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Disruptive Innovation Reminders For The Biotech Entrepreneur


Johns Hopkins Alumnus

Lawrence Jones, Ph.D.

Christensen (1997) mentions that companies can stumble for several reasons however well managed companies always are competitively alert to their customers. The observation by Christensen is that when good companies fail it is because there are certain principles that have been ignored. One of the earliest theories was “Lewin’s (1951) force field model which posits that the change process exists in three phases such as unfreezing, changing, and refreezing” (Yukl, 2013, p. 78).   An entrepreneurial leader must be nimble and agile enough to recognize the change processes and adapt to them. For instance, the understanding of an old way of doing things are obsolete (unfreezing).  There must be a desire to look for new ways to do things (changing).  The (refreezing) is considering a new strategy to be enacted (p. 78).

Christensen (2009) explains that the disruption innovation theory “explains the process by which complicated, expensive products, and services are transformed into simple affordable ones” (p.3).   Entrepreneurial leaders have a great opportunity to capitalize off a disruptive innovation (perhaps before other leaders who are not entrepreneurial) since it requires an innovative perspective to get in the game of business.  Classic examples of how disruptive innovation can be a game changer is the digital camera (Kodak) and digital media (Blockbuster). Both companies which were the top leaders in their industries 25 years ago were affected to their detriment to the disruptive innovations.

Hamm and Symonds (2006) contrasts the market adeptness of Eastman Kodak to Western Union founded in 1851 (p.4).   They ask the question, “Why has Western Union been able to adapt to severe disruptions and survive over so many years?” (Hamm & Symonds, 2006, p. 4). While Kodak leadership traditionally saw the camera sales as an indication that the company was on a path to success, they did not anticipate the increased competition from companies who made digital cameras and the rate of displacement of stand-alone cameras by cell phones, smart phones and tablets which had integrated digital camera functionality (Cade, 2013, p. 1).

Hamm and Symonds (2006) suggest that Western Union were never confused about the type of business that they were in and are in, which is communications company.  They conducted their business by facilitating person-to-person communications and money transfers (p.4).  Hamm and Symonds (2006) point out that the company has managed to ride each successive wave of change in its history after handling the first transcontinental telegram in 1861 (p. 4).  By comparing Eastman Kodak to Western Union, one could conclude that Eastman Kodak defined itself too narrowly as a product company which was detrimental for their failing.

These companies highlighted show how important it is for entrepreneurial leaders to be very clear and concise about what service that is being delivered and to use the disruptive innovation to serve them but not them serving the disruptive innovation.  In many ways adaptation through innovation helps to rejuvenate an individual, a group, and an organization.  An entrepreneurial leader has an opportunity to transform a situation not only by being agile with a disruptive innovation but also setting a new course and vision.  Seemingly, if an entrepreneurial leader can provide innovation through new technology their leadership will be enhanced as well.


Christensen, C. M. (1997). The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Christensen, C. M., Grossman, J. H., & Hwang, J. (2009). The Innovator’s Prescription. A Disruptive Solution for Health Care. New York: McGraw-Hill

Christensen, C. M. (2011). The innovator’s dilemma: the revolutionary book that will change the way you do business. New York, NY: Harper Business Essentials.

Hamm, S. & Symonds, W. C. (2006, November 26). Mistakes Made on the Road to Innovation. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/2006-11-26/mistakes-made-on-the-road-to-innovation.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science.

Yukl, G. A. (1981). Leadership in organizations. Pearson Education India.

Photo Courtesy: Gettyimages (2018).

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