In an interview with the American Press Institute’s Millie Tran, Christensen discusses several new disruptive challenges and opportunities in the media. But this exchange hit home with me (I added some links):
What did you think of the industry’s reception of the ambitious Newspaper Next project that you worked on with the American Press Institute back in 2006? Today, would you prescribe different things or in different ways?
CHRISTENSEN: My sense of the Newspaper Next project is that people read it as an interesting, academic exercise but somehow, whether it was our fault or theirs, the report was consumed at the level of the brain and not the heart.
Most newspapers decided that might happen to others but it doesn’t happen to us. And on a day-to-day basis, you don’t feel it until it’s over. And now there are a lot of people who are saying oh my gosh this really is happening in many ways. The degrees of freedom that are available are far more limited now than they were.
What do you think the barrier was to newspapers having these lessons spill into their hearts as you say and their day-to-day?
CHRISTENSEN: The answer is, I don’t know. I know the phenomena — I don’t know how to resolve it. And the phenomena is, when you see the result of a theory, somehow our instinct is to say it doesn’t apply to me or it won’t happen tomorrow.
A good way that I’ve began to teach my classes about what is a theory is that in front of the room, I’ll have a pen in my hand and I let it go and it falls on the floor. And as I stoop over to pick it up, I grouse to the students, you know what, I just hate gravity. But gravity doesn’t care. It always pulls you down. And that’s what you really need to do in order to respond to disruption. – You need to say, you know, these guys are coming at me from below and I might hate disruption but disruption doesn’t care it will always happen to you.
You know, back then, you look at the Washington Post and Alan Spoon who was their CEO at the time read the Innovator’s Dilemma and said, oh this actually is going to happen to us and he took action and for awhile, which were very successful and now those things are being disrupted, too. But disruption doesn’t care, it will always come at you. It allows you to take action. But if you think gravity works on everybody, but in your circumstance, it won’t pull you down… well, that’s the challenge.
I was dismayed and flabbergasted at the time at the newspaper industry’s failure to embrace the transformation we called for in Newspaper Next. I worked at API at the time and spent most of my time for about two years teaching the N2 approach to innovation.
Publishers and CEOs paid big money for us to come in and teach them Christensen’s principles and how they could apply them in their businesses. They responded enthusiastically, saying this was exactly what they needed, and then they tinkered around the edges, but no one fundamentally changed their business to become disruptors themselves in any significant way. They just let gravity and disruption keep pulling them down.
The API that Tran now works for is completely changed from the API of N2, but I’m delighted that this interview revisited N2, which was an important partnership between Christensen and API.