The recent New Yorker article, - The Disruption Machine: What the gospel of innovation gets wrong, - by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore, has led to a flurry of opinions on disruptive innovation. The New Yorker described the article as “Rethinking the innovation craze.” Others called it an “absolutely devastating takedown of disruptive innovation,” a concept that Lepore said is a “competitive strategy for an age seized by terror.” It’s also a takedown of her fellow Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, - considered the father of disruptive innovation based on his 1997 bestseller The Innovator's Dilemma, and a number of subsequent books and article, - whom she accused of poor scholarship, misreading history, and myopia.
As I wrote last week, disruptive innovation has been often misused, as happens with popular concepts which become trendy buzzword. Many are truly tired of all the talk of disruption, even if they could not do without their smartphones and the Web. Lepore’s article may well be part of a growing backlash against the relentless advances in technology. It’s important to examine the impact of technologies on society, especially by those who can best write about the societal changes in their wake through the lens of history and human nature. I was hoping that Lepore had written such an article, but in the end, her aggressive attacks on Christensen turned me off.
John Hagel, - co-chair of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, - had a similar reaction in his blog post The Disruption Debate - What’s Missing? “I admit that I’m mystified by Jill Lepore’s article in the New Yorker attacking Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation,” he wrote. “Not only does it have a meanness that isn’t warranted, but it leaves the reader with an unanswered question: if Clay's theories are not helpful (and I still believe they are), how do we explain the cascading disruptions that are playing out in markets and industries around the world?”
Hagel then proceeds to examine the growing forces of disruption, which he views “simply as the sudden demise of leaders or incumbents in particular markets or arenas. . . Disruptions turn the assets of incumbents into potentially life-threatening liabilities. . . “[D]isruption is occurring with increasing frequency in the business world. Whether it is good or bad, it is happening and becoming increasingly widespread.” ”