Something Mike Shatzkin told me once has really stuck with me: “The people at the major publishing houses aren’t idiots.” In fact, I’m pretty sure Mike has told me this more than once, usually after I pointed out something that I think publishers should try and can’t figure out why they don’t. Mike could see that the assumption in my advice was that publishing executives didn’t know what they were doing.
It turns out Mike was right and I was wrong. Publishing executives aren’t idiots.
Neither were executives at practically every company that has been disintermediated or made obsolete by innovation. This is a common theme in business lore and among the general public, and it is dead wrong. Established companies don’t go under because they don’t understand their market, their customers, their product. Nor do they go under due to managerial blunders, lack of R&D, and all the other myriad reasons commonly proffered. In fact, companies lose market share and go under precisely because they are well-managed.
To understand how this works, you simply must read The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen. I’m not kidding. This book will blow your mind; you will never look at business transitions the same way ever again. If you have any interest in publishing (or how the world works in general), move this book to the top of your reading pile.
I can’t do the entire thesis justice, but I’ll entice you with a few of the lessons here. I’ll also say that this is one of the very few business books I’ve read that uses copious amounts of real-world examples. This isn’t guessing. This is hard-core theory in the best and most scientific use of that word. Christensen is even so bold as to make predictions in the form of case studies that are eerily prescient. I repeat: This book will blow your mind. Continue Reading →