The Innovator’s Dilemma Book Review by Andrew Isherwood

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen (1997 and re-printed in 2000) is an interesting and worthwhile read.  Concentrating on Disruptive Innovation  Christensen describes his theories on why markets are disrupted by newcomers offering what at first looks like inferior products or services.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen (1997 and re-printed in 2000) is an interesting and worthwhile read. Concentrating on Disruptive Innovation (originally called Disruptive Technology) Christensen describes his theories on why markets are disrupted by newcomers offering what at first looks like inferior products or services.

Christensen defines two types of innovation:

Disruptive Innovation: will change the order of the market place.

Sustaining Innovation: improve the performance of products or services in-line with the customer currently values and keeps the status-quo.

The Innovator’s Dilemma

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Christensen’s argues that suppliers always improve their products in ways that their customers want. These suppliers improve faster than the needs of the customers therefore at some point a gap appears between what the customer needs and the products performance, Christensen calls this suppler over performance. This over performance allows other lesser products to become attractive to the customers and they switch products when either the parameters that the customer values change or the performance of the lower cost products meets the customer’s needs.

Christensen mainly concentrates on the incumbent and offers advice on ways of stopping this disruption from happening. He cites examples from the hard disk industry where the main players changed position in-line with the size of the hard disks and the usage of them.

This book, as so many “silver bullet” books has been criticised mostly for its post hoc rationalisation of the examples used, also as the label Disruptive Innovation is subjective and only applicable after the innovation has become disruptive it is difficult to predict which potentially disruptive innovations will succeed. The survivor bias in this work is therefore cited as a major concern. However, the point here is to raise awareness of the potential for disruption if you only listen to your customers.

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