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(For those unfamiliar with the concept: Christensen’s theory describes how smaller companies peddling seemingly less favorable products upend bigger, more stagnant companies in a competitive marketplace. Thus, the former disrupts the latter. One could argue that Uber disrupts the taxi industry and Airbnb disrupts the hotel industry.)
Madrigal presents the two sides of the debate in a way that’s both informative and fair. Then, he decides to explore Christensen’s theory, which was developed during the 90’s tech boom, through the lens of a company you may not expect: fast-food giant (and “fourth meal” innovators) Taco Bell.
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Madrigal is amazed to find that Taco Bell’s product people speak in the same vernacular as Silicon Valley types:
But what’s really absurd about this is how precisely they’ve aped the language that technical companies use to describe what they’ve done. They are discussing, in essence, a concept taco. There are mock-ups. For an ingestible food item!
Of course, that all depends on whether you consider the Doritos Locos Taco ingestible.
Madrigal’s above quote does refer to the way the Taco Bell folks spoke about the initial plans for the amazingly successful taco made with a Doritos shell. He also notes that the company’s food innovation team were able to fend off external disruption by disrupting themselves. Taco Bell actually employs a resident disruptor named Jeff Jenkins whose job is to figure out how to help the company reinvent itself and avoid external disruptors.
Madrigal’s article as a whole offers a fascinating glimpse into how the business innovations of Silicon Valley translate across industries.
The below video features Jenkins explaining his work to an interviewer from his alma mater, the University of Virginia.
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