Disruptive innovation theory in the paper- and packaging industry : Applying Clayton Christensen in a new context

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för teknikvetenskaper; Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för teknikvetenskaper

Abstract: The paper- and packaging industry has for a long time transitioned from a production-focused industry towards a customer-orientation – today the customers have become fundamental. Managers are searching for ways to create superior innovations in the industry which can compete against the oil-based solution, i.e. plastic. However, they face challenges as they attempt to launch products in the market. One exciting scholar who has researched much about the challenges of incumbent firms is Clayton Christensen and his theory of disruptive innovation. The theory has received much attention throughout the years and provides with a holistic literature framework to analyze the industry. The thesis aims to investigate Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory in order to problematize it in a new context, the paper- and packaging industry. This will be done by discussing how individuals argue, understand and use the term ‘disruptive innovation’ and also discuss Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma in relation to how incumbents tend to manage their innovation projects in the industry. The research used a qualitative research approach implementing one case study. Interviews with incumbent actors in the industry, one producer and two brand-owners, pertaining to an innovation project constituted for the empirical findings. The data analyzed through a theoretical lens of Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory. From an iterative process between theory and empirical findings the thesis has made the following contributions. First, we have problematized Christensen in a new context and identified an industry which is considered an anomaly in Christensen’s theory. The industry is unlikely to be subjected to the Innovator’s Dilemma due to its fundamentals as an industry, e.g. collaborations between actors and listening to customers. Second, our practical contribution is the importance of differentiating between sustaining and disruptive innovation, especially concerning radical and disruptive innovation. If an individual does not have a theoretical understanding of disruptive, it is common to be confused concerning the differences between radical and disruptive innovation. However, learning about the differences creates an opportunity to identify new ways of gaining value.

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