Darel Rex Finley in 888

Answering the Toughest Question About Disruption Theory

2015.07.10   prev     next

HONESTLY, I thought I might not live to hear Horace Dediu asked directly what he thinks of his mentor, Clay Christensen’s long-running position on Apple, Inc. But here it is, on The Eric Jackson Podcast #6 — Jackson asks:

So Clay Christensen. ... there have been some who have criticized him, I think, for making predictions along the way that Apple was just about to fall victim to disruption itself. And, of course, they haven’t, up ’til this point anyway. And so have you — and I believe you’re still close with him and with Harvard — how have you viewed that? And have you been involved in sort-of relaying your views on disruption, and on Apple, to him?

In Dediu’s lengthy response, as far as I can tell, he doesn’t actually say whether or not he’s talked to Christensen about this (as Jackson asked), much less what Christensen might have said in reply. Instead, he attempts to suggest that there are explanations for why Christensen says what he says about Apple, that somehow don’t negate the general validity of Christensen’s work. For me, these explanations raise far more serious questions than they answer. As a background to that, allow me to quote Dediu at length:

I have an enormous amount of respect for [Christensen], and actually I’m working at his institute, which is a non-profit think-tank ... he invited me to join him in doing this research that we’re working on now. And we actually are working on a topic far above Apple; it’s actually on the question of the Capitalist’s Dilemma, which is how do economies allocate, or misallocate, resources at a time of high technological volatility and high financialization as it’s called these days, it’s the idea of, you prioritize finances and financing a­bove product creation. And so we’re looking at a much bigger topic.

But on the question of Apple, here’s what I think, where I’m gonna come to his defense, vigorously, is that when he— he’s often bombarded with questions by reporters and analysts, constantly. You wouldn’t, you couldn’t imagine how much, how many inquiries he gets. And so when everybody mentions Apple, Clay has this metaphor where he’s developed over time a bunch of theories. One of them is disruption. One of them is resources, processes, values. One of them is jobs-to-be-done theory for understanding customers. Another one might be tools of cooperation ... He has this metaphor of these drawers he pulls. And each drawer is a theory, and he just uses that to explain the world. And so he’s got about 16 to 20 theories that are in some degree of completion. So whenever somebody calls him on Apple, he just pulls one drawer. And that drawer is called modularity.

And the modularity drawer is the go-to drawer because that’s what happened in computers. If you look back at the 1990s, the success of Microsoft, and to some degree the failure of the Macintosh, was because things were moving to a more modular approach vs. the integrated approach that IBM, Digital Equipment, and Apple had. And so the modular approach, which is separating hardware from software and then hardware into many other sub-parts, was the successful model for getting the PC to accelerate up to 90% penetration levels. And so his answer is always to go back to that theory as to what happens in computing. In computing, the history is modularity. ...

So what Clay does, is he goes back to this. So he used that theory to talk about the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, or whatever else people ask him. So if they come to him, “what’s gonna happen with the iPhone,” he says, well, this is what happens to computers in general. And so that’s what my theory suggests.

This doesn’t sound like a defense. It is a defense in the sense that there are 16 other drawers. There’s 16 others besides modularity. And so if you pull on any one of those, and then you ask, is Apple consistent with the theory, the answer is overwhelmingly yes, which is what I write about. I write about resources and processes and values, I write about their jobs-to-be-done thinking ... and even in the sense of modularity, it’s much more subtle than simply saying separating hardware from software ... The iPhone isn’t closed, and Android isn’t open, in any strict sense of the word. And nor is the iPhone really integrated vs. everybody else modular. ...

So the theory is actually very consistent with what happened. But because Clay has had a deluge of questions, I mean you can ask him about telephones and you can ask him about movie projectors, and he has to pull a drawer out, and say, this is my go-to— because I haven’t got in-depth knowledge of that industry, I’m going to assume that the way to analyze Boeing’s ... Dreamliner ... is with this analysis. And people who are in the airline industry are like, wait a minute, there’s a lot more going on here. But it doesn’t mean the theory’s wrong, is that you’re asking its author to apply it very broadly, very quickly, and that, I think, is not fair, and not the right way to do it.

Here, as I see it, are the important points that Dediu isn’t addressing:

  • Does Christensen’s modularity drawer really describe what what happened in computers before the 2000s? What if it doesn’t? What if it’s a total myth? (See my article of last November, “The Innovator’s Victory,” for more about that.)

  • What sort of theory has umpteen drawers for its users to choose from, which allow for wildly different predictions of a company’s or product’s likelihood of success? Is that really a theory, or is it just a device by which its practitioners can pretend to be under the guidance of a theory, while “predicting” whatever they like?

  • If the modularity drawer can be pulled by Christensen to predict calamity for Apple, while Dediu re-evaluates that same drawer to explain Apple’s success, then is even each drawer too flexible to count as a theory?

  • Why would the founder and ultimate expert of disruption theory consistently pull the wrong drawer on Apple (and/or incorrectly apply that drawer’s contents), again and again and again, for a dozen years or more? Wouldn’t he realize at some point that he needed to pull a different drawer, or apply that drawer’s contents in a very different way?

  • Is Christensen so “bombarded” and “deluged” with questions that he hasn’t had time to figure out the right drawer/analysis for something as significant as the iPhone, in the one hundred months since Jobs first provided the world with a detailed demo of that product? And if he really hasn’t taken the time to find the right analysis, why not just say so when asked, as in, “I haven’t taken the time to analyze this product, so I really have no idea what’s going to happen with that. I’m working on ‘a much bigger topic’ right now.”

Maybe Dediu’s “enormous amount of respect” for Christensen is making him reluctant to confront these questions, for fear of what the answers might be.

 

Update 2016.01.29 — On Exponent #60, close Christensen colleague James Allworth and co-host Ben Thompson argue that there are cases where disruption theory works, and cases where it doesn’t. But they make no attempt to specify the difference in a way that could be applied to current conditions. Without a very specific, objective definition of what kind of cases are applicable and what kind aren’t, there is no disruption theory. What if I had a business theory, and every time my theory’s predictions came true, I said the theory applies to that case, and every time they didn’t come true, I said my theory didn’t apply to that case? What would a reasonable, intelligent person think of that? Any theory at all can be “verified” in such manner, even if it actually has no predictive powers and/or is extremely wrong.

 

See also:
The Old-Fashioned Way
&
Apple Paves the Way For Apple
&
iPhone 2013 Score Card
&
Disremembering Microsoft
&
What Was Christensen Thinking?
&
Four Analysts
&
Remember the iPod Killers?
&
The Innovator’s Victory
&
Answering the Toughest Question About Disruption Theory
&
Predictive Value
&
It’s Not A Criticism, It’s A Fact

 

prev     next

 

 

Hear, hear

prev     next

Best Recent Articles

Method of Implementing A Secure Backdoor In Mobile Devices

When Starting A Game of Chicken With Apple, Expect To Lose

How I Clip My Cat’s Nails

Seasons By Temperature, Not Solstice

It’s Not A Criticism, It’s A Fact

Features (Regularly Updated)

A Memory of Gateway — news chronology of Apple’s ascendancy to the top of the technology mountain.

iPhone Party-Poopers Redux and Silly iPad Spoilsports — amusing litanies of industry pundits desperately hoping the iPhone and iPad will go away and die.

Embittered Anti-Apple Belligerents — general anger at Apple’s gi-normous success.

RSS FEED

My books

Now available on the iBookstore!

   

Links

Daring Fireball

The Loop

RoughlyDrafted

Macalope

Red Meat

Despair, Inc.

Real Solution #9 (Mambo Mania Mix) over stock nuke tests. (OK, somebody made them rip out the music — try this instead.)

Ernie & Bert In Casino

Great Explanation of Star Wars

Best commercials (IMO) from Superbowl 41, 43, 45, 46, and 47

Kirk & Spock get Closer

American football explained.

Sonos and Opalum — awesome sound stuff I saw at CEDIA.

TV: Better Call Saul; Homeland; Survivor; The Jinx; Breaking Bad; House of Cards; Inside Amy Schumer

God’s kitchen

Celebrity Death Beeper — news you can use.

Making things for the web.

My vote for best commercial ever. (But this one’s a close second, and I love this one too.)

Recent commercials I admire: KFC, Audi

Best reggae song I’ve discovered in quite a while: Virgin Islands Nice

Pinball Arcade: Unbelievably accurate simulation of classic pinball machines from the late ’70s through the ’90s, with new ones added periodically. Like MAME for pinball — maybe better.

d120 dice: You too (like me) can be the ultimate dice nerd.

WiFi problems? I didn’t know just how bad my WiFi was until I got eero.

Favorite local pad thai: Pho Asian Noodle on Lane Ave. Yes, that place; blame Taco Bell for the amenities. Use the lime, chopsticks, and sriracha. Yummm.

Um, could there something wrong with me if I like this? Or this?

This entire site as a zip file — last updated 2017.11.02

Previous articles

The Ultimate, Simple, Fair Tax

Compassion and Vision

When Starting A Game of Chicken With Apple, Expect To Lose

The Caveat

Superb Owl

NavStar

Basic Reproduction Number

iBook Price-Fixing Lawsuit Redux — Apple Won

Delusion Made By Google

Religion Is A Wall

It’s Not A Criticism, It’s A Fact

Michigan Wolverines 2014 Football Season In Review

Why There’s No MagSafe On the New Mac­Book

Sundar Pichai Says Devices Will Fade Away

The Question Every Ap­ple Naysayer Must An­swer

Apple’s Move To TSMC Is Fine For Apple, Bad For Samsung

Method of Implementing A Secure Backdoor In Mobile Devices

How I Clip My Cat’s Nails

Die Trying

Merger Hindsight

Human Life Decades

Fire and the Wheel — Not Good Examples of A Broken Patent System

Nobody Wants Public Transportation

Seasons By Temperature, Not Solstice

Ode To Coffee

Starting Over

FaceBook Messenger — Why I Don’t Use It

Happy Birthday, Anton Leeuwenhoek

Standard Deviation De­fined

Not Hypocrisy

Simple Guide To Pro­gress Bar Correctness

A Secure Backdoor Is Feasible

Don’t Blink

Predictive Value

Answering the Toughest Question About Disruption Theory

SSD TRIM Command In A Nutshell

The Enderle Grope

Aha! A New Way To Screw Apple

Champagne, By Any Other Maker

iOS Jailbreaking — A Perhaps-Biased Assessment

Embittered Anti-Apple Belligerents

Before 2001, After 2001

What A Difference Six Years Doesn’t Make

Stupefying New Year’s Stupidity

The Innovator’s Victory

The Cult of Free

Fitness — The Ultimate Transparency

Millions of Strange Dev­o­tees and Fanatics

Remember the iPod Killers?

Theory As Simulation

Four Analysts

What Was Christensen Thinking?

The Grass Is Always Greener — Viewing An­gle

Is Using Your Own Pat­ent Still Allowed?

The Upside-Down Tech Future

Motive of the Anti-Ap­ple Pundit

Cheating Like A Human

Disremembering Mi­cro­soft

Security-Through-Obscurity Redux — The Best of Both Worlds

iPhone 2013 Score Card

Dominant and Recessive Traits, Demystified

Yes, You Do Have To Be the Best

The United States of Texas

Vertical Disintegration

He’s No Jobs — Fire Him

A Players

McEnroe, Not Borg, Had Class

Conflict Fades Away

Four-Color Theorem A­nal­y­sis — Rules To Limit the Problem

The Unusual Mo­nop­o­list

Reasonable Projection

Five Times What They Paid For It

Bypassable Security Certificates Are Useless

I’d Give My Right Arm To Go To Mars

Free Advice About Apple’s iOS App Store Guidelines

Inciting Violence

One Platform

Understanding IDC’s Tablet Market Share Graph

I Vote Socialist Be­cause...

That Person

Product Naming — Google Is the Other Microsoft

Antecessor Hypotheticum

Apple Paves the Way For Apple

Why — A Poem

App Anger — the Supersized-Mastodon-In-the-Room That Marco Arment Doesn’t See

Apple’s Graphic Failure

Why Microsoft Copies Apple (and Google)

Coders Code, Bosses Boss

Droidfood For Thought

Investment Is Not A Sure Thing

Exercise is Two Thirds of Everything

Dan “Real Enderle” Ly­ons

Fairness

Ignoring the iPod touch

Manual Intervention Should Never Make A Computer Faster

Predictions ’13

Paperless

Zeroth — Why the Century Number Is One More Than the Year Number

Longer Than It Seems

Partners: Believe In Ap­ple

Gun Control: Best Ar­gu­ments

John C. Dvorak — Translation To English

Destructive Youth

Wiens’s Whine

Free Will — The Grand Equivocation

What Windows-vs.-Mac Actually Proved

A Tale of Two Logos

Microsoft’s Three Paths

Amazon Won’t Be A Big Winner In the DOJ’s Price-Fixing Suit

Infinite Sets, Infinite Authority

Strategy Analytics and Long Term Ac­count­a­bil­i­ty

The Third Stage of Computing

Why 1 Isn’t Prime, 2 Is Prime, and 2 Is the Only Even Prime

Readability BS

Lie Detection and Psy­chos

Liking

Steps

Microsoft’s Dim Pros­pects

Humanity — Just Barely

Hanke-Henry Calendar Won’t Be Adopted

Collatz Conjecture A­nal­y­sis (But No Proof; Sorry)

Rock-Solid iOS App Stability

Microsoft’s Uncreative Character

Microsoft’s Alternate Reality Bubble

Microsoft’s Three Ruts

Society’s Fascination With Mass Murder

PlaysForSure and Wikipedia — Revisionism At Its Finest

Procrastination

Patent Reform?

How Many Licks

Microsoft’s Incredible Run

Voting Socialist

Darwin Saves

The Size of Things In the Universe

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy That Wasn’t

Fun

Nobody Was In Love With Windows

Apples To Apples — How Anti-Apple Pundits Shoot Themselves In the Foot

No Holds Barred

Betting Against Hu­man­i­ty

Apple’s Premium Features Are Free

Why So Many Computer Guys Hate Apple

3D TV With No Glasses and No Parallax/Focus Issues

Waves With Particle-Like Properties

Gridlock Is Just Fine

Sex Is A Fantasy

Major Player

Why the iPad Wannabes Will Definitely Flop

Predators and Parasites

Prison Is For Lotto Losers

The False Dichotomy

Wait and See — Windows-vs-Mac Will Repeat Itself

Dishonesty For the Greater Good

Barr Part 2

Enough Information

Zune Is For Apple Haters

Good Open, Bad Open

Beach Bodies — Who’s Really Shallow?

Upgrade? Maybe Not

Eliminating the Im­pos­si­ble

Selfish Desires

Farewell, Pirate Cachet

The Two Risk-Takers

Number of Companies — the Idiocy That Never Dies

Holding On To the Solution

Apple Religion

Long-Term Planning

What You Have To Give Up

The End of Elitism

Good and Evil

Life

How Religion Distorts Science

Laziness and Creativity

Sideloading and the Supersized-Mastodon-In-the-Room That Snell Doesn’t See

Long-Term Self-De­lu­sion

App Store Success Won’t Translate To Books, Movies, and Shows

Silly iPad Spoilsports

I Disagree

Five Rational Coun­ter­ar­gu­ments

Majority Report

Simply Unjust

Zooman Science

Reaganomics — Like A Diet — Works

Free R&D?

Apple’s On the Right Track

Mountains of Evidence

What We Do

Hope Conquers All

Humans Are Special — Just Not That Special

Life = Survival of the Fittest

Excuse Me, We’re Going To Build On Your Property

No Trademark iWorries

Knowing

Twisted Excuses

The Fall of Google

Real Painters

The Meaning of Kicking Ass

How To Really Stop Casual Movie Disc Ripping

The Solitary Path of the High-Talent Pro­gram­mer

Fixing, Not Preaching

Why Blackmail Is Still Illegal

Designers Cannot Do Anything Imaginable

Wise Dr. Drew

Rats In A Too-Small Cage

Coming To Reason

Everything Isn’t Moving To the Web

Pragmatics, Not Rights

Grey Zone

Methodologically Dogmatic

The Purpose of Lan­guage

The Punishment Defines the Crime

Two Many Cooks

Pragmatism

One Last Splurge

Making Money

What Heaven and Hell Are Really About

America — The Last Suburb

Hoarding

What the Cloud Isn’t For

Diminishing Returns

What You’re Seeing

What My Life Needs To Be

Taking An Early Re­tire­ment

Office Buildings

A, B, C, D, Pointless Relativity

Stephen Meyer and Michael Medved — Where Is ID Going?

If You Didn’t Vote — Complain Away

iPhone Party-Poopers Redux

What Free Will Is Really About

Spectacularly Well

Pointless Wrappers

PTED — The P Is Silent

Out of Sync

Stupid Stickers

Security Through Nor­mal­cy

The Case For Corporate Bonuses

Movie Copyrights Are Forever

Permitted By Whom?

Quantum Cognition and Other Hogwash

The Problem With Message Theory

Bell’s Boring Inequality and the Insanity of the Gaps

Paying the Rent At the 6 Park Avenue A­part­ments

Primary + Reviewer — An Alternative IT Plan For Corporations

Yes Yes Yes

Feelings

Hey Hey Whine Whine

Microsoft About Microsoft Visual Microsoft Studio Microsoft

Hidden Purple Tiger

Forest Fair Mall and the Second Lamborghini

Intelligent Design — The Straight Dope

Maxwell’s Demon — Three Real-World Ex­am­ples

Zealots

Entitlement BS

Agenderle

Mutations

Einstein’s Error — The Confusion of Laws With Their Effects

The Museum Is the Art

Polly Sooth the Air Rage

The Truth

The Darkness

Morality = STDs?

Fulfilling the Moral Du­ty To Disdain

MustWinForSure

Choice

Real Design

The Two Rules of Great Programming

Cynicism

The End of the Nerds

Poverty — Humanity’s Damage Control

Berners-Lee’s Rating System = Google

The Secret Anti-MP3 Trick In “Independent Women” and “You Sang To Me”

ID and the Large Had­ron Collider Scare

Not A Bluff

The Fall of Microsoft

Life Sucks When You’re Not Winning

Aware

The Old-Fashioned Way

The Old People Who Pop Into Existence

Theodicy — A Big Stack of Papers

The Designed, Cause-and-Effect Brain

Mosaics

IC Counterarguments

The Capitalist’s Imaginary Line

Education Isn’t Eve­ry­thing

I Don’t Know

Funny iPhone Party-Poopers

Avoiding Conflict At All Costs

Behavior and Free Will, Unconfused

“Reduced To” Ab­sur­dum

Suzie and Bubba Redneck — the Carriers of Intelligence

Everything You Need To Know About Haldane’s Dilemma

Darwin + Hitler = Ba­lo­ney

Meta-ware

Designed For Combat

Speed Racer R Us

Bold — Uh-huh

Conscious of Con­scious­ness

Future Perfect

Where Real and Yahoo Went Wrong

The Purpose of Surface

Eradicating Religion Won’t Eradicate War

Documentation Overkill

A Tale of Two Movies

The Changing Face of Sam Adams

Dinesh D’Souza On ID

Why Quintic (and Higher) Polynomials Have No Algebraic Solution

Translation of Paul Graham’s Footnote To Plain English

What Happened To Moore’s Law?

Goldston On ID

The End of Martial Law

The Two Faces of Ev­o­lu­tion

A Fine Rec­om­men­da­tion

Free Will and Population Statistics

Dennett/D’Souza Debate — D’Souza

Dennett/D’Souza Debate — Dennett

The Non-Euclidean Ge­om­e­try That Wasn’t There

Defective Attitude Towards Suburbia

The Twin Deficit Phan­toms

Sleep Sync and Vertical Hold

More FUD In Your Eye

The Myth of Rub­ber­neck­ing

Keeping Intelligent Design Honest

Failure of the Amiga — Not Just Mis­man­age­ment

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer = Be My Honey Do?

End Unsecured Debt

The Digits of Pi Cannot Be Sequentially Generated By A Computer Program

Faster Is Better

Goals Can’t Be Avoided

Propped-Up Products

Ignoring ID Won’t Work

The Crabs and the Bucket

Communism As A Side Effect of the Transition To Capitalism

Google and Wikipedia, Revisited

National Geographic’s Obesity BS

Cavemen

Theodicy Is For Losers

Seattle Redux

Quitting

Living Well

A Memory of Gateway

Is Apple’s Font Rendering Really Non-Pixel-Aware?

Humans Are Complexity, Not Choice

A Subtle Shift

Moralism — The Emperor’s New Success

Code Is Our Friend

The Edge of Religion

The Dark Side of Pixel-Aware Font Rendering

The Futility of DVD En­cryp­tion

ID Isn’t About Size or Speed

Blood-Curdling Screams

ID Venn Diagram

Rich and Good-Looking? Why Libertarianism Goes Nowhere

FUV — Fear, Uncertainty, and Vista

Malware Isn’t About Total Control

Howard = Second Com­ing?

Doomsday? Or Just Another Sunday

The Real Function of Wikipedia In A Google World

Objective-C Philosophy

Clarity From Cisco

2007 Macworld Keynote Prediction

FUZ — Fear, Uncertainty, and Zune

No Fear — The Most Important Thing About Intelligent Design

How About A Rational Theodicy

Napster and the Subscription Model

Intelligent Design — Introduction

The One Feature I Want To See In Apple’s Safari.