Summer Innovation Links: Disruption, Stagnation, and Fame

Clayton Christensen’s well-known theory of disruptive innovation has been applied all over the place, from personal computers to cellular telephones to higher education — he seems to have written about 500 books on the topic. From his perch at the Harvard business school, he has established himself as one of the more influential thinkers on the planet.

Jill Lepore, also from Harvard, has been spreading her influence via her explorations of various academic “literatures” (including this one) for the New Yorker. This week Lepore sets to disrupt the disruptive innovation mojo with a lengthy, critical takedown of Christensen’s prime examples (“easy targets” according to Joshua Gans).

It seems to be making some noise on my RSS feed (do people still have RSS feeds?) along these lines:

I suppose I should offer my thoughts (Gerard on Klein on Gans on Lepore on Christensen) to keep that whole thing rolling, but instead I return to the “stagnation” debate, this time between Northwestern heavyweights, Joel Mokyr and Robert Gordon.  If you know a Google trick or two, you can get access to this piece in the Wall Street Journal.  

The upshot is that Mokyr thinks innovation is booming, whereas Gordon thinks it isn’t.   We’ve seen this before in the Gordon v. Brynjolfsson  TED smackdown, and I suspect we will continue to see it going forward.

We get the pointer via the Cheap Talk guys — also from Northwestern — who are somewhat bemused by the WSJ reporter’s assertion that Gordon is “more famous” than Mokyr:

Since when is Bob Gordon more famous than Joel Mokyr?  I suppose it depends on the audience you ask – Joel is not known to journalists. But in academic circles, the fame ranking is reversed.

For a summer starter kit, you can learn a lot about how people think about innovation by reading through some of these links.

UPDATE:  Christensen responds to Lepore!