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The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change) Paperback – January 5, 2016
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
Christensen builds his thesis upon the notion that technology comes in two broad flavors: sustaining and disruptive. Established product lines use sustaining technology to make incremental improvements. In the language of biology, sustaining technology facilitates gradual Darwinian evolution where incremental improvements coupled with survival of the fittest lead to gradual product improvement. For example, tire manufacturers use sustaining technology to enhance the tread, sidewall, and belt design of automotive tires. Sustaining technology is not trivial, and often involves tremendous expenditures of capital. It is, however, what established companies do best, and these companies have developed very effective organizational and manag! erial structures for dealing with it.
Disruptive technol! ogy, on the other hand, approaches product evolution outside the sustaining envelope. Disruptive technologies typically offer a cheaper solution to a small, often unidentified subgroup. Once established within this small market the disruptive technology evolves through sustaining technology until it eventually satisfies the performance criteria of more traditional markets. When this happens, the disruptive technology bursts onto the scene, attacking the soft underbelly of the established corporations, often with fatalistic consequences. In the parlance of evolutionary biology, disruptive technology is like punctuated evolution; fast with significant changes in the gene pool.
Christensen may be excused for lacking the breadth to discuss similarities between such diverse fields as biology and business management. Still, the book would have benefited immeasurably by a co-author in the field who might have offered greater insight into universal principles governing the evol! ution of complex systems. Repeatedly I found myself going to books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould to refine my mental image of the multidimensional landscape in which biological organisms and industrial businesses compete for the resources of survival.
The book is well written and persuasive in its arguments. It questions many established ideas and shows that often these ideas fail to apply to disruptive technologies. Often the best corporations are especially susceptible. Defense against disruptive technologies does not come from being smarter and working closer with customers. Paradoxically, working closely with customers and following established rules for corporate investment often make a company more susceptible to harm from disruptive technologies. Companies naturally evolve toward higher-end products with greater margins. Consequently, they find it difficult to enter markets with disruptive technologies that often begin with low margi! ns, are technologically simple, and do not have a clearly d! efined customer base. Such markets are ideal for start-up firms. The author suggests, with several case histories, that one of the best ways for established firms to deal with disruptive technologies is to spin off autonomous organizations that exist within the economic constraints of disruptive technologies.
The author does an excellent job of using examples, drawing most from the disk-drive industry. He also includes examples from the computer, motorcycle, steel, automotive, and earth-moving industries as well. In each case he explains how disruptive technologies emerged and often destroyed well-run companies that were following all the established rules. This drives home the fact that disruptive technologies pose such a great risk precisely because they can destroy industries not only in spite, but because they follow established business practices.
After describing disruptive technologies, with historical cases to illustrate points, the author ends with a case st! udy involving electric vehicles. I found this chapter to be among the weakest, and something of a distraction from the more substantial earlier material. Ironically, in the process of trying to frame electric vehicles as disruptive technology, the author seems to have missed one of the best examples of a disruptive technology, and one that nearly destroyed America's foremost industries: small cars.
Overall, Christensen's work is on a high academic level, though some of the technical material is inconsistent. For example, the ordinates in figures 1.4, 1.5, and 6.1 disagree with each other. The text on page 128 also disagrees with figure 6.1, while the text on page 150 disagrees with figure 7.1. These may be simple examples of typographical errors, but they lessen confidence in the book's technical accuracy. On the positive side, the book has excellent organization and lots of pertinent examples, as well as extensive notes and documentation. The index is also very co! mplete and thorough.
Though Christensen's ideas are new! and radical they are so lucid, logical, and clear that anyone involved in American business cannot afford to ignore them.