Emma Jacobs has a nice review of The Disruption Dilemma in the Financial Times. It is always pleasing to read that “[t]his is an interesting and well-written, pithy book dealing with one of the buzziest concepts in business.” However, right at the end, she took issue with one thing:
However, it is strange that Gans omitted to include Lepore’s criticisms and Christensen’s counter-argument that she had ignored his subtle points and evolving theories. There is a sense in doing so that Gans has created a straw man argument — that he is the first to unpick these ideas. However, for those who have tired of being told every product or service is disruptive, this is a good — and nuanced — book.
This is not the first time people have raised Jill Lepore’s article with me and its place in the book. Lepore wrote a famous take-down of Clay Christensen in The New Yorker in 2014. I have to admit that it rekindled my interest in the disruption topic and I wrote about it here on this blog. It led directly to the book.
So why didn’t I anchor the book with Lepore’s criticisms? The answer is simple: Lepore was hardly the first person to level these criticisms and, indeed, her most salient ones — regarding the hard disk drive industry that Christensen based his initial research on — had been tackled by many including Josh Lerner (1997), Hank Chesbrough (1999), David McKendrik, Richard Doner, and Stephan Haggard (2000), Andy King and Chris Tucci (2002), Erwin Daneels (2004), April Franco and Darren Filson (2006) and Mitsuru Igami (2015). Lepore treated things as if Christensen was the only person to have studied this industry and wrote an article as if no one had discovered what she had. The “straw man” was Lepore’s not mine. (That said, while she is an academic she was not writing an academic article and had other purposes but I am not convinced she had examined the literature on this).
I will claim to have been the first, however, to put all of this together and bring all of the academic literature to bear on the issue of disruption. But I am very explicit that I am assembling the ideas of others.
Why did I not put my criticism of Lepore more prominently in the book? It is there in a footnote but she wrote one, albiet highly read, article on the topic. I wanted the book to rise above issues of personality and to step into ideas and evidence rather than other issues. For the same reason I did not deal with Christensen’s response and evolving theories. I personally think those theories evolved beyond the issue of why great firms fail and did not want to similarly move away from the book’s focus. Those issues are for another time.