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The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail Hardcover – May 1, 1997
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What do the Honda Supercub, Intel's 8088 processor, and hydraulic excavators have in common? They are all examples of disruptive technologies that helped to redefine the competitive landscape of their respective markets. These products did not come about as the result of successful companies carrying out sound business practices in established markets. In The Innovator's Dilemma, author Clayton M. Christensen shows how these and other products cut into the low end of the marketplace and eventually evolved to displace high-end competitors and their reigning technologies.
At the heart of The Innovator's Dilemma is how a successful company with established products keeps from being pushed aside by newer, cheaper products that will, over time, get better and become a serious threat. Christensen writes that even the best-managed companies, in spite of their attention to customers and continual investment in new technology, are susceptible to failure no matter what the industry, be it hard drives or consumer retailing. Succinct and clearly written, The Innovator's Dilemma is an important book that belongs on every manager's bookshelf. Highly recommended. --Harry C. Edwards
The author, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, asks why some well-managed companies that stay on top of new technology and practice quality customer service can still falter. His own research brought a surprising answer to that question. Christensen suggests that by placing too great an emphasis on satisfying customers' current needs, companies fail to adapt or adopt new technology that will meet customers' unstated or future needs, and he argues that such companies will eventually fall behind. Christensen calls this phenomenon "disruptive technology" and demonstrates its effects in industries as diverse as the manufacture of hard-disk drives and mass retailing. He goes on to offer solutions by providing strategies for anticipating changes in markets. This book is another in the publisher's Management of Innovation and Change series. David Rouse
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The goal of the book is to educate people in the business world about how new technologies affect firms and to provide a new way of thinking about disruptive technologies. The end of the piece brings the conclusion that leading firms almost always have set technologies that work well for their current customers, choosing not to invest in new technologies because what they are currently doing is working, current customers do not want change. That is, until new technologies grow to be superior than their predecessors. Christensen does a fantastic job in making his point clear as he provides a plethora of studies across different markets to support his claims. The first half of the book is essentially a detailed history of the disk drive industry that has multiple examples of different firms both choosing to invest in smaller drives and continuing to use their already established, larger drives. He uses this information to create hypothesis’ about why these firms made their decisions and whether it lead them to success or not. Essentially, the author’s process in writing the book is to look at different industries that had disruptive technologies and discover what trends lead to success and what trends lead to failure. He spends a lot of time focusing on a single industry, the disk drive. However, he does bring up several other markets including the mechanical excavator, steel, computer, and discount retailer industries. This variety of different scopes enhances his argument, especially since he sees similar trends across all of these different markets. Many of his examples include established firms choosing not to adopt new technologies because it does not fit their current business motives, but then later being replaced by firms that dared to find new markets for the new technology. His claims are definitely unbiased as all of his conclusions are drawn from the hard evidence that he compiles and delivers to the reader throughout the book about the different firms in those industries. It is almost impossible to disagree with his conclusion since all of his evidence accurately backs up his claims.
Personally, I enjoyed reading the book but mostly because it appeals to my interests. As a young business major, the book is intended for me to read and may directly pertain to my own future. However, this book would be challenging to read for the average person that is not interested in business. The book is confusing at some times and is clearly designed for educated readers with a basic understanding of the business world. I would say that the book is a must-read for managers of a company that may be facing disruptive technologies in their industry as it does provide direct advice for people of that demographic. It is a book that I would certainly recommend to my peers within my major.
Christensen does a decent job in making the book engaging. Some of the chapters where he is providing data are dry and confusing, but he does always provide a summary at the end of chapters to keep the reader focused. A lot of the book is also repetitive in regards to the disk drive industry and the author reiterating his claims about disruptive technologies. Nonetheless, the book is overall definitely a success for its purpose. There is plenty of evidence throughout the book that prove his claims in real-world situations. His main ideas about why firms choose to serve current customers with current technology rather than try to force new technologies on customers also makes logical sense, given the customer-centric market that is present in today’s society. His complex conclusion that disruptive technologies succeed only when they find a market that does not currently exist is confusing, but is definitely supported with his evidence.
In conclusion, the book is a great read for those looking to advance their knowledge in the business world and think about topics that are not usually discussed. The author’s conclusions are creative and complex, but are backed up with hard evidence throughout the piece. The insights and advice brought up by Christensen are useful knowledge to any person studying business and the impact of emerging technologies. This is a book that I will definitely keep in mind in the future and I will recommend to others.
It could use an update where Tesla both validates some of the hypotheses in the section on electric vehicles, yet is disruptive not by being cheaper but by moving to a market that could appreciate a higher priced vehicle - high performance luxury cars, and now attacks the mainstream market by moving down instead of the conventional moving upmarket. This leads me to think that the book has some key concepts right, but needs to relax some of its self imposed constraints for a full, general description.
Today, almost instinctively, we understand the concept of disruptive technology. But it wasn’t until after the publication in 1995 of an article by Clayton Christensen in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave” that the term entered the language. That seminal article was followed in 1997 by Christensen’s pathfinding book, The Innovator’s Dilemma – one of the most influential business books of all time.
Christensen, a long-time professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, had found an answer to a question that had long mystified the business community: why had such iconic, well-managed firms as Digital Equipment Corporation, Xerox, and dozens of others that had long led their industries fallen by the wayside? The professor’s answer was not that they had simply gotten behind technologically but that they had done everything right — listening carefully to their best customers and catering to their needs by investing in sustaining technologies that offered customers added value. The problem was that the dictates of prudent business practice prevented them from investing in the sort of innovation that could turn their own industries upside down: disruptive technologies. In fact, Christensen wrote, “the only instances in which mainstream firms have successfully established a timely position in a disruptive technology were those in which the firms’ managers set up an autonomous organization charged with building a new and independent business around the disruptive technology . . . There is something about the way decisions get made in successful organizations that sows the seeds of eventual failure.”
A decade and a half ago this was a shattering insight and it explains the acclaim that Christensen’s work has received throughout the world of business. However, if you turn to his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in search of deeper understanding of these concepts, you may be disappointed. I was.
Sadly, this book is organized and written in a style that reeks of old-fashioned academia. Chapter One, an introduction of sorts, sums up the book as a whole — in 26 tedious pages, explaining in detail what the reader will find, chapter by chapter. First, Chapter One briefly outlines what the book will reveal, then proceeds to repeat each point in detail. Then, as though that isn’t enough, each chapter repeats the same points, adding considerably more detail. The final chapter repeats each of the major points — again. The repetition is maddening. And so is the overuse of the passive tense, which abounds throughout. Compounding the problem are the long-winded explanations of such things as how disk drives work and the distinction between thin-film technology and ferrite-oxide technology in disk drives’ read/write heads. All this material, no doubt necessary to “prove” Christensen’s thesis to his academic peers (some of whom are still not convinced), gives the book the charm and box-office appeal of a PhD dissertation about the influence of the Greek concept of the soul in 13th Century French literature.
If all you want is to get to the meat of this book and avoid slogging through endless detail about matters only an engineer could love, read the first chapter and the last one. Forget the rest. You’ll thank me.
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