Clayton M. Christensen

American economist (1952-2020)

Clayton Magleby Christensen (born April 6, 1952) is an American organizational theorist and Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, best known for his study of innovation in commercial enterprises.

Clayton Christensen, 2013




  • The technological changes that damage established companies are usually not radically new or difficult from a technological point of view. They do, however, have two important characteristics: First, they typically present a different package of performance attributes—ones that, at least at the outset, are not valued by existing customers. Second, the performance attributes that existing customers do value improve at such a rapid rate that the new technology can later invade those established markets.
    • Clayton M. Christensen, (January 1995). "Disruptive Technologies Catching the Wave". Harvard Business Review: P 3.
  • We contest the conclusions of scholars such as Tushman and Anderson (1986), who have argued that incumbent firms are most threatened by attacking entrants when the innovation in question destroys, or does not build upon, the competence of the firm. We observe that established firms, though often at great cost, have led their industries in developing critical competence-destroying technologies, when the new technology was needed to meet existing customers’ demands.
    • Clayton Christensen and Joseph L. Bower. (1996) "Customer power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms", Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 17(3), pp. 199 as cited in: C.G. Sandström (2010) A revised perspective on Disruptive Innovation p. 8
  • Our findings support many of the conclusions of the resource dependence theorists, who contend that a firm's scope for strategic change is strongly bounded by the interests of external entities (customers, in this study) who provide the resources the firm needs to survive.
    • Clayton Christensen and Joseph L. Bower. (1996) "Customer power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms", Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 17(3), p. 212)
  • Only the general manager can mold the resources, processes, and values that affect innovation, into a coherent capability to develop and launch superior new products and services repeatedly.
    • Clayton M. Christensen (1999) Innovation and the general manager. p. 2

The Innovator's Dilemma (1997)

Christensen (1997) The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.
  • It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.
    • Intro (2012 edition)
  • Disruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge. There is strong evidence showing that companies entering these emerging markets early have significant first-mover advantages over later entrants.
    • p. 3; cited in: Parminder Bhachu (2004), Dangerous Designs: Asian Women Fashion, the Diaspora Economies. p. 172
  • Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream
    • p. 15
  • The concept of the value network — the context within which a firm identifies and responds to customers' needs, solves problems, procures input, reacts to competitors, and strives for profit — is central to this synthesis.
    • p. 31


  • Adrian Slywotzky believes the Internet will overturn the inefficient push model of supplier-customer interaction. He predicts that in all sorts of markets, customers will use choiceboards—interactive, on-line systems that let people design their own products by choosing from a menu of attributes, prices, and delivery options. And he explores how the shifting role of the customer—from passive recipient to active designer—will change the way companies compete.
    • Adrian J. Slywotzky, Clayton M. Christensen, Richard S. Tedlow, Nicholas G. Carr (2000) "The future of commerce." Harvard Business Review Vol 78.1. p. 39-53. (abstract)
  • [There is a distinguishes between] low-end disruption which targets customers who do not need the full performance valued by customers at the high end of the market and "new-market disruption" that targets customers that could previously not be served profitably by the incumbent.
    • Christensen (2003) The Innovator's Solution. p. 22-23
  • [Descriptive research provides] an accurate description or picture of the status or characteristics of a situation or phenomenon.
    • Johnson & Christensen (2004) Seeing What's Next. p. 302 as cited in: L.M. DeBruhl (2006) Leave No Parent Behind. p. 9
  • During the early stages of an industry, when the functionality and reliability of a product isn't yet adequate to meet customer's needs, a proprietary solution is almost always the right solution -- because it allows you to knit all the pieces together in an optimized way.
    But once the technology matures and becomes good enough, industry standards emerge. That leads to the standardization of interfaces, which lets companies specialize on pieces of the overall system, and the product becomes modular. At that point, the competitive advantage of the early leader dissipates, and the ability to make money migrates to whoever controls the performance-defining subsystem.
    In the modular PC world, that meant Microsoft and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), and the same thing will happen in the iPod world as well. Apple may think the proprietary iPod is their competitive advantage, but it's temporary. In the future, what will matter will be the software inside that lets users find exactly the kind of music they want to listen to, when and where they want to, with minimal effort.
  • Low-end disruption occurs when the rate at which products improve exceeds the rate at which customers can adopt the new performance.


  • Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team
    • Christensen (2011) in: Harvard Business Review (2011) HBR's 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself. p. 4
  • Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself — and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves.
    • Christensen (2011) in: Harvard Business Review (2011) HBR's 10 Must Reads on Managing Yourself. p. 12
  • The transition from proprietary architecture to open modular architecture just happens over and over again. It happened in the personal computer. Although it didn’t kill Apple’s computer business, it relegated Apple to the status of a minor player. … You also see modularity organized around the Android operating system that is growing much faster than the iPhone. So I worry that modularity will do its work on Apple.

About Clayton M. Christensen

  • Clayton M. Christensen is the architect of and the world's foremost authority on disruptive innovation, a framework which describes the process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.
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