One of the big problems with the theory of disruptive innovation is that its originator, Clay Christensen, faced a conflict of interest that we might call the “Innovator’s Dilemma” Dilemma. In the introduction to his 1997 book, Christensen wrote that “colleagues who have read my academic papers reporting the findings recounted in chapters 1 through 4 were struck by their near-fatalism.” Over and over again, the book described how businesses tried and failed to cope with the problem of disruptive innovation
Yet as a business professor at Harvard, Christensen’s job is to provide business advice to (and train future leaders of) large, incumbent businesses. Telling your clients that they’re doomed is bad for business. So Christensen has faced a strong temptation to soft-pedal his own theory.
As Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Ah, but here’s Lee later in that article:
In contrast, web-native organizations like BuzzFeed and Vox Media don’t face this kind of dilemma. As web-only publications, we earn 100 percent of our revenue from our website and so are completely focused on doing a style of journalism that works well on the web. That doesn’t mean compromising our editorial integrity — we’re just as willing to trash our advertisers and owners, when doing so is merited, as our newspaper competitors. But it does mean that we’re comfortable experimenting with lists, cardstacks, colorful headlines and other innovations that help our work stand out on the web. And it means that we’ve erected the wall between editorial and advertising in a more sensible place, allowing close collaboration among writers, designers, and technologists.
In other words, Christensen’s protective attitude towards his own financial best interests make it difficult or impossible for him to be an unbiased observer, but for Lee, well…. Only human! I would be no different, I think. It just seems to me that, if the theory of disruption is sound, it’s likely that it would threaten those who assume they are immune to it most of all.
I also continue to wonder if online publishing is going to come up with some sort of broad response to ad block. Because that stuff is an existential threat.