Disruptive Innovation: Intellectual History and Future Paths

by Clayton M. Christensen, Rory McDonald, Elizabeth J. Altman, and Jonathan Palmer

Overview — While the concept of disruptive innovation is widely used in practice, empirical management research has not kept pace. The authors of this paper aim to reinvigorate such research on disruption with a newly unified theoretical base and the seeds of a research program.

Author Abstract

The concept of disruptive innovation has gained currency among managers even while core concepts remain misunderstood. Likewise, foundational research on disruption has produced extensive citations and provoked vibrant debates, but empirical research in management has not kept pace. Such inconsistencies warrant deeper reflection and provide the impetus for evaluating research on disruptive innovation in management and strategy. We trace disruptive innovation theory’s intellectual history, noting both how core principles have crystallized through a process of anomaly-seeking research and how it has evolved from a technology change framework to a more expansive, causal theory of innovation and competitive response. The assessment reveals that while the phenomenon of disruption has not changed, our understanding has as the theory developed and was refined. Finally, to reinvigorate academic interest in disruptive innovation, we propose several new topic areas—performance trajectories, response strategies and hybrids, platform businesses, and innovation metrics—to guide subsequent empirical work.

Paper Information