Goliath’s triumph

America’s corporate giants are getting harder to topple

Incumbents from Walmart to General Motors are fighting back against disrupters

ATTEND ANY business conference or open any management book and an encounter with some variation of the same message is almost guaranteed: the pace of change in business is accelerating, and no one is safe from disruption. Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) have left many corporate Goliaths nervously anticipating David’s sling, and fearing the same fate as Kodak and Blockbuster, two giants felled by the digital revolution.

“The Innovator’s Dilemma”, a seminal book from 1997 by Clayton Christensen, a management guru, observed that incumbents hesitate to pursue radical innovations that would make their products or services cheaper or more convenient, for fear of denting the profitability of their existing businesses. In the midst of technological upheaval, that creates an opening for upstarts unencumbered by such considerations. Yet America Inc has experienced surprisingly little competitive disruption during the internet age. Incumbents appear to have become more secure, not less. And there is good reason to believe they will remain on their perches.

Consider the Fortune 500, America’s largest firms by revenue, ranging from Walmart to Wells Fargo and accounting for roughly a fifth of employment, half of sales and two-thirds…