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5.0 out of 5 stars Disruptive technologies create a threat to large companies, November 13, 2001
This review is from: The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Hardcover)
This is a book is about successful, well-led companies -often market leaders- that carefully pay attention to what customers need and that invest heavily in new technologies, but still loose their market leadership suddenly. This can happen when disruptive technologies enter the stage. Most technologies improve the performance of existing products in relation to the criteria which existing customers have always used. These technologies are called sustaining technologies. Disruptive technologies do something different. They create an entirely new value proposition. They improve the performance of the product in relation to new performance criteria. Products which are based on disruptive technologies are often smaller, cheaper, simpler, and easier to use. However, the moment they are introduced, they can not at once compete against the traditional products and so they cannot directly reach a big market. Christensen researched how disruptive technologies have developed in the computer disk industry, an extremely rapid evolving industry. He identified six steps in the emergence of disruptive technologies:
1. Disruptive technologies often are invented in traditional large companies. Example: at Seagate Technology, the biggest producer of 5,25 disks, engineers in 1985 designed the first 3,5 disk.
2. The marketing department examines first reactions from important customers to the new technology. Then they notice that existing customers are not very interested and they conclude that not a lot of money can be made with the new product. Example: this is what happened at Seagate. The 3,5 disk's were put upon the shelf.
3. The company keeps on investing in the traditional technology. Performance improvement of the traditional technology is highly appreciated by existing customers and a lot of money is being made. Example: Seagate invested in the 5,25 disk technology. This led to considerable improvement of the technology and to a considerable improvement of sales.
4. New companies are started up (by ex-employees of the traditional companies) and markets for the new technology emerge by trial and error. Example: ex-Seagate people started up Corner Peripherals. This company focused on the small emerging market for 3,5 inch disks. In the beginning this was only for the laptop market.
5. The new players move up in the market. The performance of the new technologies gets better after some time, enabling them to compete better and better with the traditional companies and products. Example: the performance of the 3,5 disks improved drastically. The 3,5 inch disk moved up in the market, to the personal computer market. Corner pushed Seagate out of the PC market for 3,5 inch disk drives.
6. Traditional companies try to defend their market position and to get along in the new market. Often they notice that they have fallen behind so far, that they cannot keep up. Example: Seagate did not succeed in capturing a significant part of the new market for 3,5 inch disk drives for PC's.
The events described above can be understood by the four principles of disruptive technologies which Christensen formulates:
1. In well-led companies it is customers, not managers, who actually determine resources allocation. This is a proposition of the resources dependence theory (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978) which is supported strongly by the research of Christensen. In essence: middle managers will not tend to invest in technologies that are not directly appreciated by important (large) clients, because they will not be able to get quick financial gains by doing this.
2. Small markets can not fulfil the growth need of large companies. For several reasons, growth is important for companies. Unfortunately, the bigger the company, the harder it is to continue growth. A small company (40 million sales) with a growth target of 20%, must achieve 8 million extra sales. A large company (4 billion sales), has to achieve 800 million of extra sales! Emerging markets often simply are not large enough to fulfil such growth needs. They can, however, fulfil the growth needs of new small companies.
3. Markets that do not exist can not be analysed. The ultimate applications of disruptive technologies can not be foreseen on forehand. Failure is an intrinsic unavoidable step to success.
4. Technology supply does not always equal the market demand. The speed of technological progress is often bigger than the speed with which the customer demand develops. By improving the performance of the disruptive technologies (for instance the 3,5 inch disks, first only used in the laptop market), they became suitable for the larger PC-market.
These steps explain why traditional companies are often not capable of applying disruptive technologies. Christensen argues that you can not resist these four principles. What you can do however, is use them to your advantage. For instance: in a large company you can create an 'island' where the new technology is developed for the new market. Also it is possible get an ownership in emerging companies which develop the new technologies (several companies have done this successfully).
I think the innovator's Dilemma is an excellent book. The ideas are empirically foudend and together they form a coherent theoretical framework. The examples from the computer disk industry, the steel industry and others, are very well-documented and interesting. The book is logically structured and reads easily.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 12, 2007 10:31:41 AM PDT
Very good comment. You could be a professional writer and get money for writing things like this.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2007 2:08:46 PM PST
Coert Visser says:
Thank you, very kind

Posted on Mar 6, 2009 1:28:03 AM PST
Yogesh TS says:
Very articulate and laser sharp review.

Posted on Sep 13, 2010 12:54:22 AM PDT
Mr. C. Rice says:
Many thanks for your review, very interesting indeed and well written.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 13, 2010 1:08:09 AM PDT
Coert Visser says:
thank you!

Posted on Feb 28, 2012 9:16:18 PM PST
E. Ramos says:
Do you know what is difference between this version and "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail" first edition?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 28, 2012 10:52:08 PM PST
Coert Visser says:
I don't know

Posted on May 15, 2012 7:30:41 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 15, 2012 7:31:48 AM PDT
I like your review. I don't concur with the book's 4 principles. There are simpler explanations based on neuroscience as barriers to innovation. A good alternative read is David Rock's articles on the Neuroscience of Leadership.

I would posit a workable alternative theory can be based on that 1) change is pain for most people; 2) people avoid "noisy messages" (which innovation is); and 3) Managers have a limit to attention density. Most organizations do not fear failing at innovation, we fear the reprisals that punish noise and change.

Again a very good thorough review. Thanks

Posted on Apr 26, 2014 9:41:19 AM PDT
Dan says:
Thank you for writing a great review. I have one question though, I see your review was in 2001, so is this review descriptive for this 2013 book "The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change) Hardcover"?

Thanks for your help.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2014 10:02:39 AM PDT
Coert Visser says:
Hi Dan, I wrote the review shortly after the book came out. The 2013 edition I haven't seen.
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