Abstract for: Does Technology Disruption Always Mean Industry Disruption?

In 1997, in his best-selling book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen made critical observations about the conditions under which established firms lose market to entrants with disruptive technology. His work became highly influential, making disruptive technology a buzz word, “thrown around” by the popular media in contexts far beyond Christensen’s original claims. Fearing that such over-zealous use of the phrase could lead to inefficient strategic decisions; in this paper we broaden the research agenda around industrial disruption by asking: do potentially disruptive technologies always displace the existing industrial order? We first analyze media sources in conjunction with industrial statistics to demonstrate that several technologies proclaimed by media to be disruptive have failed to displace the industry order. We then offer a general model of industry disruption based upon field research. Our analysis shows that three types of uncertainties – technical, market, and organizational – may explain why such potentially disruptive technologies fail to displace the existing industrial order. Our work should not be misconstrued as a contradiction of Christensen’s work. Our general model, perhaps the first differential model of industry disruption contributed to innovation literature, in fact builds upon Christensen’s conditions, and argues for broadening the research agenda for understanding industry disruption.