When giants collide: Michael Porter vs. Clay Christensen, DL (Distance Learning) MBA vs. traditional MBA

Upon reading an article about the impact of online education in traditional MBA courses, a discussion about the conceptual differences (or is it a feud?) between two extremely influential scholars sparked: Michael Porter (link) and Clay Christensen, both from Harvard Business School.  Porter, considered by many as the chief author in the area of corporate strategy and as an international authority on competitiveness and development of nations, created terms and tools such as the five forces analysis, the strategic groups, the value chain, the clusters of economic development, the models of diamond and the four corners (used by a competitor for actions).  For this author, the competitive advantage of a company or country is the result of a strategic positioning that is unique and not replicable by its competitors. On the other hand, Christensen, whose work on innovation in company environment has led to the characterization of a phenomenon called “disruptive innovation,” argues that only the market leaders will maintain their positions of superiority, and therefore will survive a disruptive threat if the companies themselves change their business models.  While in the Porter model, the activities of a company should be mutually reinforced creating a market positioning that is hard to replicate. In the Christensen model, this mutual reinforcement causes technological blindness that prevents organizations from endorsing new technologies and perceiving new competitors.

christensen                                                             Prof. Clay Christensen

I can say that I am privileged to have had the opportunity to follow these influential authors over several years, either as a student, an academic or as an executive, and both in the very university where they work and in events in Brazil. Although both authors receive some criticism about the concepts they have developed, they deserve all the credit for the title being known as giants.  Porter is criticized by some scholars for some inconsistencies of his model (while the positioning on low cost and differentiation refers to “how” to compete, the approach of scope refers to “where” to compete) while Christensen is criticized as the disruptive innovation has not always been proven to be successful. In the words of Prof. Porter: “The difference between Clay (Christensen) and I, is that he sees disruption everywhere, in every business; whereas I see disruption one time or another.”

Porter                                                                 Prof. Michael Porter

I leave here with one question: Do you believe that the executive training courses such as MBAs (both full-time and night period) will disappear due to Distance Learning (DL)?

Some important literature from Michael Porter:

  1. Porter, M.E. “How Competitive Forces Shape Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, March/April, 1979.
  2. Porter, M.E. Competitive Strategy, Free Press, New York, 1980.
  3. Porter, M.E. “What is Strategy”, Harvard Business Review,  Nov/Dec 1996.
  4. Porter, M.E. “Strategy and the Internet”, Harvard Business Review, March 2001, pp. 62–78

Some important literature from Clay Christensen:

  1. Christensen, Clayton M.,   The innovator´s dilemma: when new tecnologies cause great firms to fail, Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Harvard Business School Press, 1997
  2. Christensen, Clayton M., Innovation and the general manager, Boston, Massachusetts, USA:  Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
  3. Christensen, Clayton M.; Horn, Michael, Disrupting class: how disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns, New York, USA:  McGraw-Hill, 2008
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