Inspiration for Leaders

Enjoy this news and reflection blog brought to you from the LHRIC Technology Leadership Institute!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Few Tales of Disruptive Innovation: Tech Expo Keynote, Michael B. Horn

Once upon a time, in the 1970s and 1980s, the most successful organization of the time, DEC, made mini computers. They had the best management team in the world. They made the best and brightest decisions. They employeed the best engineers. They did everything right. And in 1989, within six months, they collapsed, along with every other company that majored in mini-computers: the personal computer on the scene sucked the volume out of the mini computer market and the world was transformed.

Also once upon a time, Toyota made a simple rustbucket that appealed to people with limited pocketbooks. The Corona was the entry level option to not having a car at all, and it served the masses well, until the consumers taste required more sophisitcation. Soon, different models became the precursor and template for the high flying Lexus family of vehicles, and Ford and General Motors saw this coming, and too late. And the world was transformed.

What do these tales have in common? According to Horn, "entrants" will always win the battle of "disruptive innovation" by forcing obsolescense on the incumbents. Not because the reigning organizations lack talent, resources, expertise, or smarts, but because entrants master the art of "simplicity, affordability, and convenience" , realizing that we are vastly overserved by the technology available to us, and that technology improves vastly much faster than our own lives change.


Horn thinks this phenomena directly applies to educational institutions. State Universities are being "disrupted" by community colleges, now educating about 50% of all post secondary students.
Online universities are now disrupting brick and mortar instutions, making it more convenient for many adults to aquire higher levels of education even as they shapeshift within the workforce.

The theory behind this is really very simple and is even more understandable when your context is technology: think of two types of designs. One design scheme is based on the interdependence between components (as in operating systems). Go ahead and try to manipulate a line of code in order to force some customization, and you're looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars, since customization is expensive in an interpendent design. Think of domino effect multiplied by domino effect, layer upon layer upon layer.
A second design is more modular - plug and play, mix and match. Think open source (Linux). The economics allow for affordable customization.


Think about thest two designs and the following points related to the formal education:
We know we all learn differently. We started paying attention to multiple intelligences in 1983. We recognize different talents, different aptitudes, different passions, different paces. Even neuroscience, in the very early stages of brain imaging, can safely say that we all learn differently, even if we can't yet explain why or how.

Formal educational institutions are standardized, and highly interdependent - a design that drives us toward more standardization and away from customization.
Computers have been around for decades and they haven't transformed anything because we have "crammed" into the current operating model. We "shoved computers into the back of classrooms", labs, etc. and haven't transformed the system to correlate with how learning is done.
Online learning is rapidly gaining adoption (1,000,000 in 2007); by 2019, 50% of all HS courses will be online and predictably improving. The human touch is improving the ability to collaborate in these online environments and content is becoming increasingly robust. With online learning, possibilities are now open to the "non consumers" (credit recovery, drop outs, advanced placements/advanced course consumers.)
46 states have some form of online learning. Currently, New York is not one of them.

A final tale: once upon a time, the instutition we know as formal education did learn how to forsee and withstand disruptive innovation, made some tough but reasonable changes and decisions, and proved itself to the task of serving its citizens one and all, and the world was transformed.

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