The Innovator’s Dilemma: United States Edition

This month’s WIRED has an article that reminded me of a core argument in Clayton Christenson’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma–that successful businesses are vulnerable to toppling by smaller competitors when their prior success blinds them to a changing market.

Philip Bobbit of UT Austin argues in Technology is Killing Democracy that the very technological innovations that have pushed America to the forefront are now used by its smaller, nimbler competitors (read: terrorists) to bring it down. In a way reminiscent of the Revolutionary War innovations that helped an upstart band of colonists defeat the established British army, America is now too big and influential to make the instantaneous moves demanded by its opponents–and enabled by its technology.

The US intelligence community is not well adapted to fight global terrorism because it was extremely well adapted to fight the Cold War. That was a triumph, and we were able to preserve our civil liberties. And now our success is killing us.

If only our system hadn’t worked so well before; maybe then we’d be more willing to change it now, something we need desperately to do.