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David & Goliath

Since Jill Lepore's article criticizing the idea of disruptive innovation, popularised by Clay Christensen, was published in The New Yorker on 23rd June, there have been a flurry of articles by a lot of popular thinkers and the not-so-popular ones (like me). While have some have taken her argument further and praised her for it, a good number have shot back and provided counter-arguments.

With her article, she has managed to rouse a good debate around the idea, which has gotten several others to think. Speaking of getting people thinking, Malcolm Gladwell's David & Goliath is doing a good job of it as well.

I find that the two ideas, one of disruptive innovation and the other of underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants, are quite similar in nature.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, provides several real-life examples where underdogs have gone on to battle (and defeat) giants and makes a case for understanding the 'advantages of disadvantages' and the 'disadvantages of advantages'.

When you go through each of those stories, you will notice that the way the underdog manages to defeat the giant is always by re-defining the rules of the game. Goliath, a giant of a warrior, was felled by David, a small shepherd boy, simply because David refused to engage in close-range combat (which would have seen him slain).

When the giant has spent so much time and effort in becoming a giant, he, like Goliath, is taken by surprise when a David comes along and changes the rules of the game.

This, in essence, is what the idea of disruptive innovation says as well. The new entrant to the market redefines the rules (like moving to digital photography instead of film) and a seeming giant is unable to react quick enough because he has invested a lot of time and money in perfecting the way things are done currently which has made him a giant.

But the point that Jill Lepore is trying to make, and the one that Malcolm Gladwell makes as well, is that the idea of disruptive innovation is not to be embraced by everyone at all times.

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