The Master of Innovation: A Harvard Business Professor's Take on 'Disruptive' Technologies Has Made Him a Management Guru. Now He Has a New Book

By McGinn, Daniel | Newsweek, November 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Master of Innovation: A Harvard Business Professor's Take on 'Disruptive' Technologies Has Made Him a Management Guru. Now He Has a New Book


McGinn, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel McGinn

Management theorists have spent little time pondering potato salad. But on the apparently mundane subject of how to transport that all-American picnic dish, there's a lesson in what's becoming the hottest business theory of the new century. Decades ago, Tupperware solved the problem of how to carry deli items to the neighbor's cookout, but the company's heavy-duty plastic containers created unspoken anxieties. Because the containers can cost $5 each and will last for years, moms carefully guard their Tupperware trove, refusing to let kids use the containers for school lunches (for fear they'll be lost) and awkwardly trying to retrieve them after the neighbors' picnics without appearing rude.

Then a team of marketers devised a solution. Launched in 1999, GladWare is a line of lighter, less expensive plastic containers with a simple marketing proposition: Not as Good as Tupperware. GladWare won't withstand as many trips from freezer to microwave, and it's not meant to be bequeathed to your grandchildren. But at 50 or 75 cents a container, there's no violin music if it ends up in a cafeteria trash can or Barney next door "forgets" to return it. And consumers love it: today GladWare, made by Clorox, holds an $80 million slice of the $450 million retail container industry.

In a world where companies spend billions developing better mousetraps, there's growing recognition of a different breakthrough: the cheaper, mediocre mousetrap. It's a strategy called "disruptive innovation," and it's leading its creator, Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School, into the top ranks of management gurus. Christensen first set out his ideas in the 1997 best seller "The Innovator's Dilemma," which sold 500,000 copies in 10 languages. Now he's written "The Innovator's Solution" (with consultant Michael Raynor), which is climbing best-seller lists.

While the first book described the forces that lead companies to "overshoot" customer needs and leave themselves vulnerable to down-market competition, "Solution" teaches companies to use those forces to their advantage--to become the hunter instead of the prey. The books are turning Christensen into a huge draw on the corporate lecture circuit. His most recent seminar quickly sold out 160 seats--at $2,000 a ticket.

Christensen is an unlikely managerial rock star. The former Rhodes scholar, who's 6 feet 8 and a devout Mormon, spent the 1980s running a start-up industrial-ceramics company, and he wondered why his small firm could cause fits for bigger rivals. In 1989, nearing 40 and with five children, he joined Harvard's doctoral program. "It was very risky," he says, but jumping into academia in midlife had advantages. "I had a lot of questions that were relevant to the world that managers lived in."

To find answers, he spent the early 1990s studying the history of unsexy industries like disc drives and earth excavators. Wherever he looked, he saw established players being toppled by upstarts whose inferior products slowly crept up-market, and from those examples he drew larger lessons. "I think God blessed me with an ability to see beyond the industry-specific situation, to be able to say that disc drives aren't different from excavators or Honda motorcycles--that the phenomenon isn't industry- or product-specific, but in the forces that act upon the managers."

It's a slightly different approach from the one that's fueled a generation of successful business books, from Tom Peters and Robert Waterman's "In Search of Excellence" (1982) to Jim Collins's "Built to Last" (1994) and "Good to Great" (2001). Those titles dissect companies that exhibit an attribute--long-term financial success, say--and then describe the behaviors they use to achieve that result. Christensen's work feels more akin to physics, as he explains how different forces shape industries. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Master of Innovation: A Harvard Business Professor's Take on 'Disruptive' Technologies Has Made Him a Management Guru. Now He Has a New Book
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.