The theory of “Disruptive Innovation” is an idea that has come to dominate business. Why? Business pundits and consultants would tell us it points the way to the strongest business success.
Except I think there’s a different truth. The thing the disruption theory does most reliably is give you a great way to sell your business to funding sources, to the press (who LOVE a great disruption story), or to that narrow niche of customers who passionately hate the “old ways” and don’t care if the new way is really any better. The theory of disruption is even being used to sell changes designed for wholesale destruction of our public school system in the US (with an odd leap of faith hoping that whatever replaces it will be better). (More on schools here.)
Using theory to promote an idea isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But truth is important for businesses to succeed. Is there really a strong connection between disruption and long term success? That’s far more tenuous. At least that had been my growing sense of the theory.
And now I see that battle has been joined on exactly this issue. Writer and Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore fired the first shot with an excellent article in The New Yorker (“What the Theory of ‘Distruptive Innovation’ Gets Wrong”).
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