1/ Clayton Christensen's theory of disruption has had an unsolved mystery at its core since it was proposed: is self-disruption possible?
2/ From hard disks and game consoles to phones and software, the theory gets validated in broad contours repeatedly, despite fussy nitpicks
3/ But every proposed example of SELF-disruption turns out to have been a special case ("be Steve Jobs" is not a theory) or false positive
4/ Since 1997, when The Innovator's Dilemma was published, Christensen himself has sought holy grail, a theory of self-disruption, in vain
5/ The null hypothesis is that self-disruption is like trying to choke yourself. You'll pass out before you manage to kill yourself.
6/ To make the metaphor precise, choking off the air supply to the brain (cash flow) will shut down the executive function (management support)
7/ Nevertheless, people continue to seek. Much consulting is based on the unproven premise that self-disruption is indeed possible.
8/ As a refresher, disruption is when a new competitor on the margins of a market wins by offering a simpler niche product
9/ Usually the product is within the nominal capabilities of the incumbent; disruptors are often even founded by ex-employees of incumbent
10/ The product is often (but not always) technologically incremental rather than radical. Or even a defeaturing of the incumbent product.
11/ Incumbent cannot serve the new market because core customers punish companies for innovations that marginalize their needs by defecting
12/ Eventually the disruptor grows in capability sufficiently to target the old core, at which point it is too late for incumbent to fight
13/ The incumbent shrinks and retreats upmarket, as more and more customers closer to the core switch to the disruptor.
14/ The psychology is key: core customers expect loyalty from incumbent, but offer little loyalty in turn, switching at convenient time
15/ For companies that don't even try self-disruption: "first you ignore them, then you laugh at them, then you fight them, then you lose"
16/ For the ones that do, it is "first you compromise, then you radicalize, then you kill you babies, then you lose."
17/ Stage 1, compromise: Create a wishful "hybrid" product that represents a false synthesis *cough* Blackberry Storm *cough*
18/ Stage 2, radicalize: Create an "intrapreneur" effort that bravely rejects compromise and builds a true potential self-disruptor product
19/ Stage 3, kill babies: The potential self-disruptor product demands more funding and executive attention than is available, it is killed
20/ Stage 4, then you lose: Even if a disruptor does not emerge, the core market goes into natural decline, with no new options
21/ In 3-4, fear of a *potential* top-line decline in core revenue kills options that could have saved the day when it *actually* happens
22/ There *is* a potential solution: predict and quantify potential topline losses and plan around them ahead of time, when you still can
23/ Example, if you suddenly change topic of an email newsletter, you will lose some readers, gain some, so do it when the list is growing
24/ If you do it when your list is too small or already in steep decline, such a change might kill the list, salvaging 0 old readers
25/ This is a high entropy maneuver (what Boydians call a reorientation), you can execute it if you have potential energy to spare
26/ I know of no strong examples of this, but I think corporate maneuvering levers are emerging to enable this sort of thing.
27/ So short answer: no general model today, but promising ones are emerging. We'll watch action unfold here, Case 1: Google --> Alphabet