SOURCE: MIT Sloan Management Review

MIT Sloan Management Review

September 15, 2015 11:43 ET

New Research in MIT Sloan Management Review Disputes Widely Accepted Theory of Disruptive Innovation

A Review of the 77 Cases Discussed in The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution Indicates That Only About 9% Exhibit the Four Key Elements of the Theory of Disruptive Innovation

CAMBRIDGE, MA--(Marketwired - September 15, 2015) - Research findings from an article published today in MIT Sloan Management Review indicate that the case examples meant to support the theory of disruptive innovation developed by Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen do not in fact exhibit the requisite characteristics of that theory.

The article, titled "How Useful is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation?," was written by Andrew A. King, a professor of business administration at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and Baljir Baatartogtokh, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia. The researchers surveyed and interviewed 79 industry experts on 77 proposed examples of disruption identified by Christensen in his seminal books, The Innovator's Dilemma and The Innovator's Solution, the latter of which he coauthored with Michael E. Raynor.

To launch their project, King and Baatartogtokh identified four key elements of the theory of disruption:
(1) incumbents in a market are improving along a trajectory of sustaining innovation,
(2) they overshoot customer needs,
(3) they possess the capability to respond to disruptive threats, and
(4) incumbents end up floundering as a result of the disruption.

The review by external experts found that only seven of the cases contained all four of the elements of the theory. The majority of the 77 cases included different motivating forces or displayed unpredicted outcomes. Among them were cases involving legacy costs, the effect of numerous competitors, changing economies of scale, and shifting social conditions.

"Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation has gripped the business consciousness like few other ideas," write the authors. But while "stories about disruptive innovation can provide warnings of what may happen ... they are no substitute for critical thinking" and careful strategic planning.

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