Is the future brighter for com­pa­nies that have dis­rupt­ed entire indus­tries? In the case of Apple, Scott Antho­ny and Michael Putz aren’t so sure.

In a recent post on the HBR Blog Net­work [link], the two authors posit “The Indus­tries Apple Could Dis­rupt Next.” They are spot-on with their assess­ment that Apple exe­cut­ed (in their words) “val­ue chain dis­rup­tion” when it com­plete­ly rede­fined the music indus­try via its iPod-iTunes break­throughs. As they state, Apple “dis­rupt­ed the exist­ing music indus­try val­ue chain from the record labels to the CD retail­ers to the MP3 device mak­ers. The key to Apple’s suc­cess was that Steve Jobs was able to con­vince the major record labels to sell its crit­i­cal asset — indi­vid­ual songs — for 99 cents.”

Sliced AppleAntho­ny (@ScottDAnthony) and Putz (@MichaelPUTZ) also show how Apple did it again, by dis­rupt­ing the mobile phone indus­try with the iPhone. This led, they note, to cus­tomers decid­ing, first, whether to be part of the Apple or Android phone chain and, only then, decide which car­ri­er to choose.

All of this bril­liant dis­rup­tion moved Apple far ahead of many com­peti­tors. The authors note that Apple “grew from $7 bil­lion in 2003 to $171 bil­lion in 2013 by enter­ing estab­lished (albeit still-emerg­ing) mar­kets with supe­ri­or prod­ucts.” One might con­clude that Apple is cer­tain­ly in the best spot to do it yet again and grow health­ily as a result.

Just today, Lawrence Lewitinn looked at the chart of Apple (#AAPL) recent stock per­for­mance and claimed “This chart says Apple’s set­ting up for a huge move high­er” [link].

But I believe Antho­ny and Putz would add a cau­tion to putting all your mon­ey into Apple stock. In their arti­cle, they note that Apple may have a very hard time find­ing anoth­er indus­try both ripe for dis­rup­tion and capa­ble of deliv­er­ing huge prof­it growth for Apple. They quick­ly assess what Apple might do in the tele­vi­sion mar­ket, in the health care field, and in the auto­mo­bile indus­try. None of the options appear to Antho­ny and Putz as a “slam dunk”. They close with the sug­ges­tion that per­haps by break­ing Apple into small­er com­pa­nies, those small­er enti­ties might be more will­ing to dis­rupt areas that Apple prob­a­bly deems too small to mess with now. A col­lec­tion of small­er Apple firms might col­lec­tive­ly achieve growth that BIG Apple can­not.

Antho­ny and Putz have an enjoy­able and insight­ful set of obser­va­tions in their HBR post. To my mind, Apple should nev­er be dis­count­ed. For one thing, Apple has made dis­rup­tion into a kind of cor­po­rate com­pe­ten­cy. And, look­ing at Apple’s past, through a pair of nextsens­ing glass­es, one has to acknowl­edge that — with both music and phones — Apple exhib­it­ed a high lev­el of oppor­tu­ni­ty fore­sense. To be sure, Apple demon­strates how com­pa­nies must con­stant­ly think about future-tense oppor­tu­ni­ties.

But Apple would cer­tain­ly not be the first big com­pa­ny that thought its past suc­cess guar­an­teed future busi­ness dom­i­na­tion. Dis­rupters may indeed have some advan­tages, but to believe that one can dis­rupt con­sis­tent­ly with iden­ti­cal results is delu­sion.

As Glen Stans­ber­ry (@glenstansberry) wrote when he list­ed “10 Mas­sive Com­pa­nies That Crashed in 2010” [link], there is much to be learned from the fate of Block­buster, UNO Chica­go Grille, A&P and sev­en oth­ers. Says Stans­ber­ry, “Most suf­fered from not being able to keep up with the changes in tech­nol­o­gy, and oth­ers sim­ply grew too fast for the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cli­mate. What­ev­er the rea­sons behind each com­pa­ny’s sad sto­ry, there is plen­ty we can learn from their demise to ensure that we don’t make the same mis­takes with our own busi­ness­es. Remem­ber: Each of the com­pa­nies below start­ed out as a small busi­ness.”

Hey, did­n’t Apple start with a cou­ple of guys in a garage?

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