Disruption 2020: An Interview With Clayton M. Christensen

With technology and capital rapidly increasing the pace of innovation, Christensen’s thinking is more relevant today than ever. What do we know now about the power of disruption and where it’s taking us?

Reading Time:

Topics

Disruption 2020

What will it take to innovate and compete over the next decade? These articles examine some of the biggest challenges companies will face, such as building the future workforce and identifying tomorrow’s disrupters. Included are contributions to MIT SMR’s special issue on disruption, published in memory of Clayton Christensen.
See All Articles in This Series
Buy
Already a member?
Not a member?
Sign up today
Member
Free

3 Free Articles per month, $6.95/article thereafter. Free newsletter.

Subscriber
$75/Year

Unlimited digital content, quaterly magazine, free newsletter, entire archive.

Sign me up
Clay Christensen, Image courtesy of Jason Grow

Image courtesy of Jason Grow

In the decades since Clayton M. Christensen first shared his Theory of Disruptive Innovation with the world, his thinking has led to the creation of billions of dollars of revenue, hundreds of companies, and an entirely new paradigm for how industry entrants upend established giants. Karen Dillon — Christensen’s longtime collaborator and guest editor of this special issue of MIT Sloan Management Review — had a chance to sit down with him before his death in January to learn how he had refined his thinking, what the future of innovation looked like through that lens, and what questions he was still wrestling with. This is an edited version of their conversation.

MIT Sloan Management Review: Over the years, the phrase disruptive innovation has come to mean all manner of things to people. But the broad, sweeping implication that “disruptive” is synonymous with “ambitious upstart” is not correct, is it? How would you like to define disruptive innovation for the record?

Clayton M. Christensen: Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service powered by a technology enabler initially takes root in simple applications at the low end of a market — typically by being less expensive and more accessible — and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors. Disruptive innovations are not breakthrough innovations or “ambitious upstarts” that dramatically alter how business is done but, rather, consist of products and services that are simple, accessible, and affordable. These products and services often appear modest at their outset but over time have the potential to transform an industry. Robert Merton talked about the idea of “obliteration by incorporation,” where a concept becomes so popularized that its origins are forgotten. I fear that has happened to the core idea of the theory of disruption, which is important to understand because it is a tool that people can use to predict behavior. That’s its value — not just to predict what your competitor will do but also to predict what your own company might do. It can help you avoid choosing the wrong strategy. 

You have been a big proponent of the benefits of causal theory. What do you think of the argument that big data obviates the need to seek causality?

Christensen: Well, it’s important to first recognize that the data are not the phenomena.

Read the Full Article

Topics

Disruption 2020

What will it take to innovate and compete over the next decade? These articles examine some of the biggest challenges companies will face, such as building the future workforce and identifying tomorrow’s disrupters. Included are contributions to MIT SMR’s special issue on disruption, published in memory of Clayton Christensen.
See All Articles in This Series

Reprint #:

61316

More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comments (3)
Otieno Nondoh
Thank you so much for sharing the wonderful interview with Prof. I like his explanation of disruptive innovation and the conclusion that innovation is the key to unlocking more opprtunities!
Otieno Nondoh
Anonymous
Thanks for sharing this synopsis of Professor Christensen most recent thinking.  As I read it, I realized the work I have been doing on economic engagement, most recently in collaboration with Professor Campbell, is a form of disruptive innovation.  By empowering employees as trusted partners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company, companies become more agile and competitive, as seen my industry leaders like Southwest Airlines, Capital One and many privately held companies.  These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck    http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-in-making-money/
Mehrab Ali Khan
gerate post thank you very much for posting..  With technology and capital rapidly increasing the pace of innovation, Christensen’s thinking is more relevant today than ever. What do we know now about the power of disruption and where it’s taking us?