- If an acquired company's processes or values were the real driver of its success, the last thing you want to do is integrate it into the parent organization, because you're destroying the very thing that let it succeed.
- Financial analysts often have a better intuition for the value of resources than for processes.
- For example, Cisco has a very good sense of what it's doing. When it acquires a small company, it throws away the startup's processes and values, because that's not what Cisco paid for, and integrates the people into Cisco. But when it acquired StrataCom, a bigger, more mature company, it did not integrate it into Cisco. It let StrataCom stand alone, and infused its substantial resources into StrataCom, enabling it to grow at a faster rate.
- Similarly, Johnson & Johnson acquired small companies building disruptive technologies like disposable contact lenses, endoscopic surgery and diabetes blood glucose meters, let them stand alone, infused them with resources, and grew each to a billion-dollar business.
- Setting up a division within a big company to work on disruptive technology is hard, because while the division may have a lot of resources, the parent's processes and values hold it back, for the same reason a small company is more capable of building disruptive technology.
- Toyota upended the world automobile industry by better process (for development, manufacturing, supply chains, etc), and GM responded by buying fancy equipment for $60 billion (resources), which helped little when plugged into an antiquated process. You can't fight process with resources. Again, most of a big company's value is in process and values, not resources.
- Spinning out a company requires it to not have to compete with the parent company for resources; otherwise the parent company's values will starve the spinout. Only the CEO can ensure that this doesn't happen. Whether the spinout is physically separate is less important.
- The less the fit between the parent's and the child's processes, the more heavyweight a team the child needs to be. When there's no mismatch, you don't even need a separate team; a product manager can co-ordinate across existing functional groups (like software engineers and user experience designers) in the parent organization. When there's a huge mismatch, you need a separate team that uses its own processes to get work done.
- The less the fit between the parent's and the child's values, the more autonomous the child's organization needs to be. If there's a strong, sustaining fit, you don't need a spinout or a skunkworks -- the energy and resources of the parent organization will coalesce around it. If not, you need a spinout; otherwise the team will be starved of resources.

- When technology grows faster than the market demands, the disruptive technology becomes good enough, and customers choose products based on other attributes. This leads to a new phase in the product life cycle. People initially bought computers based on their performance, and laptops were seen as underpowered (and expensive) machines. Once laptops became powerful enough, people decided that the performance advantage of a desktop isn't as important, and they'd rather have portability, and switched to laptops.
- Once a switch happens, it increases demand for the new generation of technology, and the economies of scale cause a reduction in price, so the price premium for the newer generation reduces, sometimes to zero.
- Disruption can happen several times in an industry. People first bought hard discs based on capacity till both 3.5 and 5.25 inch discs had enough capacity, then bought discs based on the size, till disks became small enough, then bought discs based on reliability, until most discs approached a million hours of mean time between failure, and are now buying disks based on price.
- Commoditization (competing solely on price) is the last phase of evolution of a product, when all aspects of the product have evolved to be good enough.
- The "buying hierarchy" model is a generalization of this, and describes the following four phases: users buy based on functionality, then reliability, then convenience, and finally price.
- We can look at the same progression from the point of view of the user rather than the product: early adopters buy based on functionality. As the required functionality is built, the market grows and late adopters enter the market and buy based on reliability, leading to another round of growth in the market, and when all products are reliable enough, the late majority come in and buy based on price. (This description leaves out the stragglers, who don't want change of any kind, and buy touch-tone phones only because you can no longer buy rotary dial phones.)
- The attributes that make disruptive products worthless in mainstream markets are typically their strongest selling points in emerging markets.
- So you're better off looking for a new market for your technology rather than trying to improve the technology to please the existing market. That is, look at it as a marketing challenge rather than a technical one.
- Disruptive products are usually simpler, cheaper, more reliable and more convenient than established products.
- Don't spend a ton of resources building a better-performing product than the market demands. A disruptor will eat your lunch.
- Since technology oversupply is dangerous to incumbents, they can try to prevent this situation by making sure that demand continues to rise. Microsoft and the computer hardware companies did this, probably unintentionally, with ever-increasing hardware demands for newer versions of Windows, causing customers to continue to demand beefier computers. But this can't go on forever, since people are finding the previous version of Windows to be good enough and are not upgrading. The resulting technology overshoot led to the popularity of laptops and now the iPad.
- Any of these three strategies to deal with technology oversupply (stick with the present technology and go upmarket - dangerous, move with customers's needs and adopt the disruptive technology, or prop up demand to postpone oversupply) requires predicting the two curves (technology supply and market demand) to be successful.

CHAPTER 10 (case study about electric cars):
- The best way (that the author knows) of identifying disruption is to draw a graph between performance improvement demanded in the market and performance improvement delivered by technology. If the two lines look like they'll meet in the future, that's the time where the industry is ripe for disruption. Of course, that requires you to identify the y-axis -- what do customers care about? There may be several of them that need to be addressed.
- The attributes that matter in a car are the ability to drive 125-150 miles without refueling, to accelerate to 60mph in 10 seconds (to safely merge with freeway traffic) and a wide array of options.
- Electric cars can be disruptive only if they manage to improve along these dimensions faster than market demands increase. There's a 2-4% p.a. improvement in technology along the above attributes, and only a 1% improvement in market demands, so they could be disruptive in the future.
- Electric cars are disruptive, so by definition the incumbents don't see them as a threat.
- Saying that electric cars will never perform as well as gasoline cars is missing the point. The question is: will they be good enough for the market?
- Experts are bad at predicting the future of disruptive technology and the market sizes, so we should be skeptical of them (just as we should be skeptical of our own analysis).
- If you're an electric car manufacturer, how would you create a (unsubsidized) market?
- First of all, the market we're looking for is not the current market, by definition, since it's a disruptive technology.
- Most car manufacturers will focus precisely and myopically on the current market, because of resource dependence (customers decide where a company invests) and small markets not providing sufficient growth for big companies.
- So, look for a market that's okay with a slow car that doesn't travel very far.
- Second, no one can learn ahead of time what the early markets for electric cars will be, whether by market research, asking customers, etc. The only option is to iterate in the market by selling real cars to real people who pay real money.
- Government incentives or mandates are likely to distort the search for a market, rather than aid it, so don't take those into account.
- Third, the business plan must be a plan for learning, not for executing a preconceived strategy. Don't spend all your resources on the first iteration, like Apple did with the Newton.
- Speculation on potential markets: cars for teenagers, whose parents don't want them to go fast or far, or taxis and other vehicles for use within congested Asian cities, since electric vehicles can be more efficient in stop-and-go traffic.
- Chrysler is trying to improve the technology for the market (building a car with almost 1 ton of batteries, which costs $100K) rather than trying to find a market for the cars as they exist. Ford's doing the same thing. Wrong strategy.
- Performance oversupply seems to have occurred in cars -- people don't buy cars based on which one accelerates to 60mph the fastest, and there's overchoice in options.
- Which means that the basis for competition will change. The first electric car will be simple and convenient.
- Since we need to iterate several times, design so that features, function and styling can be changed quickly and cheaply. Get the initial design out quickly and cheaply.
- Design for a low price. Disruptive technologies typically have a lower sticker price, though the running costs may be higher. Smaller disks were cheaper, but more expensive per MB. Hydraulic excavators were cheaper, though they cost more to move a given quantity of earth in a given time. Similarly, an electric car must be cheap, even if it costs more per km to run.
- Don't hope for technological breakthroughs. A technological breakthrough is needed only if you choose to view electric cars as a sustaining technology, rather than choosing to harness the laws of disruptive innovation.
- Maybe electric cars will eventually have a range of 150 miles, but those will be built by companies that create a new market and then develop the sustaining technologies need to take them upward into more attractive markets. Remember that companies are upwardly mobile and downwardly immobile.
- Remember that we'll need to create a new distribution channel, as has happened historically with disruptive innovation, because existing dealers won't accept it. The electric car won't fit the dealers' model for making money any more than it fits the incumbent car manufacturers' models for making money.
- Create an autonomous business unit or a separate company whose stock is owned by the parent. This makes resource dependence work for us rather than against us, since our customers will be electric car users rather than gasoline car users. A separate BU also solves the problem of a small market not providing sufficient growth for big companies. Rather than fight with company management as to whether the business is viable, let customers decide.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
The Innovator's Dilemma explores how the creation of new technologies can cause companies to lose market share or their markets entirely, even companies that do everything right such as listening to their customers, watching the marketplace, and investing in research and development. The author argues that, while existing thriving companies can be successful with sustaining technologies, these same companies often falter with the advent of disruptive technologies. They either often do not want to put their resources into developing the new technology, because their existing customer do not want it or they attempt to fit the new technology into the existing market instead of looking to create new markets for the new product which generally doesn't work. Both of these decisions cause the company to lag in the development of the disruptive technology and eventually wither away to the competition of smaller companies that focused on developing the eruptive technology.

The dilemma examined is, while it is important for companies to give their customers what they want to be successful in the present, they need to know when to begin to move their resources into technologies or services t hat represent the moneymakers and markets of tomorrow. Though concentrating mainly on the disk drive industry, the author also looks at the retailing industry, pharmaceutical industry, and automobile industry including the development of the electric car, among others. Examples of disruptive technologies include the evolution of disk drives from 14 inch to 8 inch to 5.25 inch to 3.5 inch to 1.8 inch, the introduction of off-road motorcycles to North America. The replacement of transistors by vacuum tubes, and the creation of discount retailers such as K-Mart. Sustaining technologies are those that improve upon existing products or technologies 'along the dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued'. Most advances in technology have been sustaining in nature, which may very well be one reason why, when faced with a disruptive technology, ordinarily successful companies fail with regards to those disruptive technologies. Another reason for successful firms failing to capitalize on disruptive technologies, this goes against what is normally considered 'rational financial decision-making'.

Generally, disruptive technologies have low profit margins, are geared to 'emerging or insignificant markets', and a company's best customers usually do not want, need, or cannot use the disruptive technology. The author outlines four basic principles to successfully deal with disruptive innovations which he likened to man first learning how to fly. In the introduction, he wrote that when man first learned to fly, he ignored the basic principle of physics. Once the basics principles of physics were recognized and put to use, man was able to fly. Similarly, he argues that once managers recognize and utilize the principles of disruptive innovation, they will be able to successfully deal with such innovations. These principles are: Companies Depend on Customers and Investors for Resources. Small Markets Don't Solve the Growth Needs of Large Companies. Markets That Don't Exist Can't Be Analyzed. Technology Supply May Not Equal Market Demand. These four principles are discussed in the firs half of the book. The author argues that if managers can understand and use these four principles when faced with disruptive technologies, they then can and will be able to effectively navigate through those unknown waters. One of the reasons put forth for repeated failures is that the then-successful companies focused solely on providing what their customers wanted and neglected to look to or invest in nascent technologies. Their total customer focus caused them to lose sight of new and potentially lucrative markets and products. Also put forth as a reason for these failures is the companies' fears of cannibalization; that us is, the companies feared that the new disruptive technology would be purchase at the expense of their more successful products. However, as he points out, disruptive technology never initially replaces and existing technology, and , as such , the short term fear of cannibalization of existing high profit products is unfounded. When and established company waits to introduce a disruptive technology until the market for that product is already established, then the fear of cannibalization is much more real.

The author looks also to value networks to determine whether or not a company will be successful with regards to disruptive technologies. A value network is essentially the framework that a company uses to solve problems, deal with its customers, and generally do its business. It is from within this network that marketing decisions and 'perceptions of the economic value of a new technology' are formulated. As can be deduced, a large, established firm will have different marketing plans and value perceptions of a new product for a small or unknown market than would startup or smaller company. Often times it is through this value network that the decisions to pas on a new technology are made. Shadow prices are discussed in relation to how different value networks view the varying characteristics of the product. The author outlines six steps in the evolution of a disruptive technology: Disruptive technologies were first developed within established firms. Established firms may have chosen not to market the technology, but they knew how to develop it. Marketing personnel then sought reactions from their lead customers. The most important customers have no use at the moment for the new technology and, therefore, show little interest in it. Established firms step up the pace of sustaining technological development. They do this in order to keep up with the needs of their current customers and thereby 'win the competitive wars against other established firms which were making similar improvements'. By taking this tack, established firms neglect possible competition from entrant companies with disruptive technologies. New companies were formed, and markets for the disruptive technologies were found by trial and error.

Often the people who developed the disruptive technologies at the established firms would leave and form their own companies to market their innovations. In the process, they would develop and new market. The entrants moved up-market. Once these new companies developed their own markets, they were able to make some changes to their products and begin to move in on the established firms. Established firms belatedly jumped on the bandwagon to defend their customer base. By this point, it is generally too late for the established firms. Those that succeed in getting the new technology to market generally don't get any significant market share. They basically just hang on. The author examined companies such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Kresge, Woolworth's, and Honda. He concluded that the successful managers took the following steps when faced with disruptive technologies. They embedded projects to develop and commercialize disruptive technologies within an organization whose customers needed them. When managers aligned a disruptive innovation with the 'right' customers, customer demand increased the provability that the innovation would get the resources it needed. They placed projects to develop disruptive technologies in organizations small enough to get excited about small opportunities and small wins. They planned to fail early and inexpensively in the search for the market for a disruptive technology. They found that their markets generally coalesced through an iterative process of trial, learning and trial again. When commercializing disruptive technologies, they found or developed new markets that valued the attributes of the disruptive products, rather than search for a technological breakthrough so that the disruptive product could compete as a sustaining technology in mainstream markets. The decision making process that the MBA students learn at Business Schools, including decisions under risk, the minimization of regret, etc., would be among the proper and useful methods to use when making decisions regarding sustaining innovations according to the book. However, it seems that the author is arguing that it is these exact decision analyses that often cause firms to fail when faced with disruptive technologies.

Disruptive technologies have to be analyzed using different decision models and that is what The Innovator's Dilemma sets out to demonstrate. The Innovator's Dilemma shows that, if addressed properly, disruptive technologies can prove highly successful and profitable. If addressed using the common decision-making approach best geared for everyday issues and sustaining technological improvements. Then disruptive technologies could prove to be a disaster for the existing staid corporation
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2004
In a landmark study, the author argues that the basis of competition among businesses undergoes a paradigm shift everytime a disruptive technology is born. So what is a disruptive technology? Remember what Walmart did to Sears? Of course you do, because disruptive technologies are usually products or services that are faster, cheaper, smaller, and more convinient. Ultimately, good companies must refrain from doing what got them to the top in the first place--listening to their customers and believing everything comes down to superior technology--in order to successfully compete with the onslaught of start-ups redefining both the buying hierarchies and value networks in which they are implicated.

This is without a doubt one of the best business books I have ever read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Christensen's study of disruptive innovators and advice to companies positioned to become disruptive innovators provides encourgaging guidance to independent software vendors (ISVs). In "The Innovators Dilemma", Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen studies several industries to discover why companies that are doing all the right things loose their leadership positions or fail altogether. Christensen's focus is on "disruptive technologies" and the innovators that create them and introduce them to the market.

Micro ISVs should understand Christensen's discovery of characteristics of disruptive technologies. The micro ISV model closely follows the descriptions of successful, disruptive innovators in The Innovator's Dilemma

Review these and see if your small software company has an opportunity to become a disruptor. (Note that Christensen uses the term "technology" not in the sense of "Information Technology" but as a general term meaning the state of any industry. His study covered industries as differing as excavation equipment, motorcycles, disk drives, and steel).

Characteristics of Disruptive Technologies

And Where Your ISV Fits

"1. The Weakness of Disruptive Technologies Are Their Strengths". Christensen profiles companies such as Conner Peripherals that created small disk drives. The established marketplace at the time did not value the limited storage capacity of the drives so Conner Peripherals created a market in portable computers. By seeking and encouraging a market that made physical size more important than storage capability, Conner Peripherals changed the basis of competition.

Christensen goes on to say though that the challenge is not one of technology. In the cases he studied, he found that firms with successful disruptive technologies won because of a marketing focus not at technology focus. In his words, they were able to "build or find a market where product competition occurred along dimensions that favored the disruptive attributes of the product."

"2. Disruptive Technologies are Typically Simpler, Cheaper, and More Reliable and Convenient than Established Technologies". Quoting: "Because established companies are so prone to push for high-performance, high-profit products and markets, they find it very difficult not to overload their first disruptive products with features and functionality." Christensen goes on to study the success that Intuit found with Quicken. Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, followed just this model when introducing Quicken as a simpler alternative to the complex accounting programs most individuals and small businesses had available.

These observations of successful innovators should be an encouraging guide to micro ISVs. You have the opportunity to turn our perceived weaknesses into strengths and to focus on being the simpler, cheaper and more reliable and convenient offering to take on competitors in your segment.

To lead your company there, Christensen discovered four "principles of disruptive technology".

Principles of Disruptive Technology

And How Your ISV Can Leverage These Principles

"1. Companies Depend on Customers and Investors for Resources" You must not be customer driven to a fault. This seemingly contrarian advice bears itself out in the study of several different industries. Most companies listen to their biggest customers and develop their products along the lines of what those customers say they want. These companies find themselves unable to respond to disruptive technologies or to think of a future beyond the customers' current self-expressed needs. Companies spend resources trying to please their current customers and loose sight of potential new markets and changes in what capabilities the market values and what capabilities are really leveraged vs. simply stated desires.

Your ISV is not constrained by large, mainstream customers - in fact you may not even have customers yet. Your ISV is not constrained by large institutional investors more concerned about this quarter's growth rate than establishing a foundation for the future.

To break this dependency on customers and investors for company direction, Christensen recommends managers form small, autonomous, breakaway teams that are not constrained by what their mainstream customers want. These small teams then find new markets and a new world of capability-value for which the larger organization is not aligned.

Your ISV is a small, autonomous team out of the box.

"2. Small Markets Don't Solve the Growth Needs of Large Companies". Your small ISV can be successful addressing new markets that are under the radar of large companies.

"3. Markets that Don't Exist Can't be Analyzed". Established companies have effective market research and planning organizations and processes. Yet these organizations and processes are not effective ways to discover new markets.

Christen presents the case study of Honda's entry into the American motorcycle market in the 50's and 60's. Honda found success discovering a small-bike (50cc) market that the big makers (Harley, BMW) did not pursue. By offering a reliable, fun product, Honda identified a market segment and a value proposition that other makers later tried to emulate. By then Honda had an established dealer network and low cost production capability while Harley dealers wanted to keep focus on high margin large bikes. While large bikes provided high margin, they turned out to produce low growth rates. The small bike market had a much larger growth rate.

Your small ISV can be much more effective at discovering new markets and taking advantage of their fast growth rates.

"4. An Organization's Capabilities Define its Disabilities". We touched on some of this earlier. Companies often become successful on the basis of their processes and values. By definition though, processes and values do not change rapidly so a company defines itself by these and also defines what it will or cannot do by these capabilities.

As a new ISV, you have the opportunity to create new capabilities. Ensure that your processes and values server your desired target or goal and do not unnecessarily constrain you from leveraging capabilities that you do have.

"5. Technology Supply May Not Equal Market Demand". Christensen presents examples of industries where technology capabilities exceed what the market really wants leaving a "vacuum" in the lower price points.

Your new ISV can fill this vacuum.


1. Study Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma for guidance on seeking opportunities and evaluating strengths of your new ISV.

2. Do not be sucked into competition based on length of product's feature-lists. The features that customers value change quickly. It is more important to be able to meet the most important features well than to have the absolute greatest number of features.

3. Discover and tackle the vacuums left by established competitors.

4. Prefer large growth rate opportunities to large margin opportunities.

Agree? Disagree? Comment and let me know.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2004
Clayton Christensen breaks technology developments into two groups. "Sustaining" technology improvements are those which seem to be in line with the needs of the current customers. The "Disruptive" technology developments are those which don't immediately seem to meet the established customer's demands. The basic problem is that often the large companies get blindsided by disruptive technology, and they either don't react, or react too late. Normally someone will figure out a slightly new market for the disruptive technology, improve the basic process, drive down the costs, and then go after the more established markets.
Clayton shows how this model applies to a number of different industries over the last hundred years. He has a lot of hard data from the Disk Drive industry, but he mentions a number of other industries which underwent fundamental changes, and shows how the old companies were not able to adapt to the changes.
"The Innovator's Dilemma" and "Crossing the Chasm" go well together. They are addressing many of the same issues from different perspectives. Clayton Christensen is looking at changes in the market place from the point of view of the large established companies, while Geoffrey A. Moore is coming from the other direction, that of a small startup company with some new cool technology. Clayton is more concerned with technology, while Geoffrey is focused on more on marketing issues.
This is a very well written book, good for anyone in business. It reads well, and I found it very thought provoking. There are a lot of good ideas here.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I advised my professor to add this book to his reading list and contemplate making this required text. Filled with examples, this book helps open one's eyes. Another tool to avoid marketing myopia. A very enjoyable read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2007
With the Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen delivers a very powerful analysis of the role of innovation in gaining market leadership. The question raised is whether market leadership can be sustained through innovation alone. Indeed, the core of the Innovator's Dilemma illustrates how successful companies with established solutions, marquee customers and a valued brand keep being threatened and at time vanquished by start-ups. A recent example would be how established enterprise software vendors have been shaken up by disruptive startups: Remember vs. Siebel Systems? Christensen addresses a difficult problem that most successful customer focused companies face. Precisely, because it is a formidable challenge for an established company to bring disrupting technology to its own installed base of customers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
What more can be said about this book that hasn't already? Even an individual contributing developer like myself in a non-management role benefits from it, as there are great examples of how new products move from niche to mainstream and upset their competitors. After reading it, you should understand why it's so dangerous to keep your head down and *only* listen to your current and up-market growth customers.
The only downside to the book is the lack of practical advice on how to avoid being out-innovated, and Christensen's follow-on book, _The Innovator's Solution_, nicely addresses even that.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2012
This book had a profound influence on my thinking when I read it, in the year it was first published. The concept of disruptive technology is potent - a proof of its influence is that virtually every business looking for funding claims to be disruptive! - and the level-headed description of how successful businesses drive calmly and steadily over cliffs makes sobering reading.

The central case series (if that's the way to put it) studies the hard disk industry, and the way that relatively humdrum changes have led to seismic changes in industry leadership. The book observes what could be the next wave of change - but with the benefit of hindsight the implied conclusion (that the 2.5" disk manufacturers would take industry leadership) certainly hasn't played out - certainly not as dramatically as the previous generations.

So does that invalidate the text? Hardly. Its core value is in documenting real events and identifying the human and organizational tendency to ignore inconvenient truths and to squander market position. You have to think of Blackberry - a bright star when the book was published; of Dell - hardly a failure, but an industry revolutionary that's failed to live up to its promise; and the converse example of Apple - who went from nearly dead to totally dominant by making small but disruptive innovations that overturned two categories and created a third.

I know a lot of people who talk about this book but, when pressed, admit they haven't actually read it. A lot of the business books on my shelf don't need to be read through in detail: read the summary boxes and you have the value. "The Innovator's Dilemma" is a book you need to read all the way through, or you'll reach logical but utterly wrong conclusions about both what Christensen is saying and what the case studies demonstrate.

So read this book with confidence. Don't be put off that the examples look back a few years: Clayton Christensen is one of the most influential business thinkers of 2012, and this book is the perfect introduction to his insightful style.

As a complementary read, why not try Poke the Box? This is a book from a very different kind of author. But there's a thread that joins the two: Seth Godin is the constant advocate of new business thinking, pointing the way to disruptive change; Christensen is the documenter of the potential consequences for managers and corporations who choose to ignore this rising tide.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2011
I picked up this book after hearing the "innovator's dilemma" alluded to in several interviews by different CEOs. After reading this interesting piece on business strategy, it is no surprise why executive level management teams enjoy quoting this book. Innovator's Dilemma is a thoroughly researched investigation into an age old business phenomenon: How do businesses who were once dominant players in their industry get displaced by smaller, upcoming rivals?

Well documented and lush with real world examples, The Innovator's Dilemma details case studies from a variety of industries where large corporations had the dominant market share and then abruptly lost it to upcoming rivals that seemed to come out of the blue. Did these "good" companies fail because of poor management? Were these companies blindsided because their organizations were too bureaucratic to react to the marketplace? "No", says the The Innovator's Dilemma. Many times, a even when a large corporation follows conventional business school training and "does all the right things", it can still be overcome by a smaller, nimbler newcomer to the market.

Two kinds of marketplace changes are outlined: incremental (sustaining) and disruptive technologies. While the R&D efforts of large companies respond well to incremental changes in technology, they perform poorly against disruptive changes in technology. A disruptive change is when a new technology starts off catering to the needs of a low-end niche market, and then through incremental improvements, becomes a viable contender to the larger dominant players up-market. A host of examples are reviewed to show how this change takes place: the churn of dominant disk drive manufacturers, the shift from cable-based ground excavators to hydraulic excavators, the rise of low-volume high turnover retailers like K-Mart versus the low turnover department store models, the proliferation of small steel manufacturing plants.

This book explores why large corporations are so unequipped to deal with disruptive changes. Surprisingly, they often yield to disruptive changes in their marketplace not because of poor management, but because the goals and objectives of such large corporations causes them to overlook the threat posed by the newcomer. Think of how IBM overlooked the advent of the PC because they had the mindset, "Why would anyone need a personal computer in their home?"

Although written in 2002, changes in the marketplace over the last ten years have only given its ideas confirmation. We have seen the Innovator's Dilemma dynamic play out in Apple's iPhone upsetting the dominant Blackberry, the Kindle replace traditional channels of publishing, and the rise of cloud computing beginning to displace established "big business" ERP companies. The Innovator's Dilemma is an informative and fun read executive teams, marketing managers, entrepreneurs, and anyone with an interest in business strategy.
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