Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2016

Disruptive Innovation: Intellectual History and Future Paths

by Clayton M. Christensen, Rory McDonald, Elizabeth J. Altman and Jonathan Palmer


The concept of disruptive innovation has gained currency among managers even while core concepts remain misunderstood. Likewise, foundational research on disruption has produced extensive citations and provoked vibrant debates, but empirical research in management has not kept pace. Such inconsistencies warrant deeper reflection and provide the impetus for evaluating research on disruptive innovation in management and strategy. We trace disruptive innovation theory’s intellectual history, noting both how core principles have crystallized through a process of anomaly-seeking research and how it has evolved from a technology change framework to a more expansive, causal theory of innovation and competitive response. The assessment reveals that while the phenomenon of disruption has not changed, our understanding has as the theory developed and was refined. Finally, to reinvigorate academic interest in disruptive innovation, we propose several new topic areas—performance trajectories, response strategies and hybrids, platform businesses, and innovation metrics—to guide subsequent empirical work.

Keywords: competitive strategy; disruptive innovation; innovation metrics; platform businesses; technology hybrids; History; Measurement and Metrics; Disruptive Innovation; Competitive Strategy;


Christensen, Clayton M., Rory McDonald, Elizabeth J. Altman, and Jonathan Palmer. "Disruptive Innovation: Intellectual History and Future Paths." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 17-057, December 2016.