Saturday, June 17, 2017

Disruption and Embracing the Storm

While reading the excerpt from The Innovator's Dilemma this week, a particular passage stayed with me: "...managers who ignore or fight [laws of disruptive technology] are nearly powerless to pilot their companies through a disruptive technology storm." Essentially, companies who embrace change and progress are able to adapt and overcome. Since the writing of The Innovator's Dilemma various changes in the business world across many industries have shed a new light on the research of Dr. Christensen, largely the emergence of the internet as the ultimate disruptor of nearly any and all industries. The Cisco article demonstrates the success of this mentality, with CEO Jeff Singer leading the company through nearly 200 acquisitions to remain at the forefront of technology trends. This aggressive tactic has kept Cisco a healthy IT company with only one layoff under Singer’s leadership. 

Outside of this “embrace the change” mentality, I struggle with certain aspects of Christensen’s theory that large corporations inherently can’t develop disruptive technologies through internal R&D organizations. Apple developed the iPhone and disrupted the music industry, Amazon has disrupted most of the retail industry, from books to general merchandise, and now, with its Whole Food’s acquisition, potentially groceries. Jill Lepore writes in a New Yorker article, "Disruptive innovation is a theory about why businesses fail. It’s not more than that... It makes a very poor prophet." This may seem harsh, and, admittedly, there are quite a few examples of start-ups disrupting industries (Uber vs Taxis, Airbnb vs Hotels, Tesla vs Auto), but the point is disruption isn’t a power bestowed exclusively to start ups. Large players in an existing industry can innovate, as long as they are devoted to thinking big, and creatively solving customer’s problems in a marketable way. In a recent Forbes article, Christensen discusses a theory, “Jobs to be done,” in which he states “If you develop a product and it doesn’t help the customer get a job done, then there is no causal mechanism that makes the customer buy your product.” Both the disruption theory and jobs theory work in tandem, companies need to develop products that customers will find useful or solve a problem to be successful at disruption.

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