Two of the most recognizable names at Harvard Business School (HBS) are perhaps those of Michael E. Porter and Clayton Christensen. The research contributions made by these legendary professors—both of whom were featured among “The World’s Most Influential Business Thinkers” in 2013 by Thinkers50—are also the target of criticism in an article from The New Yorker this week.
Porter, who is “generally recognized as the father of the modern strategy field,” according to the HBS Web site, and Christensen, who is known for his bestselling book The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business (HarperBusiness, 1997), gained notoriety for pioneering business strategies related to competition and innovation. Christensen is credited with coining the phrase “disruptive innovation,” a theory that has since taken the world of business management education by storm, with seminars and degree programs devoted exclusively to the topic. Disruptive innovation has also become a watchword of start-up culture, as entrepreneurs vie to “disrupt or be disrupted.”
But this widespread “gospel of innovation,” the article argues at length, is “not a law of nature.” Jill Lepore argues that “disrupt” has become a meaningless buzzword that simply captures the spirit of competition. Further, Lepore argues that much of Christensen’s research on disruption was an effect looking for a cause, rather than a cause predicting an effect—and that even many of the cases he cited using this flawed logic did not stand the test of time. Christensen chose to be combative rather than dismissive in a fiery interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he repeatedly addressed the author by name, stating, “Come on, Jill, tell me! No!” The debate is an interesting one, and the feistiness of it makes it a rarity in academia.
To learn more about notable professors at HBS and 15 other top MBA programs, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guides.