Michael Horn and Co. rebranded, refocused as the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation yesterday. Awesome group, awesome mission.
Seems like a good time to share some thoughts about disruption and “No Excuses” education reform.
I first read Innovator’s Dilemma while I was in business school in 1998. Christensen’s more recent book, Innovator’s DNA, is required reading for everyone on the 4.0 team. Every single participant in 4.0′s formal training programs – 165 and climbing – has taken the Innovator’s DNA assessment.
No Excuses school reformers are facing the Innovator’s Dilemma.
The “No Excuses” approach to reforming school – focus on college, emphasis on culture of strict discipline mixed with warmth and personal attention, rigorous instruction in core subjects – is one that takes great skill and courage to implement. And it is changing tens of thousands of lives. I’d bet you a beer it is the most impactful thing in schooling in the last decade.
In Christensen’s terms, however, “No Excuses” is a form of sustaining innovation. “No excuses” – if we could speak of the approach as an innovation, as a technology – doesn’t fundamentally change the way school is done; it makes the current model more efficient, better. To paraphrase Rick Hess: “No Excuses schools are the best example we have of a late 19th century model of schooling.”
Most groups who’ve faced the Innovator’s Dilemma made the wrong call, stuck with their sustaining innovation game plan, and are now dead.
When topics like MOOC’s, blended learning and edtech come up, many “No Excuses” school leaders I know remain skeptical, unable to see these as worth investing in right now. The first few times I heard folks say this, I thought they were being appropriately protective of the precious time and resources they and their kids had to spend. After all, a heightened sense of urgency is fundamental to “No Excuses” success.
But through the lens of disruptive innovation, this reaction sounds very similar to the reaction now extinct firms had when they faced the innovator’s dilemma. Horse-drawn carriage builders said this about cars. “Too loud, smoky; Who wants to smell like gas?” Oops. Big steel said this about mini-mills. “Quality’s too low; who wants recycled steel?” Oops.
That’s what makes this a dilemma. In the short run, disruptive innovations aren’t as effective as the status quo, as the best thing out there in the market. But the potential for long-term impact of disruptive innovation is huge if you are willing to get into the less-than-perfect stuff early and make it better and better with each quick iteration.
Yes, blended learning and ed-tech are totally over-hyped and too often chased as silver bullets. But if we’re going to count ourselves among the very, very few who’ve responded to the innovator’s dilemma by choosing to pursue disruptive technologies and ideas when it makes sense, then we better admit it now before it is too late – we’re saying the things extinct people said before right they got wiped out.
4.0 – For disruptors.
4.0 is a place dedicated to helping people make the right call when they face the Innovator’s Dilemma.
It starts easy – like “come grab a beer with crazy smart people and imagine what school could be” easy. Then comes Essentials – a one-day intensive where you’ll study your own Innovator’s DNA and meet people hacking on the right problems in education. After that comes the Cohort – where you define your own good problem to work on and testing new solutions to it. Then there’s Launch – where you get what you need to bring a well-tested solution to a well-crafted problem to people that need it.
Clayton Christensen is challenging you to be honest about how hard it is to try new things when you’ve got something working well. He called my inner sustainer’s bluff for 12 years before I admitted I was talking like a horse-drawn-carriage salesman. Not anymore.
This disruption stuff is messy, scary, and full of dead-ends and mess-ups. But looking at education through the lens of the innovators dilemma, it feels like the right thing to do.