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216 Clayton Christensen: The Innovator’s Dilemma

Established companies often fail to innovate because they focus too much on their existing customers and products, neglecting disruptive technologies.

Clayton Christensen: The Innovator's Dilemma


Clayton Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma" is a seminal work on the topic of innovation in business. Christensen argues that established companies often fail to innovate because they focus too much on their existing customers and products, neglecting disruptive technologies. He describes how new technologies can be initially dismissed as insignificant or not relevant to a company's core business, only to later become disruptive forces that upend entire industries. Through numerous case studies, Christensen illustrates how even the most successful companies can be blindsided by disruptive innovation, and he offers insights into how companies can avoid this fate.


Title: The Innovator's Dilemma

Author: Clayton M. Christensen

Publishing year: 2010

Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press

Length in hours: 1 hour and 6 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Established companies are often unwilling or unable to adopt disruptive technologies because they focus too much on their existing customers and products.
  2. Disruptive technologies may initially seem inferior to existing technologies, but they often have advantages that become apparent over time.
  3. Established companies can create an environment conducive to innovation by creating separate business units, focusing on small markets, and tolerating initial losses.
  4. Companies should focus on customer needs, rather than existing products, to identify disruptive technologies.
  5. Companies that are successful in disruptive innovation often create new markets or enter markets with low-end, low-cost products and then move upmarket over time.
Clayton Christensen: The Innovator's Dilemma

5 funny quotes

  1. "It is hard to boil the ocean."
  2. "I have yet to find a professional musician who understands economics or a professional economist who can play the saxophone."
  3. "The right kind of failure is success."
  4. "The experience of watching a 3-D movie without the requisite glasses is a good metaphor for what happens when someone uses the wrong lens to assess a situation."
  5. "The reason why smart people have bad ideas is that they don't expose themselves to the possibility of bad ideas."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "Disruptive technologies bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously. Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use."
  2. "The reason why successful companies fail to adopt disruptive technologies is that doing so requires them to embrace a new business model, and that model is disruptive to their existing business."
  3. "The strategy that works best in emerging industries is to ignore today's customers entirely and to focus instead on the products that aren't yet good enough to meet the needs of the mainstream market."
  4. "The best practices of the past are inadequate to the challenges of the present, let alone the future."
  5. "The problem is not that managers don't understand how to innovate. It's that they're not willing to invest in the disruptive technologies that ultimately will destroy their core business."

5 dilemmas

  1. How can established companies balance the need to focus on their core business while also investing in disruptive technologies that could potentially cannibalize their existing products?
  2. How can managers distinguish between sustaining technologies and disruptive technologies, and allocate resources accordingly?
  3. How can companies create an environment that allows for experimentation and innovation, without sacrificing the stability and predictability that shareholders expect?
  4. How can companies stay ahead of disruptive technologies, while also avoiding "jumping the gun" and investing in technologies that may not pan out?
  5. How can established companies compete with start-ups that have the advantage of starting from scratch, without being weighed down by legacy processes and procedures?

5 examples

  1. The decline of the disk drive industry and the rise of Seagate Technology and Western Digital Corporation.
  2. The introduction of the hydraulic backhoe and the disruption of the cable-operated backhoe market by J.I. Case.
  3. The rise of the mini steel mills and the decline of the integrated steel mills like U.S. Steel.
  4. The decline of the American steel industry and the rise of Nucor Corporation.
  5. The failure of Digital Equipment Corporation to compete with personal computers and the rise of Compaq Computer.

Referenced books

  1. "Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company" by Andrew S. Grove
  2. "Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers" by Geoffrey A. Moore
  3. "The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators" by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen
  4. "Seeing What's Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change" by Clayton M. Christensen, Scott D. Anthony, and Erik A. Roth
  5. "The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses" by Eric Ries

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"The best practices of the past are inadequate to the challenges of the present, let alone the future."

Clayton Christensen: The Innovator's Dilemma
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