Disruptive Innovation: An Intellectual History and Directions for Future Research

36 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2018

See all articles by Clayton M. Christensen

Clayton M. Christensen

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit

Rory McDonald

Stanford University

Elizabeth J. Altman

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Jonathan E. Palmer

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: November 2018

Abstract

The concept of disruptive innovation has gained considerable currency among practitioners despite widespread misunderstanding of its core principles. Similarly, foundational research on disruption has elicited frequent citation and vibrant debate in academic circles, but subsequent empirical research has rarely engaged with its key theoretical arguments. This inconsistent reception warrants a thoughtful evaluation of research on disruptive innovation within management and strategy. We trace the theory’s intellectual history, noting how its core principles have been clarified by anomaly‐seeking research. We also trace the theory’s evolution from a technology‐change framework—essentially descriptive and relatively limited in scope—to a more broadly explanatory causal theory of innovation and competitive response. This assessment reveals that our understanding of the phenomenon of disruption has changed as the theory has developed. To reinvigorate academic interest in disruptive innovation, we propose several underexplored topics—response strategies, performance trajectories, and innovation metrics—to guide future research.

Keywords: competitive strategy, disruptive innovation, innovation metrics, systemic industries, technology trajectories

Suggested Citation

Christensen, Clayton M. and McDonald, Rory and Altman, Elizabeth J. and Palmer, Jonathan E., Disruptive Innovation: An Intellectual History and Directions for Future Research (November 2018). Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 55, Issue 7, pp. 1043-1078, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3268869 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/joms.12349

Clayton M. Christensen (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Rory McDonald

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Elizabeth J. Altman

University of Massachusetts Lowell ( email )

1 University Ave
Lowell, MA 01854
United States

Jonathan E. Palmer

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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