Clayton M. Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilemma

Clayton M. Christensen

Clayton M. Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilemma – Contents

  • Clayton M. Christensen Biography
  • Clayton M. Christensen’s Big Idea:
    • The Innovator’s Dilemma
  • Interesting Facts and Insights about Clayton M. Christensen
  • Career Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Business Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Leadership and Management Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Books by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Journal Articles by Clayton M. Christensen
  • Common Questions about Clayton M. Christensen
  • Videos about Clayton M. Christensen
  • Clayton M. Christensen Quotes

Clayton M. Christensen Biography

Clayton Magleby Christensen is an academic and business consultant who serves as a Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Christensen is one of the world’s foremost authority on innovation. In 2011, Forbes called him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.” In 2017 he was ranked #3 in the Thinkers 50.

Clayton M. Christensen is best known for his theory of “disruptive innovation,” introduced in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” In which Christensen demonstrates how successful companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership, as new competitors rise and take over the market.


Clayton M. Christensen’s Big Idea: The Innovator’s Dilemma

Christensen’s best-selling book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail,” published in 1997, is focused on disruptive innovation. The book expands on the concept of disruptive technologies, a term he coined in a 1995 article “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave.”

The Innovator’s Dilemma demonstrates how successful companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership, due to new, unexpected competitors rising up and taking over the market. There are two critical parts to this dilemma.

  • Value to Innovation is an S-curve: Improving a product takes time and many iterations.
  • Incumbent Sized Deals: The incumbent has the benefit of a considerable customer set but also high expectations of yearly sales.

The new smaller, more nibble entry companies do not require the yearly sales of the incumbent and thus have more time to focus and innovate. By the time the new product becomes attractive to the incumbent’s customers, it is too late for the incumbent to react to the new product. It is too late for the incumbent to keep up with the new entrant’s rate of product improvement and innovation.


Interesting Facts and Insights about Clayton M. Christensen

  • Born: Clayton Magleby Christensen was born in 1952 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • LDS: Christensen was raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
  • BYU: Christensen graduated with an Honors B.A. summa cum laude in Economics from Brigham Young University (BYU).
  • Missionary: During a two-year leave of absence from BYU, Christensen served as a full-time volunteer missionary for the LDS Church from 1971 to 1973
  • South Korea: Christensen was assigned LDS Church to serve in South Korea and became a fluent speaker of Korean.
  • Rhodes Scholarship: Christensen won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two years studying applied econometrics at Oxford University, receiving an M.Phil. in 1977.
  • MBA: Christensen then pursued an MBA at the Harvard Business School, which he earned with high distinction in 1979.
  • BCG: Christensen began working for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as a consultant and project manager from 1979.
  • White House Fellow: In 1982, Christensen was named a White House Fellow and took a one-year’s work in Washington, D.C. as an assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
  • CEO: In 1984, Christensen and several professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded Ceramics Process Systems Corporation, where he served as its president and CEO through the late 1980s.
  • Harvard: Christensen returned to Harvard for his doctoral study in business, receiving a Doctor of Business Administration degree in 1992.
  • Professor: Christensen joined the Harvard Business School faculty and achieved the rank of Professor in 1998.
  • Tata: Christensen serves on the board of directors of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
  • Directorships: Christensen serves on the board of directors of Franklin Covey and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
  • Honorary Doctorates: Christensen currently holds eight honorary doctorates and an honorary chaired professorship at the National Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
  • Author: Christensen is the best-selling author of ten books.
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma: His seminal work “The Innovator’s Dilemma” was published in 1997, which received the Global Business Book Award for the best business book of the year.

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.”

– Clayton M. Christensen

Career Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen

“You can’t find returns in investments you haven’t made.”

“Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”

“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.”

“Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation. The same is true for learning.”

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.”

“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.”

“If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.”

“Innovators need a heavy dose of faith. They need to trust their intuition that they are working on a big idea. That faith need not be blind.”

“The best way to get a good idea is to get a lot of ideas.”

“In our lives and in our careers, whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly navigating a path by deciding between our deliberate strategies and the unanticipated alternatives that emerge.”

“You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy.

“In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.”

“In fact, how you allocate your own resources can make your life turn out to be exactly as you hope or very different from what you intend.”

“As I look back on my own life, I recognize that some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me—but rather from what they didn’t do for me.”

“If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late.”

“In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed, and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.”


Business Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen

“Sustaining” innovations replace old products with new ones. They have a zero-sum effect on jobs and capital.”

“Breaking an old business model is always going to require leaders to follow their instinct.”

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

“There will always be persuasive reasons not to take a risk. But if you only do what worked in the past, you will wake up one day and find that you’ve been passed by.”

“Businesses want to think in terms of categories. Consumers want us to think in terms of their needs.”

“An innovation will get traction only if it helps people get something that they’re already doing in their lives done better.”

“Disruptive technology is a theory. It says this will happen and this is why; it’s a statement of cause and effect.”

“In our teaching, we have so exalted the virtues of data-driven decision making that in many ways we condemn managers only to be able to take action after the data is clear and the game is over.”

“In many ways, a good theory is more accurate than data. It allows you to see into the future more clearly.”

“The mistake managers often make is defining their industry too narrowly.”

“Disruption seems to come out of nowhere, but if you know what to look for, you can spot important developments well before the market does.”

“Disruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge.”

“Disruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one.”


Leadership and Management Advice Quotes by Clayton M. Christensen

“Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”

“Steve Jobs and Apple taught us that profit is not the ultimate goal, but rather a consequence of something greater.”

“How can you make sense of the future when you only have data about the past?”

“Core competence, as it is used by many managers, is a dangerously inward-looking notion. Competitiveness is far more about doing what customers value than doing what you think you’re good at.”

“Empowering” innovations transform complicated, costly products that previously had been available only to a few people, into simpler, cheaper products available to many.”

“Empowering innovations create jobs for people who build, distribute, sell and service these products.”

“Focus is scary—until you realize that it only means turning your back on markets you could never have anyway.”

“Sharp focus on jobs that customers are trying to get done holds the promise of greatly improving the odds of success in new-product development.”


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“Businesses want to think in terms of categories. Consumers want us to think in terms of their needs.”

– Clayton M. Christensen

Books by Clayton M. Christensen

  • The innovator’s dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail, by Clayton M. Christensen, 1997
  • The innovator’s solution: creating and sustaining successful growth, by Clayton M. Christensen, 2003
  • Innovation and the general manager, A casebook. Designed as a practical tool to help managers, by Clayton M. Christensen, 2003
  • Seeing what’s next: using the theories of innovation to predict industry change, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Anthony, Scott D.; Roth, Erik A., 2004
  • Disrupting class: how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Horn, Michael, 2008
  • The innovator’s prescription: a disruptive solution for health care, Cby Christensen, Clayton M.; Grossman, Jerome H.; Hwang, Jason, 2008
  • The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Eyring, Henry J., 2011
  • How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Allworth, James; Dillon, Karen, 2012
  • The Power of Everyday Missionaries, The What and How of Sharing the Gospel, by Christensen, Clayton M., 2013
  • Competing Against Luck, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Dillon, Karen; Hall, Taddy; Duncan, David, 2016
  • The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations out of Poverty, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Ojomo, Efosa; Dillon, Karen, 2019

Journal Articles by Clayton M. Christensen

  • “Disruptive technologies: catching the wave”. by Christensen, Clayton M.; Bower, Joseph L., Harvard Business Review, 1995
  • “Meeting the challenge of disruptive change”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Overdorf, Michael, Harvard Business Review, 2000
  • “Will disruptive innovations cure health care?”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Bohmer, Richard; Kenagy, John, Harvard Business Review, 2011
  • “Marketing malpractice: the cause and the cure”, Christensen, Clayton M.; Cook, Scott; Hall, Taddy, Harvard Business Review, 2005
  • “The tools of cooperation and change”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Marx, Matthew; Stevenson, Howard H., Harvard Business Review, 2006
  • “Disruptive innovation for social change”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Baumann, Heiner; Ruggles, Rudy; Sadtler, Thomas M., Harvard Business Review, 2006
  • “How will you measure your life?”, by Christensen, Clayton M., Harvard Business Review, 2010
  • “Know your customer’s Job To Be Done”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Dillon, Karen; Hall, Taddy; Duncan, David, Harvard Business Review, 2016
  • “The Hard Truth About Business Model Innovation”, by Christensen, Clayton M.; Bartman, Tom; van Bever, Derek, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2016

Common Questions about Clayton M. Christensen

  • What is Clayton Christensen known for?
    • Clayton M. Christensen is best known for his theory of “Disruptive Innovation”, introduced in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”
    • Christensen is one of the world’s foremost authority on innovation.
    • In 2011, Forbes called him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.”
    • In 2017 he was ranked #3 in the Thinkers 50.
  • What is Clayton Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation?
    • Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple new applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.
  • What is Disruptive Innovation Theory?
    • Disruptive Innovation Theory demonstrates how successful companies can do everything “right” and yet still lose their market leadership, due to new, unexpected competitors rising and taking over the market.
  • What is Disruptive Strategy?
    • Disruptive Strategy creates new markets and value networks that disrupt the existing market and value networks, displacing established industries and companies.
  • What is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma?
    • There are two key parts to Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma dilemma.
    • Value to Innovation is an S-curve: Improving a product takes time and many iterations.
    • Incumbent Sized Deals: The incumbent has the benefit of a vast customer set but also high expectations of yearly sales.
    • By the time the new product becomes attractive to the incumbent’s customers, it is too late for the incumbent to react to the new product.
  • What is Clayton Christensen’s: “How Will You Measure Your Life?”
    • “How Will You Measure Your Life?” is a book by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon, published in 2012.
    • The book consists of observations and insights designed to help a reader determine heir path to fulfillment.

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“How can you make sense of the future when you only have data about the past?”

– M. Christensen

Videos about Clayton M. Christensen

How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay Christensen at TEDxBoston

Disruptive Innovation Explained


“Disruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge.”

– Clayton M. Christensen

Image Credit:World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]