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DON'T BANK ON DISRUPTION

Published Jun. 21, 2014|Updated Jun. 23, 2014

In the New Yorker, Jill Lepore doesn't much believe in Clayton Christensen's theory of creative disruption and says some of his examples prove the opposite. Read "The Disruption Machine" in full at tbtim.es/disrupt. Here's an excerpt.

The theory of disruption is meant to be predictive. On March 10, 2000, Christensen launched a $3.8 million Disruptive Growth Fund, which he managed with Neil Eisner, a broker in St. Louis. Christensen drew on his theory to select stocks. Less than a year later, the fund was quietly liquidated: during a stretch of time when the Nasdaq lost 50 percent of its value, the Disruptive Growth Fund lost 64 percent. In 2007, Christensen told Business Week that "the prediction of the theory would be that Apple won't succeed with the iPhone," adding, "History speaks pretty loudly on that." In its first five years, the iPhone generated $150 billion of revenue. In the preface to the 2011 edition of The Innovator's Dilemma, Christensen reports that, since the book's publication, in 1997, "the theory of disruption continues to yield predictions that are quite accurate." This is less because people have used his model to make accurate predictions about things that haven't happened yet than because disruption has been sold as advice, and because much that happened between 1997 and 2011 looks, in retrospect, disruptive. Disruptive innovation can reliably be seen only after the fact. History speaks loudly, apparently, only when you can make it say what you want it to say.

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No Drama Obama following in Ike's footsteps

At the Daily Beast, Jonathan Alter takes a contrarian view on President Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy. Read "The Crisis Leadership of No-Drama Obama" in full at tbtim.es/nodrama. Here's an excerpt.

In truth, Obama is neither inattentive nor in over his head. He is not a neo-isolationist or afraid to use lethal force abroad. (Just ask the targets of his hundreds of drone strikes.) He is, instead, the same cool, calm, No Drama Obama who, as an Illinois state senator in 2003, bucked respectable opinion and opposed what he called a "dumb war" in Iraq. That resistance to foreign adventurism helped propel him to the presidency and keep him there. It's no coincidence that in a nation weary of war he was the first man elected twice with absolute majorities since Dwight D. Eisenhower more than half a century ago. It's fitting that Obama's views on the limits of U.S. military power flow from Eisenhower, who refused to be drawn into Vietnam when the French lost at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 or into Hungary when the Soviet Union invaded in 1956. Iraq is the 21st century's Exhibit A of those limits.

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Sorting out the strife in the Middle East

In fact, with so much going on in Syria and Iraq, here is a primer on some authors worth following.

- The break between Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaida over the former's brutality is well-known. But in an essay in the New Yorker, Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, a history of al-Qaida from its inception through 9/11, puts it in context of the two groups' views of history. Al-Qaida was fighting the West; ISIS is fighting other Muslims - Shiites - and seeks to replace all secular states with a unified religious rule. Read his full essay at tbtim.es/iraq1. Here are two snippets:

"Al-Qaida was originally envisioned as a kind of Sunni foreign legion, which would defend Muslim lands from Western occupation." But the late founder of what became ISIS "hoped to provoke an Islamic civil war, and, for his purposes, there was no better venue than the fractured state of Iraq, which sits astride the Sunni-Shiite fault line."

- Also in the New Yorker, almost anything Dexter Filkins writes on the Mideast is worth your time. For example, read his essay "Wider War" in full at tbtim.es/2iraq. Here's an excerpt.

In Iraq, as in Syria, the choices are almost all bad, and the potential for American influence is limited. Syria appears to be headed toward an effective partition between predominantly Sunni and predominantly Alawite enclaves, and an impoverished, Somalia-like future where guns rule. In Iraq, the Kurds, the third big group, are taking advantage of the chaos by tightening their hold on Kirkuk and other disputed areas, in an effort to cement a future separate from that of the rest of Iraq.

At the least, Iraq faces a future as a violent country, with a weak central government and many areas dominated by extremists. But things could get much worse than that.

- At the Atlantic, James Fallows assembles his own list of authors worth reading on the Mideast, including longtime scholar and diplomat William Polk. Read Polk's views at the Blaster, a blog that "comments on politics, foreign policy and defense," at tbtim.es/3iraq. Here's an excerpt:

In the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better (American) policy is better public education. For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged. They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed. Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs. Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad - that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost. And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries. Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations. The saying that God created war to teach American geography is sacrilegious. If this was God's purpose, he failed.

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