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Big Bang Disruption by Downes and Nunes

A look at a new book on innovation and disruption.
Mar | 1 | 2014


Mar | 1 | 2014

I try to stay on top of important business books, especially those with emphases on technology, innovation, and disruption. To this end, I recently read Big Bang Disruption: Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation (affiliate link).

Here’s my review.

Disclaimer: I received this book gratis via the authors’ PR firm.

The Good

Downes and Nunes have clearly done a great deal of research. Their book is not lacking in content and ambition, calling the work of business stalwarts like Geoffrey Moore and Clayton Christensen into question. They argue that ours is a new, different era, and that the old rules no longer apply.

Major props here for the prodigious examples, even though I had heard of about 80 percent of them. The obliteration of the once-mighty Pinball industry with video game consoles (e.g., PlayStation) over several decades was particularly effective and instructive. Today, product launches and disruption happen much faster. Business leaders should take heed.

There are oodles of lessons to be learned from Kickstarter projects like Pebble Watch, Oculus VR, and others. No argument here. As I write in The Age of the Platform, experimentation has never been easier, cheaper, and more necessary.

I also enjoyed the notions of combinatorial innovation and surviving catastrophic success. Because things can “go viral” quickly (e.g., Dollar Shave Club), success can and often is a double-edged sword. It’s never been more critical to scale up, something that many of today’s cloud-based technologies facilitate. AWS is a prime example.

The Bad

The authors use the terms Big Bang Disruption and Big Bang Disruptors far too frequently. There are paragraphs and pages with those terms three times and barely a page goes by without at least one of them. This gets a little irritating. And while we’re on the subject of language, the authors were a bit too liberal in their use of certain terms, platforms being one of them.

Experimentation has never been easier, cheaper, and more necessary.

Next, the lack of sourcing really bothered me. For instance, on page 139, the authors claim that the market for smart energy products worldwide is projected to grow to nearly $200B. Interesting, but says who? I suppose that I’ll have to Google that one. You won’t find substantiation for facts like these in the back matter. Plus, there are no footnotes for unfamiliar terms.

Third, the book suffers from some pretty glaring omissions. Case in point: the authors write often about exponential technologies and the prevalence of reusable code but with nary a reference to GitHub, the 800-lb. gorilla. Also, a passing reference to the Lean Startup movement fails to recognize its pioneer, Eric Ries. This puzzled me, especially since there were so many other references and examples.

Finally, at times the authors really stretch their arguments. On page 128, for instance, they write “Yahoo may never recover from its investment in Summly.” I disagree. A $30M acquisition pales in comparison to many of Mayer’s recent moves, with Tumblr being a case in point. Also, on page 78, they write that “adoption is increasingly all-at-once or never.” I have a hard time swallowing that, and some data there would buttress their argument.


Faults aside, overall this is a good read. Established companies need to rethink their business modes, lest they be disrupted. Ours is a particularly turbulent time and, like the authors, I believe in the benefits of paranoia.

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