The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.


  1. The research reported in this book supports his latter view: it shows that in the cases of well-managed firms, good management was the most powerful reason they failed to stay atop their industries. Precisely because these firms listened to their customers, invested heavily in new technologies that would provide their customers more and better products of the short they wanted, and because they carefully studied market trends and systematically allocated investment capital to innovations that promised the best returns, they lost their positions of leadership. What this implies at a deeper level is that many of what are now widely accepted principles of good management are, in fact, only situationally appropriate. There are time at which it is right not to listen to customers, right ot invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins, and right to aggressively pursue small, rather than substantial markets. 

Key Takeaways

  1. One common theme to all of these failures, however, is that the decisions that led to failure were made when the leaders in question were widely regarded as among the best companies in the world
  2. The failure framework is built upon 3 findings. The first is that there is a strategically important distinction between what I call sustaining technologies and those that are disruptive. Second, the pace of technological progress can, and often does, outstrip what markets need. This means that the relevance and competitiveness of different technological approaches can change with respect to different markets over time. And third, customers and financial structures of successful companies color heavily the sorts of investments that appear to be attractive to them, relative to certain types of entering firms
  3. Case for investing in disruptive technologies can’t be made confidently until it is too late
  4. Established firms confronted with disruptive technology typically viewed their primary development challenge as a technological one: to improve the disruptive technology enough that it suits known markets. In contrast, the firms that were most successful in commercializing a disruptive technology were those framing their primary development challenge as a marketing one: to build or find a market where product competition occurred along dimensions that favored the disruptive attributes of the product. 
  5. It has almost always been the case that disruptive products redefine the dominant distribution channels, because dealers’ economics – their models for how to make money – are powerfully shaped by the mainstream value network, just s the manufacturer’s are. 
  6. Principles of disruptive innovation
    1. Companies depend on customers and investors for resources – difficult for companies tailored for high-end markets to compete in low-end markets as well. Creating an independent organization that can compete in these disruptive technologies is the only viable way for established firms to harness this principle. Promise of upmarket margins, simultaneous upmarket movement of customers, and the difficulty of cutting costs to move downmarket profitably create a powerful barrier to downward mobility. In fact, cultivating a systematic approach to weeding out new product development initiatives that would likely lower profits is one of the most important achievements of any well-managed company. Creates a vacuum in the low-end market that attracts competition
    2. Small markets don’t solve the growth needs of small companies – create small organizations that get excited about small opportunities and small wins
    3. Markets that don’t exist can’t be analyzed – those who need analysis and quantification before they invest become paralyzed when faced with disruptive technologies
    4. Technology supply may not equal market demand – sometimes “good enough” is competitive and established firms tend to overshoot what the market demands. Moves from functionality to reliability to convenience to price
    5. Not wise to always be a technological leader or a follower – need to take distinctly different postures depending on whether they are addressing a disruptive or sustaining technology. Disruptive technologies have a large first-mover advantage and leadership is important

What I got out of it

  1. Great way to think about how you could do all the right things and still lose. Helmer’s counterpositioning in action

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. This book is about how to better create, predict, and act upon innovation breakthroughs. It helps us better understand why customers behave the way they do and make decisions, shifting from relying on luck to competing against luck.
Key Takeaways
  1. It often looks like companies have good innovation processes but the fundamental problem is that the hordes of data we have today is not organized in such a way as to helpfully indicate which might be the next breakthrough idea. The data never tells you why the customers make the decisions that they do. Understanding this process and some of the questions you can pose will help you get away from relying on lucky and hit or miss innovations and being able to better predict what customers truly want. This leads us to “The Jobs Theory”
  2. The Jobs Theory
    1. The better question to ask is, “what job did you hire that product to do?” This change in perspective helps clear up what your customers truly want. Most of the focus is on customers and the products themselves and not how well the product is truly solving the job that the customer wants. This helps us understand the why of customer behavior, providing the fundamental driver of innovation success
    2. Customers hire a product to make progress, the job they’re trying to get done and the product/service solves these jobs.
    3. Jobs Theory also take into account circumstances, people’s values, emotional and social needs, and more.
    4. Never fall in love with your solution to the job, always try to find way to better understand the job and how to best solve it. These questions and lens will help you more accurately define who your competition truly is. For example, Netflix competes with every form of leisure including a bottle of wine and sleep
    5. The power lies in not being able to explain to successes but in helping a predict future innovation successes
    6. Jobs Theory is an integration mechanism allowing you to create a full narrative and to focus on the right type of complexity. The priorities and trade-offs of customers may totally change with this lens and it’ll get you to focus on what’s truly important the why of customer decision making
    7. These questions help you step into your customer shoes and truly see the world through their eyes
    8. You not only have to think of the product itself but how they find, purchase, and initially learn how to use your product
    9. Non-consumption could be your biggest opportunity as customers don’t do anything because there is no solution which satisfies their needs. This opportunity will not show up in any data but you can uncover it by observing people‘s behavior. You can learn everything you need to know about your product or service just by observing people who use and don’t use your products but you have to know what you’re looking for
    10. Whatever you see customers compensating see this as a great opportunity for some innovation which people would pay highly for
    11. Negative jobs, or what people don’t want to do, are also a rich resource for innovative ideas
    12. Observing customers use your product or service, especially in any unusual ways, is full of opportunities for improvement or for horizontal moves
    13. You have to think through and understand what other product/service/behavior is being “fired” or what you are replacing, in order to better understand where your product fits and what job it is truly doing for you and your customer
    14. Two important forces that are very rarely considered are habits (the fact that people are comfortable with something that tends to be good enough) and anxiety of choosing a new product
    15. Customers are infamously bad at knowing what they want but they can tell you very quickly and accurately where they struggle
    16. Only by constructing the narrative and taking everything into account that led to the purchase can you change the ending and see how your product could fit in
    17. You are selling progress, not products
    18. Consistent small “hires” is a great indicator you are satisfying the job needed
    19. Companies should be organized around the job to be done, rather than by geography, product line, etc.
    20. Products which nail the job they’re supposed to do don’t have to worry about price – customers are grateful for the solution
    21. Taking a job perspective will easily allow you to shift into a mindset and see clearly how to shift annoyances from the customer to internally so that the customer experience is better than ever before
    22. When a product commands high market share and has high pricing power, it is rarely the product itself which is amazing. The overall experience fits the job so perfectly that they’re hard to copy or replace. Creating experiences around this job almost inoculate you to competitors. You must understand the job, the set of experiences around the job that you need to create, and integrating around the job are critical. Helping the customer make progress, incorporating the functional/social/emotional aspects, and aligning experiences and the job
    23. Aligning around the job to be done and making that job crystal clear gives people confidence to act on their own and efficiently scales decision making because the goal is clear. This unlocks human ingenuity, innovation and enthusiasm
    24. Jobs to be done should be in verbs and nouns and not in adjectives and adverbs. It should describe the process itself and not what the customer feels
  3. A genuine insight is a thought which is known as true upon conception – no further analysis is needed
  4. Because it is so much easier to measure efficiency than effectiveness, that’s what most organizations optimize towards. It is hard but necessary to keep top of mind what is important (whether easy to measure or not) and work towards that
  5.  The voice of the customer must be the loudest voice in any decision
  6. Beware the fallacy of “data is always objective”. Data is man made and fallible
  7. SNHU keeps one vital statistic – if you could go back in time knowing what you know now, would you choose SNHU again?
What I got out of it
  1. What job is your product or service being hired to do. This framework helps you better understand what your customers need and how to best serve them. All customers buy products or services to make progress, not for the product/service itself

How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

  1. Christensen is clear that he will not provide any important answers but he does promise to help the reader ask the important questions in order to get them on the path to be happy in their relationships and their careers.
Key Takeaways
  1. Asks the reader to ask – how will be happy in my career and relationships, how do live a life of integrity
  2. Does not promise to offer any answers, simply prompt you to figure out what is important to you and how you will measure your life
  3. Love what you do every single day – Determine your priorities and have a plan and be deliberate but also open to new opportunities
  4. The journey (learning/accomplishment) a bigger motivator than the destination
  5. Must balance deliberate strategy with unanticipated opportunities
  6. If not in a perfect situation, experiment and iterate
  7. For any big decision, ask what has to prove true to be happy and successful
  8. Strategy is irrelevant if not allocating resources properly
  9. Create proper incentives to achieve what you want
  10. Sacrifice strengthens commitment
  11. Self-esteem comes from achieving something important when it is hard to do
  12. Sometimes what parents don’t do more important than what they do do
  13. In parenting and career, think of what skills you want to build and reverse engineer to get those experiences
  14. Culture will form regardless. Make sure it is one you like and support. Be extremely explicit – write culture down, have a motto
  15. Small, everyday decisions shape our lives, our careers, families, etc.
  16. Following any principle 100% of the time is easier than doing it 98% of the time
  17. Absolutely critical to articulate your purpose. Purpose can’t be left to chance, it must be deliberate and it is often emergent. Take opportunities as they arise, it is a process, not an event
  18. Figuring out your purpose is one of the toughest but most rewarding journeys a person can take
What I got out of it
  1. Two main things, whenever a big decision arises, ask yourself what has to happen in order for you to be happy and successful. If realistic and you think it is likely, proceed but if not, reevaluate. The second is the concept of having a concrete and deliberate goal and finding ways to reverse engineer your experience (jobs) in order to gain the skills necessary to attain that goal. Highly recommend this book – brief, easy to read with a powerful/actionable message