Change Management

The Innovator's Dilemma Is Everywhere You Look

In his luminous book of the same name, Clayton Christensen called it The Innovator’s Dilemma. What you do when the world is changing and the new thing you created that was enormously successful becomes the old thing, because somebody else has a better (or at least more popular) way of doing things?

Today, you can see that dilemma everywhere, from information technology where the bellwethers of the last 20 years — Microsoft, IBM, HP and BlackBerry — are increasingly chewing the cud, while seeking fresh fields. But at least technologists have read Christensen and, if they are of a certain age, will be familiar with the cycles of success and failure, relevance and irrelevance, pioneer and plodder. As the spreadsheet inventor Dan Bricklin told me recently, citing Bob Dylan, “the loser now will be later to win”. But for those incumbents of other sectors that are currently being disintermediated by technology, the horns of the dilemma are particularly sharp.

On the ever-useful Techmeme on Friday, two emblematic stories jumped out. One of them, via Techcrunch, reported how music streaming is eating into the sales of music downloads. This is a very ‘meta’ story because the first time you see the headline the brain jumps to ‘oh, another story about digital music killing record labels and physical media’. But no, we have moved on to another stage: the CD is nearly gone, the record label is in tatters and now the download is fading — downloads were down 12% in one year. The disruptors are being disrupted.

Another story, this through the New York Times, covered the news that regulator Transport for London has formally granted permission for Uber to run its ride-sharing service in England’s capital. This follows a lengthy stand-off and high-profile protest by London’s famous black cab drivers that brought the city to a standstill earlier in the summer.

You don’t need to fish much further to see other instances where disruptors and iconoclasts are smashing the old ways: from entertainment to shopping to financial services to supply-chains, the world is changing very quickly indeed. The King Canute attitude won’t wash and those that stand in the face of progress stand to be destroyed by the inexorable rise of more efficient, better-value services.

The industries affected by digital disruption (read: everybody) need to get on board and be disruptive themselves: what Christensen called The Innovator’s Solution. Or as Dylan sang over 50 years ago, “Your old is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand.”


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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