How History Shaped the Innovator’s Dilemma

33 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2020 Last revised: 24 Aug 2020

See all articles by Tom Nicholas

Tom Nicholas

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit

Date Written: August 14, 2020


In 1993, four years prior to the publication of Clayton Christensen’s highly influential book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, the Business History Review (BHR) published an article by Christensen titled “The Rigid Disk Drive Industry: A History of Commercial and Technological Turbulence.” The BHR piece relates the theory of disruptive innovation to Alfred D. Chandler’s work on large vertically integrated enterprises. It was published during a pivotal era of scholarship on innovation, management practice and industry evolution, much of which used the history of firms, industries and technologies to build theory. I survey the impact and critiques of Christensen’s research agenda highlighting how it illustrates where the boundaries associated with the “lessons of history” should be drawn.

Suggested Citation

Nicholas, Tom, How History Shaped the Innovator’s Dilemma (August 14, 2020). Harvard Business School Entrepreneurial Management Working Paper No. 21-014, Available at SSRN: or

Tom Nicholas (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Entrepreneurial Management Unit ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02163
United States

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