Obama, Hillary and a case of Innovator’s Dilemma

Like so many favored incumbents, Hillary Clinton could not escape the Innovator’s Dilemma in a competitive bid for the market place (the democratic primary in this case)

Coined by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, the Innovator’s Dilemma states that often it is the very strength and core offering of the established incumbent that ultimately lead to their fall.

The favored incumbent (Hillary) spend most of her resources and focus on her core offering (i.e. Experience & Judgement) since this is what her customers (know hereafter as voters) both expect and demand. When a competing new-comer enters the market (Obama) he tends to bring a differentiated set of offerings (Change); having fewer resources and reputation with the voters, the new-comer typically cannot be competitive along the core offerings (Obama claiming he can match Hillary on Experience & Judgement). At first, voters are not willing to trade off the incumbent’s core offering for the new-comer’s new offering (i.e. choose Obama’s message of Change over Hillary’s message of Experience during the early primary days). Lulled by a false sense of security, the incumbent underestimates the new-comer and gives him breathing room to find a niche haven (Hillary not identifying and attacking Obama as the key threat during the early primary days). From his beach-head, the new-comer, over time, continues to refine and improve along both the new and core offering (campaigning on the key message of Change but also selling voters on his Experience & Judgement). As the gap along the Experience & Judgement dimension narrows between the incumbent and new-comer, voters all of a sudden place more value on the new offering dimension (i.e. Obama’s score of 100 on Change + 30 on Experience is more attractive than Hillary’s score of 100 on Experience alone). By the time the incumbent realizes her lagging position across the new offering dimension, it is often too late. Voters now want a mixed offering which the new-comer is more favorably positioned to provide.

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