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on 20 November 2000
To summarize the book is easy - it presents a simple and coherent view and model to explain why large companies must change tactics when confronted with new technologies. In essence a simple, clear and perhaps self-evident message: Large corporations must work differently in new markets, as opposed to improving the offering to it's existing market. It gives some ideas about why this is so: Internal funding goes to large projects than can afffect this or next years sales, initially small markets will not satisify a large company's need for short term growth, by definition new markets cannot be adequately researched and planned for etc. The big problem I have with the book is unfortunately the factual basis for most theories, Mr. Christensen uses the hard drive industry as prime example, because it happens to have the best data available. I find this similar to the story about the person looking for a lost key below a street light, and when asked how the key was lost answered "It was lost over there in the dark, but it is much easier to look here in the light". The successive generation of smaller and smaller hard drives seem too trivial an example industry for the general theory. Fortunately there are some less researched cases used as examples as well, and they do illustrate the points quite well. Personally I do agree with the author's conclusions - I just don't think that they are academically proven by using the hard disk industry as an example. Just to make it easy - why is it that Intel is still going strong in processors; it seems a pretty similar industry with at least as fast generation shifts? Finally the book is slight overweight for the rather lightweight message, but it is an easy read.
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on 4 February 2002
This is a book is about successful, well-led companies -often market leaders- that carefully pay attention to what customers need and that invest heavily in new technologies, but still loose their market leadership suddenly. This can happen when disruptive technologies enter the stage. Most technologies improve the performance of existing products in relation to the criteria which existing customers have always used. These technologies are called sustaining technologies. Disruptive technologies do something different. They create an entirely new value proposition. They improve the performance of the product in relation to new performance criteria. Products which are based on disruptive technologies are often smaller, cheaper, simpler, and easier to use. However, the moment they are introduced, they can not at once compete against the traditional products and so they cannot directly reach a big market. Christensen researched how disruptive technologies have developed in the computer disk industry, an extremely rapid evolving industry. He identified six steps in the emergence of disruptive technologies:
1. Disruptive technologies often are invented in traditional large companies. Example: at Seagate Technology, the biggest producer of 5,25 disks, engineers in 1985 designed the first 3,5 disk.
2. The marketing department examines first reactions from important customers to the new technology. Then they notice that existing customers are not very interested and they conclude that not a lot of money can be made with the new product. Example: this is what happened at Seagate. The 3,5 disk's were put upon the shelf.
3. The company keeps on investing in the traditional technology. Performance improvement of the traditional technology is highly appreciated by existing customers and a lot of money is being made. Example: Seagate invested in the 5,25 disk technology. This led to considerable improvement of the technology and to a considerable improvement of sales.
4. New companies are started up (by ex-employees of the traditional companies) and markets for the new technology emerge by trial and error. Example: ex-Seagate people started up Corner Peripherals. This company focused on the small emerging market for 3,5 inch disks. In the beginning this was only for the laptop market.
5. The new players move up in the market. The performance of the new technologies gets better after some time, enabling them to compete better and better with the traditional companies and products. Example: the performance of the 3,5 disks improved drastically. The 3,5 inch disk moved up in the market, to the personal computer market. Corner pushed Seagate out of the PC market for 3,5 inch disk drives.
6. Traditional companies try to defend their market position and to get along in the new market. Often they notice that they have fallen behind so far, that they cannot keep up. Example: Seagate did not succeed in capturing a significant part of the new market for 3,5 inch disk drives for PC's.
The events described above can be understood by the four principles of disruptive technologies which Christensen formulates:
1. In well-led companies it is customers, not managers, who actually determine resources allocation. This is a proposition of the resources dependence theory (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978) which is supported strongly by the research of Christensen. In essence: middle managers will not tend to invest in technologies that are not directly appreciated by important (large) clients, because they will not be able to get quick financial gains by doing this.
2. Small markets can not fulfil the growth need of large companies. For several reasons, growth is important for companies. Unfortunately, the bigger the company, the harder it is to continue growth. A small company (40 million sales) with a growth target of 20%, must achieve 8 million extra sales. A large company (4 billion sales), has to achieve 800 million of extra sales! Emerging markets often simply are not large enough to fulfil such growth needs. They can, however, fulfil the growth needs of new small companies.
3. Markets that do not exist can not be analysed. The ultimate applications of disruptive technologies can not be foreseen on forehand. Failure is an intrinsic unavoidable step to success.
4. Technology supply does not always equal the market demand. The speed of technological progress is often bigger than the speed with which the customer demand develops. By improving the performance of the disruptive technologies (for instance the 3,5 inch disks, first only used in the laptop market), they became suitable for the larger PC-market.
These steps explain why traditional companies are often not capable of applying disruptive technologies. Christensen argues that you can not resist these four principles. What you can do however, is use them to your advantage. For instance: in a large company you can create an 'island' where the new technology is developed for the new market. Also it is possible get an ownership in emerging companies which develop the new technologies (several companies have done this successfully).
I think the innovator's Dilemma is an excellent book. The ideas are empirically foudend and together they form a coherent theoretical framework. The examples from the computer disk industry, the steel industry and others, are very well-documented and interesting. The book is logically structured and reads easily.
Coert Visser
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on 14 July 2014
A well known and much touted book that has driven a significant mindset of 'disruption' and 'innovation' as the only way for a company to follow. An interesting read but you can't help feeling some of the examples have been selected to prove his point rather than present a complete picture.
Jill Lepore recently published a review stating "Disruptive innovation as a theory of change, is meant to serve both as a chronicle of the past (this has happened) and as a model for the future (it will keep happening). The strength of a prediction made from a model depends on the quality of the historical evidence and on the reliability of the methods used to gather and interpret it. Historical analysis proceeds from certain conditions regarding proof. None of these conditions have been met."
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on 14 May 1999
This recognised classic can be read in many ways.
In one sense, it makes a general point about the introduction of new technologies. It's certainly true that a new technology will often appeal to price- , convenience- or reliability- concious markets, before it performs well enough to enter mainstream applications. The Internet itself is an example of this kind of "disruptive" technology (cf Papow's Enterprise.com).
Yet the book does more than make this point. It also analyses the effects of the arrival of new technology in several very different markets, and looks at how incumbents and new entrants responded. As one reads these vivid stories, impeccably researched, one can picture marketing departments scrambling, and CEOs evaluating their stock options.
The narration of Honda's entry into the American motorbike market, familiar to any MBA student, is given an added twist, based on the perspectives of the people who did it. It is almost worth buying the book just for that story.
Where it doesn't succeed so well - though it makes a valiant attempt - is in suggesting how companies might respond to the threat of cross-over technologies. This area might be helpfully expanded in future editions.
Nevertheless, a must-read for anyone serious about modern business.
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This book explains the double edged sword of innovation. One the one hand, why large organisations find it hard to tackle the disruptive innovations of new businesses and why leaders of new markets, having grown large on innovation, succumb to the next new thing, especially in technology. Christensen tackles the problems and offers some solutions, but I was particularly interested in the book from the point of view of a small business owner trying to compete with larger and richer organisations in my field of work. From my perspective, this book is encouraging and useful as a guide to how being small and flexible, especially in times of change, it is possible to enter new markets, providing services that larger organisations cannot replicate, or have no interest in replicating due to low profit margins. The book is squarely aimed at managers in large organisations, rather than small business, so it is not a straightforward process of reading it for great business advice, but I found it stimulating and informative - well researched and supported by data evidence and case studies. I am sure that it is useful for anyone studying business management, but it may just help the little guy find a way to take on the bigger organisations and win.
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on 27 July 2013
The author makes a number of important points, two of which stood out for me:

1. The distinction between a product being the best it can be and what a customer actually needs from it. There are numerous examples given of where the technical specifications of products such as disk drives improved far beyond what customers needed. Beyond a certain point customers weren't prepared to pay much extra for further advancements. The result was commoditised pricing.

2. The distinction between what you are good at making and what the market wants. A good example was the manufacturers of cable excavators not understanding how small building contractors worked, and thus continuing to produce what they could, not what the market increasingly wanted. The result was that they almost all went out of business.

If you run or own a business, this is a useful book to read. It doesn't have to run a manufacturing business - my firm does software services, and yet there are still relevant lessons in this book.
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VINE VOICEon 13 July 2004
Not quite as easy to read as I would have liked. Christensen describes some very interesting & plausible theories, but is somewhat confined into employing the computer disk industry as the rapidly changing example which both demonstrates & proves his theories, and its not necessarily the most exciting case material. Other products only get a minor look-in.
What I did like is how he covers the footnotes at the end of each Chapter - so if they don't interest you, you can skip over them, but if they do interest you, then you don't have to struggle to the back of the book. I wish more authors & publishers would use that technique.
One quibble - given his Economics background - of course there are plenty of graphs, and 99% of them are straight lines - there are no time dependent variances in his world.
Read this before you read the Innovators Solution.
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on 22 February 2015
A very interesting topic which was well-researched and described by the author. Unfortunately, the book keeps repeating the same messages over and over again. It could have been written in 60% of its length.
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on 28 July 2015
Really enjoyed this book.
A very interesting insite into the world disruptive technologies and how fast paced the technology market is. Some wonderful examples of different industries and an indepth analysis of spesific times when a new technology has started as a low margin, low performance alternative and gradually surpassed market leaders changing industry standards.
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on 1 September 2013
Really interesting read, and well-argued, with some good observations on a number of industries. As with all such books, you end up thinking "yeah, easy to see this with hindsight" and "but how can I really implement this in my business?".
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