I read Jill Lepore’s article in the current New Yorker, “The Disruption Machine,” twice to try and figure out what exactly she was trying to say. At first I thought that she was joining me in critiquing the overuse and misuse of the word disruption. I agree with her that the word is thrown around improperly by people that have never studied and do not really understand Clayton Christensen’s Theory of Disruption.
But then she goes on to criticize Christensen’s research methodology and tries to poke holes in the theory citing several of the companies profiled in the original book. They were named as being disrupted but seventeen years later they are still doing quite well. This is where she displays her own ignorance of the Theory of Disruption and how it has evolved since the Innovator’s Dilemma was published in 1997.
First, the companies she said are “doing quite well” including US Steel, Seagate Technology, and large retailers have all been forced into the high end of their markets by low end competitors that continue to challenge them from the bottom. Second, as I wrote earlier this week, disruption often takes decades. Yes, many of these companies have survived and even thrived, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have been chased into different markets in order to do so.
My conclusion is that the article is one Harvard professor’s failed attempt to discredit another Harvard professor’s work. She attacks the “hand-picked case study” methodology and then apparently fails in her own research to read Christensen’s subsequent books on disruption that address many of the issues she raises. Asking critical questions is good for advancing a theory, but this article doesn’t do much to change my mind about what is going on in the world of innovation in large, established enterprises.