The Innovator’s Dilemma, Ten Years Later


Businessweek interviews innovation guru Clayton Christensen ten years after his popular work "The Innovator's Dilemma" was published. In the interview, he even gives out a free business idea.

The deep reading is you have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say. This is catching on with one of the big automobile companies in Detroit. If you look for the jobs that people hire a car to do, the opportunities for innovation are extraordinary.

There are about 30 million Americans for whom [a car] serves as their office. Isn't it interesting that nobody has designed a car to work as an office? They pull up to Starbucks (SBUX) and go in to use their T-Mobile hot spot or if they're in Silicon Valley they'll pull up next to someone's apartment building to mooch off their Wi-Fi because they can't access the Internet in their car.

They stop at a stoplight, their notebook computer falls onto the floor. They can't recharge their computer because the electrical system was not designed to do it and there's no docking station. They throw sales literature in the backseats. Nobody's designed a car to do that job. If you understand the job, the opportunities to differentiate are just extraordinary.

For those of you that haven't read the book, one of the things Christensen harps on is that even good managers often miss innovation opportunities because they are so busy listening to their customers and improving existing products. Striking a proper balance to spawn innovation while taking care of day to day business needs is tough to do. I think it helps if you expose yourself to a little randomness.

  • I have a review of the book here.

  • I can’t believe that “good managers often miss innovation opportunities because they are so busy listening to their customers.” Business doesn’t listen to customers all that much and when they do they seldom hear what’s being said. Managers undoubtedly miss opportunities but being too busy listening to customers… I find that impossible to believe.

  • Rob

    I haven’t read the book in a long time, but I’ll try to clarify what (I think) Clayton’s point was. By listening to current customers and using them to drive business decisions, companies can miss the kind of “out of left field” innovation – the kinds of radical new inventions that customers never thought of.

    It’s summed up by Henry Ford’s comment that, if he had listened to customers, they would have said they wanted faster horses.

  • Oh… okay. But wasn’t HF being awfully literal? If he had heard what people meant (not just what they said) wouldn’t he understand that they just wanted to “get where they are going faster?”

  • Rob

    Good point, and one that’s worthy of a whole post in and of itself. Businesses should listen to what customers mean, not just what they say.