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.”
MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst
I recently attended the second annual Internet of Things World Forum in Chicago, IL. In the opening keynote presentation, Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s EVP of Industry Solutions and Chief Globalization Officer, referenced Gartner’s latest version of its“Hype Cycle,” noted that IoT (the Internet of Things) has climbed over the past year to its peak. Yet, on closer inspection, the enviable place IoT is enjoying within this technology-evolution framework is actually named the “peak of inflated expectations,” a precarious high point where individual dazzling success stories of early adopters and visionary speculation are outshining wider market reticence and slow early adoption. In the model, this magical time is usually followed by a “trough of disillusionment,” then — if the market responds favorably to second and third-generation tech — the “slope of enlightenment,” and finally — if wide market adoption takes place — a “plateau of productivity.”
The conference certainly provided many vivid illustrations of success and the potential of IoT, but will this fledgling industry make it through the inevitable coming trough, and climb “high and right” on the chart with predicted tens of billions of connected devices, as was enthusiastically espoused by Elfrink in his opening remarks?
In 2011, two business school professors put numbers to an idea that many assumed true: that a vibrant research university can drive an economy. They studied companies started by alumni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and found that those businesses had provided 1.7 million jobs and generated $1 trillion in revenue annually.
As more countries try to compete in the global economy, the pressure is on policy makers and university leaders to imitate the way MIT spurs innovation and economic growth. Unfortunately, many universities struggle to match the speed and success of MIT’s model.
A lot of attention has been paid lately to big tech companies buying up smaller firms in billion-dollar deals: In January, Google acquired Nest for $3.2 billion, Facebook purchased mobile message service, WhatsApp, the following month for $19 billion; last week, it acquired virtual reality gaming company, Oculus VR, for $2 billion. There is a lot of discussion about the motives behind these large deals. Some say they are attempts to block competition, while others maintain they are efforts to stay relevant.
I see these deals as a reflection of the uncertainty companies face as they try to identify the next big thing. This is especially true for successful companies like Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG), which are known for doing what they do tremendously well. They’ve seen similarly successful companies like Kodak struggle as technology moves on, rendering its product obsolete. As a result, companies today are eternally motivated to look outside their current business.
The media spotlight has recently been on Apple Inc. AAPL +0.52% for shifting profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. In its international tax strategy, though, Apple is no different from other American technology companies, which (like Apple) began moving manufacturing overseas starting in the early 1980s.
Initially, U.S. technology firms that went abroad during this period were drawn by the lower labor, sourcing, and procurement costs. They also found they could eliminate exchange-rate risk by producing and selling in the same currency.
But these companies soon discovered another important advantage of being global: favorable taxation.