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The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  48,339 ratings  ·  1,351 reviews
Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen says outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership -- or worse, disappear completely. And he not only proves what he says, he tells others how to avoid a similar fate.

Focusing on "disruptive technology" -- the Honda Super Cub, Intel's 8088 processor, or the hydraulic excavator, for example -- C
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published 1997)
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Mal Warwick
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Chances are, you’re reading this review on an example of disruptive technology. An iPhone or other smartphone. An iPad or a notebook computer. Or simply a laptop. Every one of these devices turned its industry upside down when it was introduced, driving established companies to the brink of insolvency, or even into oblivion, and paving the way for new actors to enter the landscape.

Today, almost instinctively, we understand the concept of disruptive technology. But it wasn’t until after the publi
Aug 19, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was on my list of "Books I should read" for a long time. Maybe this is why it was so disappointing, or maybe I've just read too many modern case studies of business models to find this engaging. It was interesting to read about the origins of many terms that I take for granted (i.e. disruptive technology), but I couldn't really relate any of the examples or theory beyond anything that's already been mentioned by other more recent authors. And its hard for a 20-something to relate to th ...more
Rod Dunsmore
Oct 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book on innovation and how start-up and entrepreneurs ought to fashion their company to go against entrenched incumbents.

The gist of the book is an interesting trend the author found when analyzing the industry. He found that certain innovations were "disruptive" -- meaning they changed the way a market worked, and some were "sustaining" -- meaning they were really just improvements on existing products.

The author traces disruptive innovations through the steel industry, where it
Gabriel Pinkus
Sometimes, supply creates demand.

That’s my summary of the book.
Athan Tolis
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: startups, business
The subject of this classic is disruptive technology.

With the help of many examples from industry (disk-drives being his main workhorse) the author explains what technologies are likely to disrupt, who is likely to be disrupted, why they are likely to be disrupted and what the choices are that the established players have when presented with disruption.

The most important point is that disruption generally comes from the practice of repackaging and marketing already existing, straightforward tec
Nico Macdonald
This is one of the best books on innovation in the last 20 years. I read it in 2000 and still refer to it. Christensen’s core insight/argument is that businesses fight shy of developing innovations that will 1: produce limited profits initially; 2: cannibalise core, high cashflow/profit lines. But that what look like niche technologies – Winchester drives, hydraulic backhoes, etc – improve in capability, reliability and reduce in price to the point that they entirely cannibalise the existing mar ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This business classic resonated with my long career in high tech. There were no major conclusions that I took issue with. I nodded my head often while reading.

So in a few words — Christenson really knows his material.

The negatives:

At twenty plus years the examples are dated and presented in an academic manner. Disk drives compose the largest of the industry analyses, so some boring examples in many cases.

The charts and graphs are poorly done and it makes one actually appreciate power point sl
Nelson Zagalo
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book, but a bit disappointing because totally centred upon business managing. I would like to see the discussion occurring at a lower level, the creative moment, before management decisions. Leave here the five principles stated by Clayton in the book. I generally agree with all of them, being the fifth one the most subjective.

"Principle #1: Companies Depend on Customers and Investors for Resources

Principle #2: Small Markets Don’t Solve the Growth Needs of Large Companies

Principle #3: Mar
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Clayton M. Christensen writes clearly and analytically, with lot's of examples and research, pleasure to read. Thoughts so logical you wonder how the managers/CXO's he talks about didn't figure this out by themselves already yesterday. A thought provoking read no doubt, even for those not in executive positions.

It's not a 100%, but gets some future predictions right - fun to discover them 18 years later. And it's also interesting to use the frameworks described to think about new technologies th
Jeff Yoak
This is one of those books that becomes an instant classic. Everyone talks about it until you think you know most of what it has to say without reading it shortly after it comes out. You can barely carry on a conversation about technology without someone using the term "disruptive." It deserves that reception and as with most cases, there is much more to gain by reading the book than just the popular representation.

The book defined disruptive technologies vs. sustaining technologies and addresse
May 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mohrcollab
Notes from Clayton Christenson, The Innovator’s Dilemma

It pays to be a leader in a disruptive innovation
• Leadership in sustaining innovations gives little advantage
• Leadership in disruptive innovation creates enormous value

But established companies typically fail in the face of disruptive change
• Companies get organized to satisfy current customer’s needs and to facilitate design and production of current products. This organization can then prevent the organization most conducive to developin
Bonnie Atkinson
Well, this is a mixed bag, this interesting little book. The observations are prescient but the presentation is abominable. I'm sure for those who demand an exhaustive regurgitation of every step in an analysis, it is useful, but I felt that most of the book could have been the research appendices. On the other hand, the conclusions drawn were incisive and incredibly useful. It would have worked well if it had been presented as a research paper with a 10-page abstract. As a practitioner, I could ...more
Hikmat Kabir
Nov 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is such a well articulated and well organized book. The book can pretty much be divided into two parts: the problems that arise with disruptive tech and how to deal with them; they are further dissected into eleven chapters for better comprehension of the topic. Sure, you could grasp the crux of the book by reading the summary provided at the end. But the cases provided to complement the author's points turn out to be pretty great and help the readers gain greater insights into disruptive t ...more
Oct 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech-econ
The ideas are astounding - a must read, however, the book is quite dense. There is a ton of research behind everything, but the presentation can be a bit redundant/overwhelming.

Definitely worth the read - but don't be afraid to skim sections once you've gotten the point.
Yevgeniy Brikman
A pretty convincing argument for why large, established companies struggle to keep up with disruptive innovations. It turns out that the very things that make those companies dominant in an existing market work against them when considering new markets. As the pace of disruption accelerates, the lessons in this book become more and more important.

Less convincing are the solutions the book proposes and, at an even more basic level, how to distinguish between what the book calls "sustaining innov
Gleb Posobin
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two kinds of innovations: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining ones are about improving the product along some dimensions, without making it worse along any others: a new iteration of iPhones is an example, or the latest M1 MacBooks. Disruptive ones make the product noticeably worse, except for some dimension that is irrelevant to the users of the current generation. If you are actively using a Nokia smartphone or Windows mobile in 2006, the new iPhone looks like a toy: no copy-paste? ...more
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, business
A (relatively) old but thorough book with strong evidence which resonates strongly to this day.

Professor Christensen writes this book as a prescriptive guide on how good managers can fend off disruptive technologies which take over the market and overthrow established firms.

However, entrepreneurs seeking to transform existing markets will also find this book's broad exploration of the topic highly insightful.

What's missing from Professor Christensen's work is an exploration of modern case studie
Clayton M. Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma argues a distinction between two types of technology change, each with different effects on the industry’s leaders: technologies (either incremental or radical) that sustain the industry’s rate of improvement in product performance, a typical prerogative of dominant firms, and on the other side, disruptive innovations which redefine performance trajectories and result in the failure of the industry’s leading firms.

A longer summary can be found h
Divyanshu Madaan
One of the most counter intuitive books I have come across. Must read for anyone with a business bent of mind!!
Gerald Glover III
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As usual, Christensen has presented an effective framework for considering and handling a topic. Even though this was written in the late 1990s, the principles still hold true.

I have so many ideas for how to properly evaluate and maneuver legal innovations after reading this. It’s pivotal.
Jul 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've written before I'm not a big fan of many business books because many authors "intentionally or unintentionally, [attempt] to make [their] book some kind of new scriptural canon, demanding of our attention year after year." The Innovator's Dilemma is a different book altogether; it's MBA territory and not meant for readers who enjoy a quick but mostly superficial exploration at self-help techniques. Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma is a challenging and enlightening book, which p ...more
Antonio Stark
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short piece on how disruptive innovation fails to bloom in gigantic organizations, and how innovators might act around the "force of nature" of large corporations whose inertia is towards incremental increases on existing customers. The book describes managerial practices, minimum profit margins, and existing data handicapping larger corporations on making investments on risky ideas whose customers do not yet exist. At the same time, dislocation of small self-sufficient teams, cultivating of s ...more
Clayton Christensen is to the study of innovation what Thomas S. Kuhn is to science. Kuhn's "normal science" is analogous to Christensen's "sustaining innovation", and "scientific revolutions" is like "disruptive innovations". Kuhn sees progress in science not as the discovery of new phenomena, but as fitting existing "anomalies" into a new "paradigm". Christensen too sees disruptive innovation as finding new markets for existing technologies. I'm sure the analogy can be taken further, but in sh ...more
Kislay Verma
Jul 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A summary of the more complete review at my homepage:

The most elegant, and the most scary part of Disruption Theory presented by Prof. Christensen in this book is the ease of application. Any theory is just a theory, but the contrarian, almost oversimplified approach disruption presents to the question of success of an enterprise is bound to give many managers, and most consultants in the technology world some sleepless nights. The author's presentation of his case on how one-time underdogs can
Oksana Hoshva
It’s been over a year since I got really passionate about learning more about the disruptive innovation after dealing with it on daily basis as a consumer or just simply as a human being. I bought a book ages ago and it was waiting in a line for quite a while. I prefer articles to books I must admit, but felt like I really need to read the book said to be the mandatory theoretical background for entrepreneurs in all domains.

It was a hard and a dry read for me I must confess. First, due to acade
Kumar Ishan
Apr 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leadership
Traditional thinking that good decision making, right management skills and listening to customer has led many firms to failure, at the onset of disruptive innovation.

The book with its many examples across industries, presents what is innovator's dilemma and why they fail. It explains why the very nature of disruptive innovation and its proclivity to succeed in emerging market (only), cripples large firm even with their immense resources and expertise.

The book also provides the solution, based o
BuenoBomb aka Andre Bueno
Disruptive technologies or innovations upset the existing “order of things”. The process appeals to customers who are not served by the current market. With time, because the capacity/performance of the innovation exceeds the market’s needs, the innovation comes to displace the market leaders.

Market leaders generally don’t react until it’s too late, because they don’t represent an interesting market, being low end and often low cost. One successful strategy might be to hive off a separ
Christopher Johnson
So, the information, the ideas would make this a five star book. It's a way of thinking that helps ward off obsolescence, a way of thinking that gets people to understand where future disruption may come from. The whole idea: that good management (like, truely good) eventually leads to poor decisions is fascinating.

The example: If current customers demand "faster horsers" companies rightly put their energy into faster horses. What the customer says and wants isn't necessarily what's good for the
Traian Stancescu
Good book dating back from the 90s. The author's theory should be known by anyone in a position to make strategic decisions. To be honest I was skeptical at first about his ideas, but they quickly became obvious as more and more cases were presented.

Taking away one star for being superfluous -- half of the book comprises the same few takeaways that are repeated over and over again in the introduction, conclusion, and in between each case study.

Taking away one more star for choosing a misleading
Aug 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: put-down
I don't read many books, but for some reason this one was a bit of a let down especially after all the fascinating reviews. For me it read like a textbook written by an engineer. With so much business/industry vernacular as interesting and ground breaking the content may be, it was boring and a struggle to read.

I'll try again another time, maybe when I'm in a more analytical mood.
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Clayton M. Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, with a joint appointment in the Technology & Operations Management and General Management faculty groups. He is best known for his study of innovation in commercial enterprises. His first book, The Innovator's Dilemma, articulated his theory of disruptive technology.


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“In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.” 14 likes
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