In the late 1970s, Dick Foster, a fast-rising young management consultant at McKinsey, began to notice something at once unsettling and exciting. McKinsey and other consulting firms spent most of their time helping companies do what they already did, only more efficiently. Yet Foster, an engineering and applied science Ph.D. who was one of the firm’s first experts on the industry, only had to look around him to see leading firms that seemed to be efficiently managed getting blindsided by upstart competitors. (which introduced the concept of the paradigm shift), Foster came up with an explanation. What threatened these well-run market leaders were what he called “technological discontinuities”—moments when the dominant technology in a market abruptly shifted, and the expertise and scale that the companies had built up suddenly didn’t count for much. One example: when electronic cash registers went from 10 percent of the market in 1972 to 90 percent just four years later, NCR, long the leading maker of cash registers, was caught unprepared, resulting in big losses and mass layoffs.    

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Liberal sprinkling of the word across the media might suggest that businesses are changing rapidly. That doesn’t seem to be the case though.



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