The Clayton M. Christensen Reader: A book review by Bob Morris

9781633690998_p0_v1_s118x184The Clayton M. Christensen Reader
Clayton M. Christensen and Various Co-Authors
Harvard Business Review Press (2016)

If you think disruption is a problem, try stagnation.

The Harvard Business Review Press continues to publish anthologies of HBR articles that Amazon US now sells for less than $20 each. If the individual articles in each were purchased as reprints, the total cost would be about $65. That’s not a bargain, in my mind. That’s a steal. Better yet, all of the articles are bound in a single volume.

Case in point: The Clayton M. Christensen Reader which contains eleven articles authored or co-authored by – in my opinion – the world’s foremost business thinker and certainly the pre-eminent authority on disruptive innovation. Amazon US sells it for only $18.28.

As his editors indicate in the Introduction, he continues to warn “large, established companies of the danger of becoming too good at what they do best. To grow profits and margins, he observes, such companies tend to develop products that satisfy the demands of their most significant customers. As successful as this strategy may be, it means that those companies also tend to ignore opportunities to meet the needs of less sophisticated customers – who may eventually form much larger markets. An upstart can therefore introduce a simpler product that is cheaper and thus becomes more widely adopted (a ‘disruptive innovation’). Through incremental innovation, that product is refined and moves upmarket, completing the disruption of the original company.”

There in a proverbial “nut shell” are the components of what continues to be one of the important developments throughout a global marketplace that remains volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Long ago I realized that all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) must create some disruption by challenging what they do and how they do it. If they don’t, they will stagnate and eventually, inevitably perish.

The competition between incumbents and disruptors reveals many different pieces of the “disruption puzzle,” including these eleven:

o The threat of disruptive innovation
o Organizational structure
o Product innovation
o The financial tools in the way
o Business model innovation
o The role of business models in M&A
o Where each industry’s growth lies
o The extendable core
o Disruptive Innovation
o What makes good management theory
o A personal strategy

Each of these core issues is addressed in one of the HBR articles in this volume. Readers will appreciate the provision of the “Idea in Brief” and “Idea in Practice” sections in each article, best viewed as a précis of the given author(s)’ key insight and suggestions as to how it could be implemented.

Mini-biographies of all of the contributors are also included. Here is a somewhat expanded bio of Christensen provided by Amazon: “Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. In addition to his most recent book, How Will You Measure Your Life, he is the author of seven critically-acclaimed books, including several New York Times bestsellers — The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution, and most recently, Disrupting Class. Christensen is the co-founder of Innosight, a management consultancy; Rose Park Advisors, an investment firm; and the Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank. In 2011, he was named the world’s most influential business thinker by Thinkers50.”

I hope that Harvard Business Review Press adds additional “Readers” that could become a “best of the best” series.

ChristensenClaytonMeanwhile, here are Christensen’s concluding remarks in the final article in this Reader: “This past year [2010] I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned. Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.

“I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for the companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

“I think that’s the way it works for all of us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped to become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

Let’s all hope that Clayton Christensen will have many more years so he will be able to help countless others to become better people.

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