The Persistence of the Innovator’s Dilemma
In 1995, a young Harvard Business School Professor co-authored an article in Harvard Business Review, “Disruptive Technology: Catching the Wave.” He and his co-author proposed a new causal mechanism that explained the surprising failure of highly-regarded companies. The most punishing innovations, they argued, were the ones that were easy to dismiss at first blush — simple, affordable solutions that took root outside the mainstream market. The authors called these “disruptive” solutions and provided a straightforward prescription for leaders looking to turn disruption into an opportunity. They suggested that companies should find a customer who loved the disruptive solution despite its limitations and create a separate organization to commercialize it.
Of course, that young HBS professor was Innosight co-founder Clayton Christensen. Since then, he has written over a half-dozen books and many more Harvard Business Review articles, almost all of which touch on disruption in some way. Academic journals have dissected the disruptive innovation theory and hundreds of thousands of students around the world have seen Christensen’s famous model.
Yet, the innovator’s dilemma persists. Just ask executives at Blockbuster Video, Sony, Nokia, Microsoft, Hertz, Kodak, Delta, and nearly all newspaper companies. That’s not to say that there haven’t been success stories. But they’re notable because they are exceptions.
So, why has this dilemma persisted?
Scott D. Anthony is managing director of Innosight Asia-Pacific.