I have spent my IT career doing the odd stuff, working on projects that were considered strange and not mainstream and working for companies that have been working in “new” areas. It has been fun and I have enjoyed being part of “innovation teams” and helping to develop “disruptive” business ideas. And mostly this “strange” stuff has been successful and delivered value to customers, employees and investors.
Part of this means that I have accepted as given books by people like Michael Porter (1985, “Competitive Advantage”) and Clayton Christensen (1997, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”). They fit into my world view and so why would I question the quality of their underlying research or the logic in their analysis?
So it was with interest that I read an article on the BBC web site (http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27999589) that discussed two companies who are at the forefront of a) financing this disruptive world (Indiegogo) and b) delivering disruptive services (Uber).
It was only on second reading that I clicked on a link http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/the-disruption-machine near the top of the article in the paragraph:
The whole theory behind disruptive innovation – cheaper, sometimes lower-quality technologies which come along and destroy the business models of established industries – is a subject of ferocious academic debate at the moment, after an article in the New Yorker questioned the concept.
I am still sold on the basic notion of disruptive change and fall back on my comfort blanket of the works of Thomas Kuhn from the early 1960’s on Paradigm Shifts (1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).
HOWEVER reading this article has made me question whether the path of disruption is as predictable as Mr Christensen would have us believe. Once disrupted by the new comers is the fate of the incumbents set. Without doubt IBM were “disrupted” by Microsoft in the 1980’s and yet IBM are still in business. Today Microsoft are themselves being disrupted by Salesforce, Amazon and many others. Have Microsoft been able to learn from history? Have they been quick enough to react to the changes, but not so quick that they bet the business on something un-proven? The next few years will be very interesting and as I noted in a previous article the shift from being positioned as a 90% market defender to a 14% market challenger may be just what is needed.
(I am sure that Karl Popper would argue that “The Innovators Dilemma” is not good science as it would fail his empirical falsification test i.e. too easy to find examples of the “theory” breaking down and failing.)