CHAPTER 8CLAYTON CHRISTENSEN

ON DISRUPTIVE INNOVATION

While Jim Collins thinks in terms of paradox, Clayton Christensen does so in terms of dilemma. But when it comes to analyzing the conflicting objectives faced by heads of industry, both are in agreement. In his bestseller The Innovators’ Dilemma,1 Christensen examines two alternatives. Should a company prioritize protecting its existing business, or investing more massively to counter disruptive innovators, who, sooner or later, will drastically alter the market? This choice is all the more difficult since, most often, radical innovations provoke a change in a company’s economic model. Christensen’s alternatives are at the heart of the eternal debate between improvement and transformation, exploitation versus exploration.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen introduces the notion of “disruptive innovation,” the concept that made him famous. He first described the idea 24 years ago in the Harvard Business Review2 and, since then, it has been subject to analysis the world over. The concept describes how companies enter the market at the low end, build a solid base of consumers, then move progressively upmarket, destabilizing or even annihilating existing companies that have been present in their market sector for decades.

This theory owes its success to the original thinking of its author, but also, and this is far from negligible, to his judicious choice to use the expression “disruptive innovation.” The distinction between ...

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