Symmetric assumptions in the theory of disruptive innovation

PublikationArtikel (med peer review)
Christian Sandström, Disruptiva innovationer, Företagandets villkor, Henrik Berglund, Innovation, Mats Magnusson


The literature on disruptive innovation has convincingly explained why many established firms encounter problems under conditions of discontinuous change. Incumbents fail to invest in new technologies that are not demanded by their existing customers. This argument is grounded in resource dependency theory and the associated assumption that existing customers control a firm’s internal resource allocation processes. While the problem of disruptive innovation has been convincingly explained, there is still a need for managerial solutions. We argue that a key reason why such solutions are lacking can be found in the asymmetric assumptions made in the original theory of disruptive innovation. Specifically, we identify two related forms of asymmetry. First, the focal (incumbent) firm is treated as a collection of heterogeneous actors with different preferences, incentives and competencies, whereas firms in the surrounding environment are treated as if they contained no such heterogeneity. Second, the theory of disruptive innovation describes incumbents as controlled by their environment, but has failed to recognize that the environment can also be influenced. In this paper we argue that a more symmetric theory of disruptive innovation – i.e. one that treats all similar entities in the same way – opens up for a range of interesting managerial solutions.

Related content: Working Paper No. 203

Sandström, C., Berglund, H. & Magnusson, M. (2014). Symmetric assumptions in the theory of disruptive innovation – Theoretical and Managerial implications. Creativity and Innovation Management, 23(4), 472-483. DOI: 10.1111/caim.12092

Liknande innehåll

From Green Deals to Green Bubbles: Time to Question Brussels as an Entrepreneurial State 
Artikel (utan peer review)Publikation
Sandström, C.


Publicerat i

Future Europe Journal, 8.


This paper discusses the notion of an entrepreneurial state and questions the European Union’s (EUs) increasingly interventionist industrial policies. The EU’s green deal is a massive effort to steer the economy in new directions. Unfortunately, green deals have often resulted in green bubbles, i.e. overinvestments that fail to generate any sustainable businesses or industrial transformation in the long term. This paper presents a couple of illustrative examples of failed green deals and synthesises some of the main findings. A couple of factors jointly explain the persistent failure of green deals, including (1) if something sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true; (2) governments lack incentives and capabilities to act as entrepreneurs; and (3) allocation of large sums of ‘free’ money to innovation and entrepreneurship distort behaviour. Green transitions become more successful when policymakers impose laws and regulations to deal with negative externalities.

Working paper No. 365: Why Green deals may fail – evidence from biogas, bio-ethanol and “fossil free” steel
Working paperPublikation
Sandström, C., & Alm, C.


Publicerat i

Ratio Working Paper Series


Environmental policy is no longer about imposing regulations on industry but is increasingly regarded as industrial policy. Both the EU and national governments are taking more active roles in initiating “green deals” and various technologies aimed to result in sustainable development. In this chapter we describe and discuss some recent experiences of green innovation policies. Historical examples concerning efforts in both biogas and ethanol are combined with a more contemporary description of “fossil free” steel, i.e. steel made by using hydrogen instead of coal. We argue that the presence of large public funds from different funding bodies such as the EU, various government agencies and municipalities has distorted incentives, making it rational for firms to pursue technologies without long term potential. The result has been an absence of sustainable development, mounting debt and financial problems for those actors that have been involved. We explain these results and draw policy conclusions concerning the risks related to green deals. Relatedly, we argue that the EU’s current efforts into hydrogen gas face similar challenges.

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