EE204: Business Management for
Electrical Engineers and Computer Scientists

The Innovator's Dilemma


  1. Introduction: Why Good Companies Fail to Thrive in Fast-Moving Industries (HBS course materials)
  2. Digital Microscopy at Carl Zeiss: Managing Disruption (HBS case material)
  3. Note on Team Process (HBS case material)

Case Summary

Ulrich Simon, the head of the Microscopy business group at Carl Zeiss AG knew that his unit was facing a disruptive threat, so he chartered a special team to tackle the industrial segment. Given a high degree of autonomy, the project team developed an understanding of the marketplace challenge and proceeded to develop and execute on a new business plan. Simon gave the team ample freedom to develop new processes and priorities appropriate to the market segment needs, but he couldn't help but wonder whether it would continue as a stand-alone unit or he would need to reintegrate it into the mainline business. He also was nervous about the plan itself. The team had established timelines and milestones, but now they had to execute and deliver their first product next year...

Discussion Questions

  1. What was Carl Zeiss's traditional microscopy market positioning?
  2. When did the management team first take a close look at Keyence and Hirox digital microscopy products? What concerned them?
  3. How did the Zeiss team responded to the perceived thread from Keyence and Hirox?
  4. How did other companies respond to the increasing popularity of digital microscopy?
  5. What did the management at Carl Zeiss do right when facing a disruptive innovation? What could they improve?
  6. If you were one of the disruptive competitors Keyence  or Hirox what would be your competitive response now that you know Zeiss has a plan to come into your market?