The origins of disruption theory lie in Clay Christensen’s research around why so many successful companies, run by seemingly competent managers, cannot sustain their success over time. Almost 90% of the companies present on the Fortune 500 List in 1955 are no longer on that list today.

Clay explains that the reason it is so difficult to sustain success over long periods of time is that the forces of low-end and new-market disruption are constantly at work, and incumbent businesses are incapable of responding to them. Because of this, disruption is often seen as a sort of “roadmap” for smaller organizations that wish to unseat the industry leader and thus is either regarded with fear or denial from the incumbent.

Many people are quick to label disruption as a threat to their organization, but in this video clip from our HBX Disruptive Strategy course, Clay provides a different perspective:

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Simply put, disruption doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed as a threat to incumbent businesses. True, disruption eventually comes to every organization in every industry, but before it becomes a threat, it is also an opportunity. Clay says that the key for organizations wishing to harness disruption is timing.

So what is the best way to stay ahead of the curve and remain relevant in your industry? Clay shares his advice:

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Want to learn more about Clay's theories and how you can apply them to capitalize on emerging opportunities and solve your organization's toughest strategic challenges? Enroll your team in HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen, a new online program from Harvard Business School.

About the Author

John is the former Assistant Director for Disruptive Strategy. He worked closely with Clay Christensen and the course team on marketing and sales efforts for Disruptive Strategy.