There’s been quite the brouhaha lately about disruptive innovation. On one side is Harvard Prof. Clay Christensen (author of The Innovator’s Dilemma) and his long-prevailing theory about how disruptive innovation drives incumbents out of the market. On the other side is Jill Lepore and her attack of Christensen’s theory in The New Yorker. It’s an interesting issue: Do disruptive innovations almost always lead to the downfall of incumbent companies? Is their only hope to “disrupt” themselves?
Along with Joshua Gans of the University of Toronto and David Hsu of Wharton, I conducted a study on the speech recognition industry over the last 58 years. We found a surprising pattern among entrants that adopted disruptive technologies: Instead of always going head-to-head with incumbents, they often adopted a dynamic commercialization strategy in which they started out competing against them, but later switched to cooperating with them (e.g. by licensing their technology). To understand how this can happen, we need to review what it means for a technology to be “disruptive.”
When we teach our introductory entrepreneurship class at MIT, we take it for granted that each of our 75 students will be able to start an American company upon graduating.
But many of them lack one thing they need to be able to do so—permission from the United States government to continue working in our country.
In this academic year, three in 10 MIT students, including four in 10 graduate students, are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. So for them our entrepreneurship class is likely to remain just an academic exercise. Their student visas expire when they graduate, leaving them with two options, to leave the country or find an existing company to sponsor them for a chance at an H-1B visa.