Home » Analyzing recent critiques of disruptive innovation theory

Analyzing recent critiques of disruptive innovation theory

Is disruption theory wearing new clothes or just naked? Analyzing
recent critiques of disruptive innovation theory
Michael R. Weeks*
Dunham College of Business, Houston Baptist University, 7502 Fondren Road, Houston, TX
77074, USA
(Received 10 September 2014; accepted 8 June 2015)
The disruptive innovation theory of Clayton Christensen was heavily criticized in an
article in The New Yorker magazine by Jill Lepore. Her article evaluated
Christensen’s research methodology and analysis and found both lacking. Lepore’s
criticisms identified several symptoms of problems within the research, but stopped
short of presenting root causes. This article looks at Lepore’s criticisms and
diagnoses three root causes for the symptoms recognized by Lepore: a lack of an
adequately constrained definition of the term disruptive innovation; a failure to
identify and maintain a consistent unit of analysis in the research; and a failure to
account adequately for managerial agency. This article then discusses solutions
to these issues and how scholars might move research into disruptive innovation
Keywords: disruptive innovation; methodology; critique
New clothes or naked?
It’s the dream of business school academics everywhere. A research project resonates
with the business community so profoundly that key ideas from the project make it into
the mainstream lexicon and business leaders from all over the world seek advice from
the scholar. One of the first instances of this type of success was Harvard’s Michael
Porter (1979, 1980) and his “Five Forces” framework. Almost 20 years later, Clayton
Christensen’s (1997) ideas on disruptive innovation had the same type of resonance.
Of course, mainstream success can lead to mainstream criticism. Recently, this
became the case for Christensen as Jill Lepore, a Harvard history professor, took to the
pages of The New Yorker to write a withering critique of Christensen’s work. Although
many of the criticisms were not new (e.g. Danneels, 2004; Markides, 2006; Tellis,
2006), Lepore’s (2014) lengthy analysis of disruptive innovation theory received instant
international attention because it was published in The New Yorker, not a sleepy peerreviewed journal. The article and its criticisms were subsequently discussed in The Wall
Street Journal, The Financial Times, Business Week, The New York Times, and Salon
(Bennett, 2014; Hill, 2014; Krugman, 2014; Oremus, 2014; Syre, 2014; WladawskyBerger, 2014). Christensen seemed stunned by the instant negative notoriety, and called
Lepore “misguided and misinformed” (Syre, 2014).
In this “he said/she said” story from academia, what can we learn? Do Lepore’s
criticisms have merit? If so, is Christensen’s theory still of use to academics and
*Email: [email protected]
© 2015 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 2015
Vol. 17, No. 4, 417–428, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14479338.2015.1061896
practitioners? In the next sections, I’ll attempt to tease out some of the issues
concerning the influential theory on disruptive innovation and see what can be salvaged
and what should be jettisoned.
A brief history of disruptive innovation
Christensen’s work first gained widespread notoriety with the publication of his book,
The Innovator’s Dilemma, in 1997. The book showed in a series of case studies how
incumbent firms in an industry seem paralyzed when a lower-cost, lower-performing
innovation enters the market and begins to “disrupt” the established industry structure.
The incumbent firms tend to cede the lower margin segments of the industry to the
disrupting firm and move up market to protect the firms’ higher margin products.
In the early stages of disruption, the lower-performing technology only meets the
needs of a small segment of the existing customer base. As the new technology evolves,
its performance improves and the innovation meets the needs of additional customers in
the industry. Eventually, the original firms are driven out of the industry as the
disruption meets the needs of the mainstream market.
As the incumbent firms cede the lower margin elements of their product offerings,
the firms’ overall profit margins often increase. This is the core of the innovator’s
dilemma. The firms are increasing profit margins, even as the disruption is ensuring
ultimate failure of the firm.
Christensen has written a number of follow-up articles and books advancing his
theory (e.g. Christensen, 2006; Christensen & Raynor, 2003a, 2003b; Christensen,
Verlinden, & Westerman, 2002; Wessel & Christensen, 2012). Christensen’s books and
articles present compelling arguments for his theory and have been widely read. Despite
the success of the theory, there have been criticisms along the way (Danneels, 2004;
Markides, 2006; Tellis, 2006).
The difference now is that Lepore’s (2014) criticisms have received broad coverage
in the mainstream and business press. Her critique questions the rigor, analysis, and
integrity of Christensen’s work by pointing out anomalies from the research findings.
Specifically, she criticizes the case method as a research strategy and the conclusions
that Christensen draws from his analysis. The anomalies Lepore identifies are symptoms
of problems in the research. In this article, I will look at three potential root causes of
these symptoms: an overly broad definition of the term “disruptive innovation”; a lack
of specificity of the unit of analysis; and a failure to recognize managerial agency.
The academic integrity of Christensen’s work
Some of Lepore’s (2014) most serious criticisms involve the academic integrity of
Christensen’s work. She disparages the case study research method, accuses him of
“hand-picking” cases within specific time frames to develop his framework, and of not
examining evidence that may refute his theory.
Lepore’s criticisms of the case study method are not new to the research literature
(e.g. Cepeda & Martin, 2005; Pedrosa, Naslund, & Jasmand, 2012), but she seems to
lack a fundamental understanding of the nuances of this research strategy. For example,
case selection is one of the most difficult parts of the process and it is not random when
the method is applied properly. Eisenhardt (1989, p. 533) points out that the selection
should be based on “theoretical sampling,” and focus on cases that can “replicate or
extend theory,” yet still retain theoretical flexibility. Added to these theoretical concerns
418 M.R. Weeks
are practical problems of gaining access to organizations that are willing to contribute to
the research aims. Consequently, what appears to be “hand-picking” is actually a necessary part of the case study methodology. Moreover, to know if Christensen hand-picked
his cases, we would need to know what industries Christensen rejected for his study.
Lepore’s term, hand-picking, makes an assumption that Christensen rejected suitable
industries that would have refuted his analysis, yet she gives no data to support that
Lepore also identifies some issues with the time frame of the case analyses. For
example, she criticizes the use of 1989 as an end point for the analysis of the disk drive
industry. The original work was a part of his 1992 doctoral dissertation; consequently,
the end point of 1989 seems like a practical consideration for the completion of the
Among the “hand-picked” case studies in the selected timeframe, Lepore critiques
Christensen’s (1997) characterization of Seagate Technologies as a failure in his
research. In 1989, Seagate’s lack of success in the 3.5-inch disk drive market may have
been a failure, but it did not lead to the failure of the firm. The firm lost an opportunity
with the smaller disk drives of the time, but it recovered and remains a leader in the
industry today. Here, Lepore’s criticisms have more merit. While the failure classification may have been appropriate in 1992, Christensen failed to adequately illustrate the
rest of the story when he published The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997. In later work
Christensen (2006) describes the ongoing process of developing a theory, but still fails
to discuss some of the specific anomalies highlighted by Lepore and others. The
ongoing process he advocates should more clearly address later developments from the
original research.
One real problem with Christensen’s work that is not discussed by Lepore is the
selection of publication venues for the research. Christensen’s work has been rarely subjected to the peer reviews that most academics undergo. His most influential work
(Bower & Christensen, 1995; Christensen, 1997; Christensen & Raynor, 2003a; Wessel
& Christensen, 2012) has been published in books and the Harvard Business Review –
which are not peer reviewed.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) is certainly one of the most influential publications in the field, but readers sometimes forget that the articles are editorially reviewed.
Moreover, according to the Cabell’s Directory of research publications, approximately a
third to a half of articles in HBR are by invitation. This lack of peer review and high
number of pre-selected articles means that the focus is on impact for practitioners and
readability. Key details about research methodology are not often discussed in-depth.
When Christensen (2006) has responded in peer-reviewed contexts to criticism from the
research community (e.g. Tellis, 2006), he has seemed quite dismissive. Books and editorially-reviewed publications like HBR (and for that matter, Business Horizons) provide
an important context for academic discourse. Nevertheless, a more rigorous peer review
of his methodology and of some of the disruptive innovation concepts may have
allowed Christensen to refine the exposition of his theory more thoroughly through the
Lepore’s criticism of Christensen’s academic process raises some significant issues,
but the tone of her article implies there are problems with Christensen’s integrity. This
doesn’t seem to be the case. Christensen’s work generally follows accepted research
principles; however, he has failed to address substantive concerns that have arisen as
additional data have become available. It is especially troublesome that Lepore made
these veiled allegations without interviewing Christensen. I am surprised that a historian
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 419
would not seek a primary source when available, and in this case the primary source
was at the same university. Ultimately, Lepore chose sensationalism over serious
academic inquiry.
Lepore’s criticisms tend to focus on the symptoms of misapplication of the theory,
not the root causes. To provide a more critical analysis, I will try to advance some ideas
about the root causes of the issues Lepore brings to light. The first of those root causes
has to do with the definition of a disruptive innovation.
The definition of disruptive innovation
One might think that a concept as widely-hailed as disruptive innovation would have a
clear definition, but Christensen is surprisingly vague about the boundaries of disruptive
innovation. Christensen (1997, p. xv) defines disruptive technologies as innovations that
“result in worse product performance in the near term”. A few sentences later he goes
on to say that these innovations are “typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently,
more convenient to use” (Christensen, 1997, p. xv). Additionally, disruptive innovations
usually appeal initially to a small subset of users that value a particular performance
dimension. He defines the opposite of disruptive technologies as sustaining innovations.
Sustaining innovations simply “foster improved performance” and appeal to the current
user community (Christensen, 1997, p. xv). Christensen (2014) attributes much of the
confusion about his work to his choice of the word “disruptive”, but the failure of his
work to establish clear boundaries for the distinction between disruption and sustaining
seems to be the root cause.
Ultimately, the qualifier “typically” gives Christensen (and others) wide latitude to
use the concept in almost any context. Almost all new technologies provide inferior performance in some dimension in the early development stage. Which ones qualify as disruptive? If Christensen drew the boundaries a little tighter on the concept, it would be
easier to defend. Christensen is on firmest ground when he confines use of his theory to
lower cost, lower performing innovations that appeal to a new subset of users. When
the application of the theory strays from this narrower definition, missteps occur.
One widely covered misstep was when Christensen predicted that Apple’s iPhone
would fail (Burrows, 2006; McGregor, 2007); consequently, the iPhone product launch
illustrated some of the problems with Christensen’s framework. He originally classified
the iPhone as a sustaining innovation (McGregor, 2007), probably because the iPhone
wasn’t a disruptive innovation in the more tightly constructed definition of the concept
(lower-cost/lower-performing). The iPhone wasn’t cheaper, smaller, etc. It also wasn’t a
product that was “good enough” for only a subset of users. The problem with
Christensen’s analysis is that the product also wasn’t a sustaining innovation in the long
line of cell phone products; hence, the iPhone didn’t completely fit either classification
(disruptive or sustaining) in the original Christensen framework. The iPhone was a
premium-priced, radical product that appealed to a wide audience and created a new
industry. The iPhone wasn’t a cell phone; it was a smart phone. Before the iPhone, the
nearest product was probably the Blackberry with its efficient e-mail integration.
However, the iPhone added e-mail, music, and other capabilities in addition to a new
user interface. This counter example doesn’t necessarily falsify the theory of disruptive
innovation, but it does illustrate why the concept needs tighter boundaries and a
recognition that some innovations will inevitably not fit comfortably in a two-category
420 M.R. Weeks
Even when the outcome of a particular technology trajectory seems to fit
Christensen’s framework, there are questions about the application of the concepts. For
example, Christensen uses the digital camera as an example of disruptive innovation
(Euchner, 2011). It is true that digital photography disrupted film (in the colloquial
sense), but the technology didn’t follow Christensen’s model in most ways. For example, early digital technology was lower performing in image quality, but it was certainly
not a lower cost alternative to film. Equivalent digital cameras are today still more
expensive than film alternatives, and when one considers the computer hardware and
software equipment needed to process the photos, it is doubtful whether even the per
shot cost is lower for digital versus film for low volume users. Digital technology does
give the ability to distribute photos to many interested parties for essentially zero marginal cost, but it was really the advent of social media that made this possible. The trajectory of the technology was so complex and interdependent that attributing the market
dynamics at the firm or industry level to the “technology” or “innovation” of digital
photography misses many key elements.
Another problem also emerges in the application of the theory to this market. The
early users of digital photography were professional photographers; what Christensen
would call the industry’s “best customers”. In Christensen’s model, firms fail because
their best customers are invested in the old technology, and consequently, incumbent
firms ignore the emerging technology (Christensen, 1997; Christensen & Raynor,
2003a). That was certainly not the case here. Kodak worked closely with professional
photographers to develop its early digital cameras. Gustavson (2009, p. 341) points out
that “until the end of the 1990s, Kodak had the professional digital camera market to
itself”. Despite this early lead, Kodak is one of the casualties of the digital photography
revolution. In fact, it appears that advice that Christensen gave Kodak executives to
concentrate on low-end cameras may have added to its woes (Euchner, 2011). The focus
on low-end cameras meant that Kodak did not invest in some key capabilities (high-volume sensor fabrication, high-end optics, etc.) that could have enabled it to compete
more fully in the digital age. Christensen attributes the later problems to a change in
management (Euchner, 2011), but this diagnosis ignores the fact that Kodak’s shift to
low-end cameras left it unable to compete in the broader digital market.
Christensen might argue that he has considered products such as the iPhone and
digital cameras with his distinction of “low-end” disruptions and “new-market” disruptions (Christensen, 2006; Christensen & Raynor, 2003a). At first glance, this does
appear to address some of the concerns, but if this is truly the case, why did he not
foresee the ultimate success of the iPhone and the failure of Kodak? Moreover, how
does his low-end/new-market distinction fit with his original models of lower cost, product performance trajectories, and the concept of “good enough” performance? The
iPhone was a product that appealed to a wide variety of consumers, not a small subset
of people satisfied with “good enough” performance in a particular dimension. The digital camera was a product that initially appealed to specialized professional photographers, not low-end users. These anomalies raise serious issues for broad application of
the theory and bring into question the rigor of the analysis for some examples that
Christensen himself presents.
The unit of analysis
Once we move beyond the difficulty in defining disruptive innovation, a new challenge
awaits. What unit of analysis is the research targeting? There are several choices,
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 421
including the technology (or innovation), the industry, the firm, or firm leaders. At
various times, Christensen’s work makes statements about each potential unit of
analysis. For example, the subtitle of his first book is “when new technologies cause
great firms to fail” (Christensen, 1997). To make things more confusing, Christensen
also says that disruption is not about the technology but the business model (Prewitt,
2001). Can the theory predict the behavior of industries, firms, business models, leaders,
or the trajectories of technologies?
Lepore (2014) repeatedly points out instances at one level where the theory has been
poor at prediction – firm-level outcomes. For example, she takes issue with
Christensen’s early characterizations of Seagate Technologies as a failure as well as his
descriptions of other firms within the industry. Today Seagate remains one of the largest
disk manufacturers. The firm was able to recover from some of its missteps identified
during the course of the original research.
Lepore also takes issue with Christensen’s description of the history of U.S. Steel
Corporation. Although U.S. Steel has survived the shakeout in its industry, many of
Christensen’s (2009) observations about the steel industry are still largely valid. Most of
the large integrated mills in the U.S. failed and none of them were able to successfully
open a mini-mill. Nevertheless, Lepore’s discussion of the labor strife within the industry provides additional insight into the difficult dynamics of the case study. Lepore’s critique also highlights a problem with the unit of analysis. One cannot be sure if the
innovation (mini-mills), the industry dynamics, or firm-specific issues caused the disruption in the industry. The Christensen theory indicates that the innovation would be the
cause of the disruption in the industry, but the systemic context is much more complex.
In the end, the causal ambiguity extant in the steel industry highlights problems with
the lack of clarity in the unit of analysis for much of the work published on the theory.
The industry and firms all exhibit a certain level of tacitness, specificity, and complexity
(Reed & DeFillippi, 1990). These factors may provide insight into why the theory has
been particularly poor at predicting firm-level outcomes. Students of the theory are left
wondering why U.S. Steel survived, while so many other similar firms failed. This is
especially true since U.S. Steel did not adopt the disruptive innovation. Of course, disruptive innovation isn’t the only framework to have difficulty predicting long-term,
firm-level outcomes. Jim Collins’ (2001) widely read book, Good to Great, included
Circuit City, Wells Fargo, and FNMA as example firms in his profiles of 11 “Great”
firms. Circuit City subsequently failed, and Wells Fargo and FNMA both required
significant government bailouts during the recent financial crisis.
The failure to identify a consistent level of analysis has not helped advance the
prescriptive properties of the theory. The theory has had some success predicting the trajectories of technologies in the marketplace; however, an understanding of factors at
other levels that led to particular outcomes would be helpful. For example, do firms in
an industry have unique supplier relationships, R&D arrangements, or other factors that
may influence outcomes? Are there certain types of managers that are more responsive
to disruptive forces? The research often conflates technologies, industries, and firms,
which makes understanding the generalizable dynamics of disruptive innovation
Managerial behavior
One of the most intriguing assertions that Christensen makes is that managers are often
behaving rationally when they respond to disruptive innovations by retreating to higher
422 M.R. Weeks
margin markets and avoiding the disruptive technology. In his description of the steel
industry evolution that led to the downfall of many integrated steel manufacturers,
Christensen (2009) concludes his story by saying, “Notice I was able to tell the whole
story without using the term ‘stupid manager’ once”. The implication is that if managers
were able to understand the long-term trajectories of disruptive innovations, they would
behave differently.
Christensen’s (2006) work provides anecdotal evidence that managers can learn to
respond to disruptive forces effectively when he cites two examples, Kodak and
Teradyne. The problem is that these firms ultimately had very different outcomes.
Teradyne succeeded while Kodak failed. Both firms responded in similar ways to the
disruptive threat by setting up autonomous divisions to develop disruptive concepts.
Christensen blames Kodak’s failure with its decision to abandon the autonomous division and focus on operational efficiencies (Euchner, 2011). However, it is questionable whether Kodak’s focus on the low-end of the digital camera market would have
resulted in different outcomes, since this part of the market has been disrupted (in
the narrower sense) by the cell phone category. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, it
is questionable whether digital photography (vis a vis film) fits the disruption framework at all. Is the failure of Kodak due to its failure to respond correctly to disruptive forces, or did digital photography fail to fit Christensen’s framework as either a
sustaining or disruptive innovation? Despite Christensen’s (2006) assertion that his
theory has moved into a normative phase, the student of disruptive innovation is left
wondering whether the framework has any predictive power at the firm level.
Additionally, does the theory have any way to account for the agency of managers
within the firm?
Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s Solution, gives prescriptions for dealing with
disruptive innovation (Christensen & Raynor, 2003a). The book makes some interesting
proposals for managerial action, and makes some suppositions about what types of managers might thrive in a disruptive environment. For example, the book provides some
data to support the idea that founders are better equipped to deal with disruption than
later “professional” managers. Here the reader may have hope for an in-depth examination where the manager is the unit of analysis; however, the data are more anecdotal
than empirical. For example, IBM is on both lists since it introduced disruptive products
with both the founder and a professional manager as CEO. Is the manager or the firm
the unit of analysis? And even when ignoring the unit of analysis question, there are
questions about the rigor of the presentation. Thomas Watson, Jr. is listed as a “founding” manager of IBM even though he is the son of the true founder. The “founding”
manager of Dayton Hudson is listed as “The Dayton Family”. Mickey Wexler is listed
as the “founder” of The Gap, but I assume the author is referring to Mickey Drexler
who became CEO in the early 1990s and was not the founder of the firm (Loeb, 2014).
The firm was founded in 1969 by Donald and Doris Fischer (Anonymous, 2014).
Additionally, Christensen and Raynor (2003a) annotate some of their selected founders
with the caveat that their designated founder is the person responsible for the primary
success of the firm. This is a tautological mistake in the analysis. The role of founders
in disruptive innovation is an interesting question. However, if Christensen wants to
propose that founders are better equipped than non-founding managers to introduce or
respond to disruptive innovation, his analysis needs much more depth than presented in
The Innovator’s Solution.
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 423
Symptoms versus root causes
Lepore’s (2014) critique identifies anomalies in outcomes expected from the disruptive
innovation framework. This paper has tried to identify the root causes of some of the
examples given by Lepore. Most of the problems stem from three issues: an overly
broad definition of disruptive innovation; a lack of clarity about the unit of analysis;
and a failure to address the ambiguities of managerial agency.
After the examples cited here and in Lepore’s work, one may ask whether the theory
of disruptive innovation has been falsified. Do we need to throw it out and start again?
I don’t think so. What these criticisms show is that some of the broad assertions of the
theory have gone too far. For example, additional research about the long-term prospects
of incumbent firms in new markets has disputed the finding that incumbent firms are
likely to fail when confronted with disruptive innovations (Chesbrough, 2003; King &
Tucci, 2002). Furthermore, despite Christensen’s (2014) protests, this is not just a case
of others making broad assumptions about the term “disruptive”. As documented here,
Christensen’s own research has been too loose with the term, its application, and its
Instances in the research where anomalies have arisen have not been addressed sufficiently. Researchers must be rigorous in their theory development efforts, because as
Popper said:
Just because it is our aim to establish theories as well as we can, we must test them as
severely as we can; that is, we must try to find fault with them, we must try to falsify them.
Only if we cannot falsify them in spite of our best efforts can we say that they have stood
up to severe tests. This is the reason why the discovery of instances which confirm a theory
means very little if we have not tried, and failed, to discover refutations. For if we are
uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations,
and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. (Popper, 1957, Kindle Loc. 1951–1956)
While published work has not falsified the theory of disruptive innovation completely,
previous research and this article have identified areas where the theory does not fit the
evidence (Danneels, 2004; Lepore, 2014; Tellis, 2006).
Moving forward
Given the above concerns, how do we move forward with the disruptive innovation
framework? The first step would be to tighten the definition of the concept of disruptive
innovation. The disruptive innovation framework has been shown to lack explanatory
power when it strays from its initial boundaries by the iPhone and digital photography
examples discussed in this article. Disruptive innovation should be limited to instances
where the innovation is lower cost, lower performing (on at least one performance
dimension), and appeals to a subset of the existing market or a new market. Danneels
(2004, p. 249) is broader in his definition stating that a disruptive technology is one that
“changes the bases of completion by changing the performance metrics along which
firms compete”. There is clearly no wrong and right here, but the burden is on the scholar to clearly delineate the boundaries of the concept under examination. Christensen
has not done that in his previous work. Once the dimensions of disruptive innovation
have been carefully constrained, researchers can more easily test the framework.
424 M.R. Weeks
A tighter definition of a disruptive innovation would also have an impact on
Christensen’s concept of sustaining innovation. In Christensen’s framework anything
new that is not a disruptive innovation is a sustaining innovation. Sustaining innovations
are those that provide incremental improvements to the existing user base. He is not
alone in using a dual-category model of innovation (e.g. Daft, 1978; Damanpour, 1988;
Tushman & Anderson, 1986), but the complexity of the modern organizational and
technological environments makes it difficult to classify all innovations with only two
categories. We have seen at least two examples that strain the framework, and consequently, there seem to be innovations that are neither disruptive nor sustaining. Other
innovations have probably occurred that have characteristics of both the sustaining and
disruptive descriptions. The innovations pushing the boundaries of the framework that
are described here are radical innovations with wide appeal and higher price points
compared to existing products.
The disruptive innovation framework moves the discussion beyond simple models
such as incremental and radical (Damanpour, 1988; Ettlie, Bridges, & O’Keefe, 1984),
but it does not provide a model for all innovations. The current work does not acknowledge that some innovations fall outside the framework. This is the primary conceit of
the disruptive innovation; it presumes to include all innovations within a dual category
model. Dual category models will only provide a broad outline for further work. The
dynamics of innovation are too complex to conform to only two categories. While I
don’t consider this a fatal flaw of the framework, it does limit its application.
Biases in the research
Once the definition of disruptive innovation has been more tightly constrained, it will
be easier for scholars to examine biases in research on the topic. Two common biases
that seem to be prevalent in this research are survivor bias and pro-innovation bias
(Hannan & Freeman, 1977; Rogers, 1995). In much of the work on disruptive innovation, the disrupter succeeds and the incumbent firms largely fail (Christensen, 1997;
Christensen & Raynor, 2003a). Danneels (2004, p. 250) points out, “all of Christensen’s
case studies are of disruptive firms that did succeed”. Surely, every disruptive technology and every disruptive firm cannot succeed. Under what conditions are disrupters and
disruptive technologies likely to fail?
One bias that seems to bother Lepore and others is the pro-innovation bias extant in
the work (Krugman, 2014; Lepore, 2014; Oremus, 2014). Rogers (1995, Kindle Loc.
2648–2650) defines pro-innovation bias as “the implication … that an innovation should
be diffused and adopted by all members of a social system, that it should be diffused
more rapidly, and that the innovation should be neither re-invented nor rejected”. An
acknowledgement of the pro-innovation bias in the Christensen’s work could lead other
scholars to examine the broader implications of disruptive technologies and whether
they are good for workers, firms, industries, or society, but this is beyond the aims of
the Christensen framework. Others may take up this challenge, but the fact that
Christensen does not address the wider societal implications of innovation is not a
failing of the research.
Identification of the unit of analysis
Some of the questions proposed in the previous sections about the implications of the
framework will need careful research design to explore properly. This will begin with
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 425
identification of the unit of analysis. If the unit of analysis is the firm, one might
consider which firms are more likely to be able to introduce disruptive innovations. Do
they come from inside or outside the current industry? Do they have differentiation or
cost-based strategies (Porter, 1979, 1980). Are they large or small firms? Christensen
tackles some of these questions in his research, but the lack of a constant unit of analysis leaves the reader questioning whether the results represent trends or are idiosyncratic
to specific case studies.
If the industry is the unit of analysis, one encounters other possible questions. Are
certain industries more likely to survive disruptive innovations? What characteristics
influence these outcomes: supplier networks; customer networks; rivalry; labor
Managerial agency
Finally, we come to the questions of managerial responses to disruptive innovations.
Christensen highlights how managers’ seemingly rational behavior can result in disaster
in disruptive environments (Christensen, 1997; Christensen & Raynor, 2003a). The
theory is now almost 20 years old. What types of managers are likely to see these longterm consequences and react accordingly? Is there any evidence that education or consulting interventions are able to change managerial outlook and response to disruptive
innovations? Some of the work in this area has been particularly sloppy, as shown in
the discussion of founders’ roles in responding to disruption. The literature needs a
more careful examination of managerial agency in disruptive environments.
Overall, the questions posed by the disruptive innovation framework are interesting
and need a new generation of research to answer. Several authors have called for such a
research agenda, but progress has been slow (Danneels, 2004; Markides, 2006).
Despite the considerable issues raised in this article, I find the disruptive innovation
framework to be a powerful lens for examining certain technological advances. I discuss
it with my students and consulting clients. It enhances understanding of the complex
dynamics associated with innovative products and gives suggestions for how firms
might introduce lower-performing, lower-cost items that are successful in the marketplace. I also think the theory provides a cautionary tale for managers in incumbent
industries when encountering lower-cost, lower-performing products.
Though I teach disruptive innovation theory in my classes on innovation management, I do so with acknowledgement that the framework is not perfect. Healthy
skepticism is always warranted when examining broad claims about innovation. At
times, Lepore’s criticisms go too far, but she does raise important issues about the
More importantly, Lepore (2014) raises issues about how we seek and validate
knowledge in our scholarly discipline. As Popper (1957) pointed out, we must be
eternally vigilant to the possibility of allowing our internal biases to cloud our inductive research. The current research identifies trends, but not laws. Presently, the ex
ante predictive power of the framework is poor, but it could likely be improved
significantly with a carefully constructed research agenda that is subjected to rigorous
peer review.
426 M.R. Weeks
Anonymous. (2014). Gap history. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from http://www.gapinc.com/con
Bennett, D. (2014). Clayton Christensen responds to New Yorker takedown of ‘disruptive innovation’. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.business
Bower, J. L., & Christensen, C. M. (1995). Disruptive technologies: Catching the wave. Harvard
Business Review, 73, 43–53.
Burrows, P. (2006). How apple could mess up again. Bloomberg Business Week, Retrieved August 2,
2014, from http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2006-01-09/how-apple-could-mess-up-againbusi
Cepeda, G., & Martin, D. (2005). A review of case studies publishing in management decision:
Guides and criteria for achieving quality in qualitative research. Management Decision, 43,
851–876. doi:10.1108/00251740510603600
Chesbrough, H. W. (2003). Environmental influences upon firm entry into new sub-markets:
Evidence from the worldwide hard disk drive industry conditionally. Research Policy, 32,
Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to
fail. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press
Christensen, C. M. (2006). The ongoing process of building a theory of disruption. Journal of
Product Innovation Management, 23, 39–55. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5885.2005.00180.x.
Christensen, C. M. (2009). Disruptive innovation – part 2. Fortune Global Forum. Retrieved
August 11, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5FxFfymI4 g
Christensen, C. M. (2014). Clay Christensen video interview on the recent debate surrounding his
theory of disruptive innovation. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/
Christensen, C. M., & Raynor, M. E. (2003a). The innovator’s solution. (Kindle ed.). Boston,
MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Christensen, C. M., & Raynor, M. E. (2003b). Why hard-nosed executives should care about
management theory. Harvard Business Review, 81, 66–74.
Christensen, C. M., Verlinden, M., & Westerman, G. (2002). Disruption, disintegration, and the
dissipation of differentialability. Industrial and Corporate Change, 11, 955–993.
Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t
(Kindle ed.). New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Daft, R. L. (1978). A dual-core model of organizational innovation. Academy of Management
Journal, 21, 193–210.
Damanpour, F. (1988). Innovation type, radicalness, and the adoption process. Communication
Research, 15, 545–567.
Danneels, E. (2004). Disruptive technology reconsidered: A critique and research agenda. Journal
of Product Innovation Management, 21, 246–258. doi:10.1111/j.0737-6782.2004.00076.x
Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management
Review, 14, 532–550.
Ettlie, J. E., Bridges, W. P., & O’Keefe, R. D. (1984). Organization strategy and structural
differences for radical versus incremental innovation. Management Science, 30, 682–695.
Euchner, J. (2011). Managing disruption: An interview with Clayton Christensen. Industrial
Research Institute: Managers at Work. Retrieved August 7, 2014, from http://www.iriweb.org/
Gustavson, T. (2009). Camera: A history of photography from daguerrotype to digital. New York,
NY: Sterling.
Hannan, M. T., & Freeman, J. (1977). The population ecology of organizations. American Journal
of Sociology, 82, 929–964.
Hill, A. (2014). Attack on disruption theory is a misfire. Financial Times. Retrieved from http://
King, A. A., & Tucci, C. L. (2002). Incumbent entry into new market niches: The role of experience and managerial choice in the creation of dynamic capabilities. Management Science, 48,
Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 427
Krugman, P. (2014). Creative destruction Yada Yada. The New York Times Blogs. Retrieved
August 1, 2014, from http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/creative-destruction-yadayada/
Lepore, J. (2014). The disruption machine. The New Yorker, 90, 30–36.
Loeb, W. (2014, March 18). Fast retailing may see J. Crew as too pricey, but Mickey Drexler is
priceless. Forbes. Retrieved August 14, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterloeb/
Markides, C. (2006). Disruptive innovation. In need of better theory. Journal of Product
Innovation Management, 23, 19–25. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5885.2005.00177.x
McGregor, J. (2007). Clayton Christensen’s innovation brain. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved
August 2, 2014, from http://www.businessweek.com/printer/articles/288410-clayton-chris
Oremus, W. (2014, June 18, 2014). The New Yorker thinks disruptive innovation is a myth.
Salon. Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/
Pedrosa, A. d. M., Naslund, D., & Jasmand, C. (2012). Logistics case study based research:
Towards higher quality. International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, 42, 275–295. doi:10.1108/09600031211225963
Popper, K. (1957). The poverty of historicism (Kindle ed.). London: Routledge.
Porter, M. E. (1979). How competitive forces shape strategy. Harvard Business Review, 57,
Porter, M. E. (1980). Competitive strategy: Techniques for analyzing industries and competitors.
New York, NY: The Free Press.
Prewitt, E. (2001). Interview: Clayton Christensen on disruption. CIO Magazine. Retrieved August
16, 2014, from http://www.cio.com/article/2441694/innovation/interview–clayton-christensenon-disruption.html
Reed, R., & DeFillippi, R. J. (1990). Causal ambiguity, barriers to imitation, and sustainable
competitive advantage. Academy of Management Review, 15, 88–102.
Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.
Syre, S. (2014). Harvard professors clash over rebuke of business theory. The Boston Globe.
Retrieved August 1, 2014, from http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/07/disruptionharvard-over-article-business-innovation-theory/gkOoijR9Ue6qCeUnD2I0gN/story.html
Tellis, G. J. (2006). Disruptive technology or visionary leadership? Journal of Product Innovation
Management, 23, 34–38. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5885.2005.00179.x
Tushman, M. L., & Anderson, P. (1986). Technological discontinuities and organizational
environments. Administrative Science Quarterly, 31, 439–465.
Wessel, M., & Christensen, C. M. (2012). Surviving disruption. Harvard Business Review, 90,
Wladawsky-Berger, I. (2014). Disruption innovation revisited. The CIO Journal. Retrieved July
11, 2014, from http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2014/07/11/disruption-innovation-revisited/
428 M.R. Weeks
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without

Get Professional Assignment Help Cheaply

Buy Custom Essay

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Analyzing recent critiques of disruptive innovation theory
Just from $9/Page
Order Essay

Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?

Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.

Why Choose Our Academic Writing Service?

  • Plagiarism free papers
  • Timely delivery
  • Any deadline
  • Skilled, Experienced Native English Writers
  • Subject-relevant academic writer
  • Adherence to paper instructions
  • Ability to tackle bulk assignments
  • Reasonable prices
  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • Get superb grades consistently

Online Academic Help With Different Subjects


Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.


Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.

Computer science

Computer science is a tough subject. Fortunately, our computer science experts are up to the match. No need to stress and have sleepless nights. Our academic writers will tackle all your computer science assignments and deliver them on time. Let us handle all your python, java, ruby, JavaScript, php , C+ assignments!


While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.


Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.


In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.


Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.


We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!


We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.


Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment Help Service Works

1. Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2. Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3. Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4. Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

smile and order essay GET A PERFECT SCORE!!! smile and order essay Buy Custom Essay

Place your order
(550 words)

Approximate price: $22

Calculate the price of your order

550 words
We'll send you the first draft for approval by September 11, 2018 at 10:52 AM
Total price:
The price is based on these factors:
Academic level
Number of pages
Basic features
  • Free title page and bibliography
  • Unlimited revisions
  • Plagiarism-free guarantee
  • Money-back guarantee
  • 24/7 support
On-demand options
  • Writer’s samples
  • Part-by-part delivery
  • Overnight delivery
  • Copies of used sources
  • Expert Proofreading
Paper format
  • 275 words per page
  • 12 pt Arial/Times New Roman
  • Double line spacing
  • Any citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Harvard)

Our guarantees

Delivering a high-quality product at a reasonable price is not enough anymore.
That’s why we have developed 5 beneficial guarantees that will make your experience with our service enjoyable, easy, and safe.

Money-back guarantee

You have to be 100% sure of the quality of your product to give a money-back guarantee. This describes us perfectly. Make sure that this guarantee is totally transparent.

Read more

Zero-plagiarism guarantee

Each paper is composed from scratch, according to your instructions. It is then checked by our plagiarism-detection software. There is no gap where plagiarism could squeeze in.

Read more

Free-revision policy

Thanks to our free revisions, there is no way for you to be unsatisfied. We will work on your paper until you are completely happy with the result.

Read more

Privacy policy

Your email is safe, as we store it according to international data protection rules. Your bank details are secure, as we use only reliable payment systems.

Read more

Fair-cooperation guarantee

By sending us your money, you buy the service we provide. Check out our terms and conditions if you prefer business talks to be laid out in official language.

Read more
error: Content is protected !!
Open chat
Need assignment help? You can contact our live agent via WhatsApp using +1 718 717 2861

Feel free to ask questions, clarifications, or discounts available when placing an order.
  +1 718 717 2861           + 44 161 818 7126           [email protected]
  +1 718 717 2861         [email protected]