Category Archives: Case study

How firms fail to act on a disruption and fall as a result: the case of AT&T in 2005

A central tenet of innovation research is that firms often fail to act on a disruption that threatens their business, and falter as a result. A case in point is AT&T, the 120 year-old subsidiary of Bell Telephone Company, child of Alexander Graham Bell, an American icon.

In 2005, AT&T was sold to SBC Communications. It was in a way a family story, as SBC Communications started in the mid-eighties as the smallest of the seven “baby bells”, the companies created after the regulator ordered the AT&T break-up.  But what a story !

AT&T introduced many innovations, and not small ones:  first commercial radio (1922), first television transmission (1927), first mobile phone (1946 !), first transistor (1947), first telecom satellite (1962).  AT&T has long been a giant of the economic landscape:  one million employees at the beginning of the 80s, and not so long ago a market value of $180 billion (1999).

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Crossing the Hudson to Spit: Moore’s Law, Steam Engines and Genetic Technology

One of the features of our age is the idea that business suffers from a unique level of technological disruption, an attitude that I call  Techno-Egotism.  Businesspeople are told routinely that they operate in an era of “unprecedented” technological change; as a result, they feel very Modern (and rather sorry for themselves).  They also, however, end up lacking perspective, and that can be a strategic liability.

I believe that if posterity registers our age’s Techno-Egotism at all, they will find it rather quaint.  This thought struck me with great force last week as I drove across the George Washington Bridge, from New York to New Jersey, specifically in order to spit legally into a tube, and then mail that tube.

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