Reading Christensen, one can be lead to believe that a company that doesn’t earmark a large R&D budget is doomed to failure. “Disrupt thyself or have it done onto you.” However, Collins presents a long list of well known companies with huge R&D budgets that did not survive. The key take-away for me was:
“Innovation can fuel growth, but frenetic innovation — growth that erodes consistent tactical excellence — can just as easily send a company cascading through the stages of decline… Catastrophic decline can be brought about by driven, intense, hard-working, and creative people.”
It fits into the ROC world-view of the previous book (Outsiders) where CEOs donned the role of hard-headed investors, leading to an ever-growing cash pile. Cash on hand gives you options while dealing with disruptive innovations. The response to disruption need not always be a panicked acquisition or “ignore it and hope that it goes away.” There are other ways in which an incumbent can strike back, existing regulatory frameworks can be used to put up a long and expensive fight and can be a significant source of their competitive advantage. As long as you have cash, you can survive.
At the same time, where Outsiders’ CEOs were brutal in cutting out businesses that they thought were ‘dogs’, Collins takes a mellower approach: “A core business that meets a fundamental human need — and one at which you’ve become best in the world — rarely becomes obsolete.” But it does: the newspaper business in the US is a recent example (buggy whips, chimney cleaning…) Knowing when to cut your losses is a big part of running a successful business.
The book provides a useful template to identify companies in decline and it is worthwhile reading it for that alone. However, I disagree with its principal worldview that the primary/core business is always worth saving. Sometimes it is not.