Insight of the Week: Why Clay Christensen is Less Relevant Today

Why Clayton Christensen is Less Relevant Today

by Peter Temes, Founder & President of ILO

We love Clayton Christensen. He launched corporate innovation as a discipline equal to strategy and operations. He changed the landscape, and improved the lives of millions by helping large organizations change, and adapt to external change, better.

Yet it’s remarkable how much less relevant his core work – the theory of disruptive innovation, outlined in his brilliant book, The Innovator’s Dilemma – feels to large-company leaders today.

We can see why: Clay’s advice often netted down to keeping innovation initiatives at arm’s length from headquarters, the building of lifeboats that might grow eventually to replace the old core. His book The Innovator’s Solution outlined three great practices: 

1) Engineering out non-core value in products and services, to lower cost in new offerings to folks who felt priced out; 

2) Compete against non-consumption, to target folks who are not your customers today, but should be in the future; and 

3) Accept lower margins, to help push price down.

All brilliant advice for certain kinds of innovation, but not what companies in 2021 are telling us. The most common plea we hear from the top of the org chart is “Help us re-invent our core.” Senior leaders know that what got them where they are won’t drive the next generation, or decade, or growth – and survival. Thinking of innovation in terms of products, thinking in terms of innovation centers at the edge of the organization, does not get them where they need to go. Getting to the core of the org for fundamental change is the heart of the challenge todayC