Clayton M. Christensen Must-Reads

Christensen’s world’s leading innovation guru and one of the world’s most influential business theorists with his theory of disruptive innovation connecting seemingly disparate disciplines of management thinking. The must-read articles of his time are here below:

Disruptive Innovation – From the December 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review, this provides an overview on his famous ” theory of disruptive innovation,” introduced in these pages in 1995, as “a powerful way of thinking about innovation-driven growth.” In “What is Disruptive Innovation?” Christensen and his coauthors revisit the essential concepts, show the importance of using the term precisely, and share what they have learned from two decades’ application of the idea in the field.

  • Product innovation: “Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure” again asks why good managers struggle to innovate successfully, this time focusing on the discipline of product innovation itself, rather than on organizational and management structures. By understanding the tasks that customers look to a product for (the “job to be done”), a company can develop offerings — products, services, and whole brands — that customers truly value. Christensen uses the “milk shake” example to show how product developers should be considering their task.
  • The threat of disruptive innovation: the core theory of why bad things happen to good companies. “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave” is the big-picture “why is this a problem” article warning established companies that a seemingly rational concern with profit margins can have disastrous results. It outlines several classic examples — primarily disk drives, along with Apple and Digital Equipment Corporation — to show that there is a pattern big companies should pay attention to.
  • Organizational structure: “Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change” describes how leaders can structure their organizations to allow the kinds of innovation that stave off disruption. Here, Christensen runs through his framework to show how it can be used to explain that company’s infamous reversal of fortune.
  • To reinvent their business models, companies sometimes decide to merge with or acquire another firm. But the failure rate of M&A is somewhere between 70% and 90%. “The New M&A Playbook” explains that the failures often stem from a lack of clarity about why a merger or acquisition is being pursued. Companies need to consider whether they are really after business model reinvention or are simply looking to bolster their current model. These purposes demand very different implementations of a deal — from paying the right price to determining how employees and other resources will be handled.
  • Business Models: “Product innovations might be necessary, but to be truly disruptive, they often need to be delivered to the market through new business models. In “Reinventing Your Business Model,” Christensen and his coauthors describe how to determine if your company needs a new business model and what makes one successful, using examples ranging from Apple’s iTunes to CVS’s MinuteClinics.”
  • If disruption is predictable, we should be able to step back and look at markets as a whole to understand how disruption will change an industry over time. “Skate to Where the Money Will Be” describes a pattern of evolution of markets and industries that can help managers see where their next source of profits will be — so that they don’t find themselves outpaced by another company in that new sphere.
  • How do you know how big a particular threat to your business actually is? “Surviving Disruption” helps you calculate the strengths of your own potential disrupter’s business model along with your own relative advantages and determine what conditions could keep your disrupter from triumphing. Christensen and his coauthor build on the jobs-to-be-done theory and introduce the “extendable core” — the part of a disrupter’s business model that enables it to keep undercutting you as it creeps upmarket into your territory.
  • By testing a business theory with the scientific method — by conducting a reality check — we can learn whether the theory will really help us predict the future. “Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory,” argues for a more rigorous testing of theories so that managers can gain a better sense of whether an idea is relevant to their specific situation.

This article is from Harvard Business Review’s Clayton Reader.