Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clay chronicles a decade of disruption

In 1997, Harvard’s Clay Christensen published the book The Innovator’s Dilemma. I’d have to count it as one of the two most influential and widely read innovation books in Silicon Valley — the other being Geoff Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. (A third seminal book on innovation, Hank Chesbrough’s Open Innovation, is having much more influence in the heartland of the US and in Europe than here in the Valley).

The point of Christensen’s 1997 book is that sometimes a cheaper and inferior solution beats out a more sophisticated (but expensive) solution. In this case, talking to your existing customers won’t help because they won’t be interested in the less-capable solution. Christensen did his dissertation on disk drives (going from minicomputer down to laptop sizes) and then extended these ideas to other industries.

This week in Forbes, Christensen published a 10 year retrospective of major disrupters, from 1997-2006. Four of these were IT industry choices that will be very familiar blog readers: Google (1998), BlackBerry (1999), Skype (2003) and YouTube (2005). Equally familiar were the three entertainment-related choices: Netflix (1997), the iPod (2001) and the Wii (2006).

Christensen must be doing some consulting in health care, because two of his choices were in this arena: MinuteClinic (2000), a drugstore-based diagnostic chain and Philips’ HeartStart (2004), a $1,500 home defibrillator.

In fact, the Forbes column is a syndication of his consulting company’s Innovator’s Insights newsletter. As with other such newsletters, the goal is to position the consulting company as a thought leader and improve its brand awareness and image. Christensen co-founded Innosight in 2000 with a former Booz Allen consultant.

The 10th disrupter? My personal favorite: the 2002 Roomba, which was a much lower cost (and higher volume) robot than any iRobot had ever previously built. I don’t know if (or when) we’ll buy a Roomba, but when we remodel our house we’re going to design the ground floor for the Scooba so that no one has to hand wash a floor ever again.

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