The New Yorker recently released an article by Jill Lepore called “The Disruption Machine”, which attacks the disruption theory that was popularised in modern times by Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma.
While Lepore has a good point that “old” companies are able to sustain their dominance, I think it’s because many of them actually recognised the disrupting technology and they co-opted or headed off the would be disruptors. IBM entered the PC business. Apple went headlong into the tablet business to “kill” their laptop business. Oracle bought MySQL. Intel’s development priority for the Haswell architecture was to protect their flank from ARM. Google and Microsoft have entered the cloud space with guns blazing to respond to Dropbox—they often provide a better dollar-to-space ratio than Dropbox.
One case where Lepore might have a point is when Cisco bought Flip. Flip died not because an inferior good disrupted it, but because a much better product came along: the camera phone. But when it comes to the general trend in cameras, I think Christensen’s model still holds. Everyone has a camera phone, but Nikons and Leicas are now relegated to niche markets.
CNBC has also released a list of the world’s top 50 disruptive startups. A few aspects of the list immediately stand out:
- Warby Parker is taking on the traditional company Luxottica, which was extensively profiled on “60 Minutes”. I’m cheering Warby Parker on.
- Browsing the rest of the Top 10, it is interesting to see two companies—Aereo and Uber—in regulatory limbo right now.
- Interesting to see AngelList on the disruptor list. I would have gone with WeFunder over AngelList.