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August 15, 2023
June 22, 2020

Is Tesla Disruptive? Or how I made to the opinion section of the Harvard Business Review - Part 1

Five years ago on this day, I got hold of the summer issue of Harvard Business Review. It was special, at least to me. It included my opinion where I challenged Clayton Christensen, and just a few months later, Elon Musk proved me right.

To celebrate this anniversary, I created this article that consists of my memories and all the context to my opinion. The second part is a salute to late Clayton Christensen, who reshaped corporate innovation and invented disruptive innovation. In the second part, I picked a disruptive innovation to use as an example of what disruptive innovation originally meant.

The Comment and The Context

The memories are still vivid. One day I got an email from someone with email address with the subject line “HBR Comment Consideration”. Just looking up the email, my heart starts beating faster. Long story short I made a pretty long comment on Clayton Christensen’s article: “Tesla’s Not as Disruptive as You Might Think”. In this comment, I argued that Tesla is changing the customer experience game for cars. Also, you shouldn’t compare cars with Tesla as the customers are buying something different. And that pretty much still holds true to this day. The over-the-air updates and therefore, the lower depreciation are still trademarks of Tesla. Disruption is not necessarily based on cost bottom-up - rather than a brand new customer behavior.

I was honored that the HBR editorial staff thought my comment was interesting enough. The whole process was quite strange, with short reply deadlines and never promising anything (will be considered). I got confirmation later and couldn’t wait to release the news. It was quite a thing for me and still is today. So it is possible to stir the waters with original ideas.

That year October Tesla made Autopilot available with an over-the-air update to all Model S cars made since September 2014, further proving how my thinking was right. How the whole approach to see innovations through the customer experience lens is the key to competitive advantage and analysis. Since that, we have proven again and again that with this approach, you can raise prices, predict decision-makers’ behavior, and predict market success or failure. This is exactly how we help startups to successful pivots.


Does this mean Christensen wasn’t right? Absolutely not. He coined the term disruptive innovation, and by definition, Tesla wasn’t disruptive. But if you look at the whole experience, they could provide you with a cheaper total lifetime cost with higher upfront costs. I would say we were both right. Although I’ve met him during the Herbert Simon award ceremony (before he published this article, early 2015), I never had a chance to discuss innovation with him. His legacy is outstanding and his groundbreaking approach detailed in The Innovator’s Dilemma is standing tall even after decades of the original release. To write something that remains accurate for decades, especially in innovation, shows how brilliant he was.

I wish he would be still around to tell us what’s disruptive and what is not. Unfortunately, cancer beat him, but his legacy remains with us.

If you want to learn more about the decision-maker/problem matrix we employ to prioritize the target segments, book a call with us on the following page: