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HBX Business Blog

A Student's Journey from Disruptive Strategy to The Capitalist’s Dilemma

Posted by Farsh Askari on June 22, 2017 at 1:15 PM

Clay Christensen filming in the HBX Studio with his Disruptive Strategy Team

I’m definitely more the “English major type,” but I understand why having some business acumen is important. So, rather than always perusing the fiction bestseller list, I sometimes opt for books by lauded economic scholars and business leaders imparting new financial concepts and theories.

I try to grasp as much as I can, but these works tend to be data heavy and pedantic, packed with graphs and economic statistics supporting prescriptive mechanisms to achieve financial targets, so after a few chapters my mind starts wandering. Then I discovered Professor Clay Christensen’s work.

Professor Christensen is one of the world’s top experts on innovation and economic growth—so I decided to read his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. I was captivated. Professor Christensen’s ideas were both novel and highly practical. After reading The Innovator’s Dilemma, I wanted an even more refined understanding of disruption theories, so taking Professor Christensen’s online HBX course, Disruptive Strategy, seemed like a good idea. It proved to be that and more.

Disruptive Strategy not only afforded me some of the most insightful and exciting business knowledge I have gained to date, but did so in a digestible and compelling way. Professor Christensen infused his course with a lot of what other business materials and teaching tools lacked – stories. He presented his theories of disruptive innovation (which are innovative and compelling in and of themselves) through stories with protagonists that have applied his theories to disrupt and improve their industries—ultimately benefitting both consumers and the economy.

In taking the course, I gleaned a strong sense of the possibilities for good social impact that smart business application can yield. This was the business story I had been looking for and it compelled me to seek greater involvement with Professor Christensen’s work.

That led me to my current position working with The Forum for Growth and Innovation at Harvard Business School. The Forum for Growth and Innovation is a research initiative funded by Harvard Business School and guided by Professor Christensen. The purpose of the Forum’s research activities is to develop and disseminate sound, actionable, and prescriptive theory that general managers can apply in their most critical growth and innovation decisions. In Clay’s words:

"We launched the Forum for Growth and Innovation with the goal of pushing innovation and growth research in new directions, all while keeping an eye on the practical implications for people running actual companies.

Our goal is not so much to teach our community what to think, but rather to continually better understand how to think."

The Forum is currently engaged in the active research phase of collecting insights from alumni and industry experts to produce The Capitalist’s Dilemma book, which will be an expanded an updated iteration of the Harvard Business Review article of the same title. The book is an examination into why capitalists aren’t investing in the kind of innovations that lead to long-term economic prosperity and job growth. 

With the current economic and political climate, the ideas and theories in the book have acquired even greater relevance and urgency. As someone who loves a great story, my hope is the book will serve as a catalyst for re-igniting and re-telling the story of inspiring entrepreneurship that leads to robust economic growth and social good.  

About the Author

Professor Mike Wheeler

Farsh Askari is a Community Manager for the Forum for Growth & Innovation at Harvard Business School—a research project guided by Professor Clay Christensen. Prior to joining FGI, Farsh served as a Faculty Specialist in the Division of Research and Faculty Development at HBS.

He took both HBX CORe and Disruptive Strategy and holds a Bachelor's Degree in Law and Society from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Topics: Student Bloggers, Disruptive Strategy

The Bus in the Sky: Ryanair and Disruption

Posted by Chris Larson on January 26, 2017 at 12:00 PM


I was flying on Ryanair a few months ago when my seatmate referred to the plane as a “bus in the sky.” I'd never heard such an accurate description! If you haven’t flown Ryanair, let me describe it to you. My round-trip flight was $30 and included two carry-on bags. But, that is where the perks stop. You have to pay for everything else - and I mean everything. Forgot to print your boarding pass out at home? You pay for it. Want a drink on the plane? You pay for it. Want to recline your seat? That isn’t even possible. And I wish I was kidding about that last one!

Despite the drawbacks, I have flown Ryanair numerous times and will continue to fly them. Why? Because I can fly to three different places, on three different weekends, for the same amount of money as one ticket would cost me flying to any one of those places on another airline in Europe. And I’m not the only one who flies Ryanair.

So, looking at this from the lens of disruption, where does Ryanair fit? By addressing overserved customers with a low-cost business model, it fits under the “low-end” disruption category. But, it also has made flying possible for many people who couldn’t afford to fly to these places. While they had the same job-to-be-done as the more affluent market - i.e., getting from point A to point B - these consumers would normally take the bus, train, or rent a car. This approach to non-consumers in the airline market also causes it to fit in the “new-market” disruption category. 

looking out the window of a plane

That Ryanair was low-end disruption was fairly obvious to me, but the new-market disruption was something that only clicked when I thought about Ryanair as a “bus in the sky.” Ryanair isn’t just competing against other airliners; the bus, train, rental car, and non-consumers are also its competitors. Former non-consumers in the airline market now have an opportunity to fly to their destination instead of a different, generally cheaper means of transportation previously used. Given the option of an overnight bus ride to Paris from London or an approximately 1.5 hour flight for a similar, if not cheaper price, which would you prefer? That’s what Ryanair was banking on.

As Scott Anthony explains, what's even more impressive is that Ryanair has succeeded in a market that's typically tough to crack. It has learned how to make a profit by keeping ticket prices low, flights full, along with a whole host of other cost saving strategies as outlined in the article. Legacy carriers in the airline business can’t/won’t compete with its prices, and its competitors in other transportation markets can’t compete with the luxury of flying, thus Ryanair succeeds.

I know that for a cash-strapped student living in Europe, Ryanair has opened up the continent for me. I’ve done overnight buses, 37 hour train rides, and rented cars because they were cheaper. But with Ryanair I have been able to avoid many of those “great story” experiences and truly enjoy vacation, thanks to their disruptive strategy.

Want to learn more about disruption and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen


About the Author

Chris Larson was an intern at HBX for summer 2016 who worked with the marketing and product management teams. His background is in all things Russian, but he is interested in business and just started his MBA at Oxford University.

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Insights

3 Keys to Understanding Jobs to be Done

Posted by Chris Larson on August 11, 2016 at 4:54 PM


Taking the Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen course was the first introduction I had to the idea of “jobs to be done.” Professor Christensen's theory essentially explains that people “hire” different products to do “jobs” that they need done. Sounds easy enough, right?

That’s what I thought, too. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t really understand it. Certainly, things in the course helped me better grasp the concept. I could explain the theory to you, give you examples, but I was still missing the deeper understanding of where I could apply it to my everyday life.

I finally had my “ah-ha” moment when I was riding with my mother in the car and watching her simultaneously put on makeup, drive, and talk on the phone. Here is what I learned from this terrifying experience.

1. Observe

You can’t find jobs to be done without observing people. This was my first lesson. Maybe it was the fact that I was scared for my life. Maybe it was because I have seen many women struggle to drive and put on makeup. Whatever the reason, it was in that moment with my mom where my time spent thinking about jobs to be done clicked.

The thought popped into my head, “how could I make this easier and safer?” Then I made the important connection, what was the job to be done here? Help me put on makeup and drive safely? It was the mindset of not taking an idea and then defining a job to be done, but rather observing people and asking the important question, “how could I make this easier/cheaper/better” that led to me seeing a job to be done that my mom could hire a product for.

2. Focus on the Job, Not the Product

Upon further reflection I realized that in that moment of terror and enlightenment, I wasn’t at all worried about the product. Jobs to be done isn’t about the product; that comes later down the line. I had been so focused on the development of the end product that I missed the bigger picture. Finding the product is the end goal in most brainstorming sessions and I think, because of that, we tend to miss the bigger picture: What job are we hiring for? The product will come once the right job is found. That is the truly difficult part.

3. It is a Process

This is a process, a way of thinking. First, I had to understand the theory. I spent time with it and the cases; I thought about it while I was walking around, trying to apply what I'd learned. But, it wasn’t until my understanding of – and mindset towards – the concept had changed that I finally witnessed it firsthand with my mom. I wasn’t contemplating the theory when I was watching her, I was just sitting there with my life flashing before my eyes. But the theory had become a part of my outlook on the world, part of me, and because of that I was able to make the connection.

Maybe jobs to be done is easier than I made it out to be, but for me there was a difference between being able to explain it and find a "job to be done" for already existing products, and identifying a job to be done in real life, from which a product could be developed.

Learn more about Professor Christensen's "jobs to be done" theory HERE.

Want to learn more about "jobs to be done" and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen


About the Author

Chris Larson is an intern at HBX working with the marketing and product management teams. His background is in all things Russian, but he is interested in business and will be starting his MBA at Oxford University this fall.

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Insights, HBX Disruptive Strategy

Disruptive Strategy Reflection: Walmart's Care Clinics

Posted by HBX on March 29, 2016 at 3:11 PM

Participants in Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen wrote final papers to apply the principles they learned in the course to a real organization. The post below is an excerpt written by Barrett Levesque.


In 2014, Walmart announced plans to create its own healthcare clinics run by nurse practitioners where, in a similar story to its founding mission, prices will be low, primary care services will be comprehensive, and hours will be convenient.

The first lens to examine Walmart’s plans to be the #1 healthcare provider in the country is “what type of innovation is this” lens. Their proposed healthcare organization is both a new-market disruption and a low-end disruption. Primary care visits are important for long-term health, but often missed due to the inconvenience of missing work or identifying a primary care doctor, or the cost of the visit or lack of insurance. A low cost option that is convenient and “good enough” for their primary care could potentially open up health care to a group of people who previously could not afford the time and money for a visit. The clinics would be “low end” because of the “good enough” service from providers such as nurse practitioners.

The second lens to apply is the “job to be done" lens." Walmart executives can look out into the country and see people essentially saying, “help me find low cost, convenient, one stop shop primary care." The experience they need to provide for that job is convenient, low cost, good enough healthcare. To meet this goal, Walmart has buildings that are frequently visited in convenient locations with convenient store hours. Walmart needs to integrate its physical buildings, store hours, and choice of healthcare providers to meet this task. Advice to the CEO: Walmart will need a healthcare brand to rally around this task, analogous to the CVS MinuteClinic. Consider “Wal-Care."

The next lens to consider is RPP: Resources, Profit Formula, and Processes. Walmart will need a separate business unit with resources including healthcare IT, healthcare workers, administrators, and insurance “office managers." Processes will need to be established around availability of medical tests, efficient pharmacies, and methods to implement best care and regulatory guidelines. Their profit formula is going to need to focus on “good enough” primary care. Relationships with hospitals and specialists will also need to be prioritized. These hospital relationships must be cost effective and convenient. The choice of what conditions are covered is going to be a key one for the company.

Next steps: The profit model should take into account the many shortcomings of the current primary care model (e-Health record shortfalls, the rising costs of healthcare technology and treatments for an insurer, the lack of motivation for many individuals to see a PCP for preventative care) and prioritize resource allocation which meets their goal of efficient, convenient, low cost health care. This may well include a more efficient e-Health record, integration with services to check for low cost specialists to refer to outside the system, integration/volume deals with hospitals, and hiring additional staff to provide more time for the healthcare providers to focus on the delivery of the “performance enhancing” module.

Interested in learning about lenses and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Topics: Disruptive Strategy

Disruptive Strategy Reflection: Tesla Motors

Posted by HBX on March 3, 2016 at 8:40 AM

Participants in Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen wrote final papers to apply the principles they learned in the course to a real organization. The post below is an excerpt written by Nitin Solanki.


Tesla Motors designs and produces cars that are a sustaining innovation. Tesla focuses on making better products with higher prices, targeting the upper end of the market, and profiting from high margins where customers are willing to pay a premium. Tesla's vehicles "job to be done" is to provide transportation between two points in a luxurious and efficient manner using advanced technologies and elegant design. Tesla has integrated the Supercharger charging station with the cars providing a convenient way to charge its vehicles with destination charging stations all over the country.

Tesla has done an excellent job of marketing by building its brand for consumers who are environmentally friendly. It started at the high end of the market by building great products and is now moving down the chain. The reason Tesla has been successful thus far with its sustaining innovation is because it has its Resources, Processes, and Profit Formula (RPP) focused only on electric cars.

As the CEO of Tesla, I would be alert of low-end disruptions that would compete with the electric cars. Tesla's current market offering is targeting the high-end consumer with the Model S and Model X. They do plan on offering the Model 3 in a couple of years with a lower price point, but it will leave the door wide open for low-end disruptions.

Incumbents such as General Motors, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes already have electric cars on the market which are at the lower price point than Tesla. Currently, the models that are offered by BMW and Mercedes would compete against the Model 3. The car companies that will end up competing against Tesla at the current price points will most likely be BMW and Mercedes. The competition for the higher end electric vehicles will get intense in the next couple of years, and there will be more choices for the high-end electric car consumers.

Interested in learning about jobs to be done, RPP, and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Topics: Disruptive Strategy

Simplifying Home Security with SimpliSafe

Posted by Jake Schroeder on February 18, 2016 at 1:08 PM


One way to discover new growth opportunities is to examine people NOT consuming a product or service and ask “why?"

Consider, for example, home security systems. It can be argued that virtually everyone has the “job to be done” of “help me keep my home and personal belongings safe.” However, a relatively small portion of the population “hire” home security systems to protect their homes and belongings. Why is that? A large portion of the population live in rented homes and apartments. Not being established, these consumers are turned off by both the significant investment and lengthy contracts required to install a home security system.

So…how would you cater to this large market of unsecured homes and apartments?

SimpliSafe, a Boston-based startup, set out to fill this need. From SimpliSafe you can purchase a reasonably priced home security system that requires no contract and can easily be setup by yourself. SimpliSafe is a classic example of Professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of New-market Disruption:

  • New-market Disruption: A product or service that offers lower overall performance but improved performance in simplicity and convenience. This type of disruption targets non-consuming customers who historically lacked the money or skill to buy and use the product.

For more on SimpliSafe, check out this article from BetaBoston: http://www.betaboston.com/news/2015/12/30/simplisafes-success-awakens-sleeping-giant/

Interested in learning about New-market Disruption and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Topics: Disruptive Strategy

Harnessing Disruptive Innovation for Long-Term Success

Posted by HBX on February 4, 2016 at 10:05 AM


For two years, HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen has empowered thousands of leaders from diverse industries to bring insight to their most complex challenges. With industry-high consumer ratings, Disruptive Strategy is driving impact all over the world.

Regarding the content of Disruptive Strategy, Professor Christensen says,

“There are times at which it is right not to listen to customers, right to invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins, and right to aggressively pursue small, rather than substantial, markets. This derives a set a rules, from carefully designed research and analysis of innovative successes and failures…that managers can use to judge when the widely accepted principles of good management should be followed and when alternative principles are appropriate.

These rules, which I call principles of disruptive innovation, show that when good companies fail, it often has been because their managers either ignored these principles or chose to fight them.

Managers can be extraordinarily effective in managing even the most difficult innovations if they work to understand and harness the principles of disruptive innovation.”

Whether you're an incumbent protecting your market position or an entrant navigating a new market, Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Source: Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2000).

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Courses

Endless Releases a $79 Computer: Low-End or New-Market Disruption?

Posted by Bryan Guerra on January 21, 2016 at 9:25 AM


This one seems like a no-brainer.

A tech company releases a $79 computer, so it has to be a low-end disruption, right?

Well, not exactly.

See, the way a low-end disruption works is by targeting those customers that are most over-served in the marketplace. It does this with a set of features that are considered just “good enough” to get the job done that those customers are looking to “hire.” As market incumbents begin to lose these over-served customers at the low-end of the market, they are happy to focus their efforts on the high-end, more profitable side of the market. Meanwhile, the “disruptor” slowly moves up the value chain with each successive sustainable innovation, capturing more and more market share.

In the case of Endless, this is a company that is not targeting over-served customers; rather, it is targeting non-customers (i.e., “non-consumption”). With the release of the Endless Mini – an internet-optional, budget-friendly computer – Endless is able to target those that can’t afford other computers that are offered in the marketplace. In contrast to low-end disruption, these customers aren’t gravitating away from incumbent product offerings, they are gravitating away from no product offering at all. Seen in this light, Endless’ “disruption” is much less about simply having a low-priced offering as much as it is about entering the market with a different value proposition.

The key question here is: has Endless truly uncovered a job-to-be-done with their $79 computer?

Learn more via TechCrunch: http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/09/endless-launch/

Interested in learning more about the job-to-be-done theory, discovering a new-market, and low-end disruption? Check out HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Topics: Disruptive Strategy

Enlisting RPP Theory to Ensure Your New Year’s Resolution Won’t Fail

Posted by Bryan Guerra on December 30, 2015 at 9:01 AM


Ever wonder why so many New Year’s resolutions fail?

Three words are to blame: resources, processes, and profit formula -  or, RPP, for short.

Think of it like this: every day each of us prioritizes certain outcomes that we’d like to optimize (eating well, getting more exercise, meeting new people). To achieve these outcomes, we adopt a certain set of routines (or “processes”), which deploy the resources we have on hand (i.e., time, money, etc.), in order to help meet those outcomes.

Over the course of a year, as we continually reinforce these behaviors, we effectively engrain ourselves with specific RPPs, which are designed to achieve certain outcomes.

The problem is, once we decide that we want to optimize a new outcome – or resolution – we fail because we don’t yet have the right RPPs in place to achieve this goal. For this new resolution to succeed, we’d need to establish a new set of RPPs, specifically designed to that goal.

So, if you’re looking to get fit in 2016 and you’ve spent the past year refining processes that efficiently deploy the resources of Netflix, pizza, and your couch, now may be a good time to start re-thinking your 2016 RPPs.

For more on resolutions, check out this Washington Post article: New Year's resolutions often fail. Good thing the year is full of fresh starts.
Want to learn more about RPP and strategizing for success? Check out HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Topics: Disruptive Strategy

Where Will You Be on Black Friday?

Posted by Bryan Guerra on November 25, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Will you be shopping with the masses or breathing in the crisp fall air outdoors? REI, an outdoor gear company that is also the United States' largest consumer cooperative, is opting out of Black Friday for the second year in a row and encouraging its customers to #OptOutside.


The company is a great example of a retailer that has cracked its consumers’ “job to be done” – to create a retail experience that’s more about a shared community that stands for integrity, transparency, and a love of the outdoors than it is about simply shopping for product. REI has translated this purpose into everything from its product offerings to its promotional strategy.

An estimated 2.7 million people are opting outside this year and at least 275 other organizations, including Google, Subaru and the National Parks Service have joined in on the campaign. For REI's consumers, the Friday after Thanksgiving will be spent outdoors, not inside waiting in line for the next doorbuster sale. Will you be hitting the trails with REI's customers this year?

To learn more, check out Why REI Is Opting out of Black Friday Again This Year from Fortune.com.

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Courses, HBX Insights