Disruption is not a strategy

Disruption theory is for corporate strategy, it’s not a start-up guide.

A famous book that pops up frequently in the Horizon3 space in Clayton Christensen’s ‘The Innovators Dilemma‘.

In it, the fundamental premise is that disruption happens when a low cost producer enters a mature market where customers are over-served. The incumbents ignore the smaller companies at first, retreating up-market to higher margins. Crucially, this steps gives the disruptors breathing room and they eventually gobble the market.

Jerry Neuman presents a worthwhile critique of the populist views around disruption. Specifically, how startups *mostly* cannot try to be disruptive, and how disruption theory isn’t a guidebook for a great start-up play. Neuman argues that what has become a bible for startups is actually a great read for corporate strategists; that its a playbook for seeing how your big company can be disrupted.

So why is Christensen so popular if his theory can’t be put to use? Well, because it can. Just not by you. We are not Christensen’s target audience. The Innovator’s Dilemma was written as a warning to the managers of large companies, the incumbents, not as an instruction manual for startups. For bigco executives, it was a much-needed wake-up call: watch out for those little companies going after the customers you don’t want with technologies that look like toys, they could grow up to displace you. Christensen was not writing to the founders of those little companies on how to disrupt those big companies.

It’s a worthwhile read for anyone involved in strategy, innovation, or just understanding how the world works. ±15 mins.

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