Business Classic: The Innovator's Dilemma

This book disrupted and reordered how many people think about innovation.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 27 Oct 2014

Book: The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, by Clayton Christense (1997).

Clay Christensen is a Harvard Business School professor, whose mild-mannered style belies some pretty hefty thought processes.

A former management consultant, he developed a neat and plausible theory: powerful corporations can be defeated by the emergence of new products or services that aren't necessarily better, but simply good enough - and (probably) cheaper, too.

Success is a bad teacher, Christensen argues. It encourages us to believe that we have 'cracked it' and that we can rest easy, relaxed about lesser rivals. This analysis forces us to think harder about what our so-called innovations are for.

Do people really want, as the cliche has it, ever more beautiful and elaborate mouse-traps, or do they just want dead mice? So why are you killing yourselves seeking perfection?

Other companies' 'good enough' or 'fast follower' products may not embody our highest ideals about what innovation is supposed to mean. But they might get to market more quickly and put you out of business. Disrupt or be disrupted: that is Christensen's message and warning for us all.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime