Review: Disrupting Class–How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

4 Star, Change & Innovation, Education (General)
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Almost a Three, Solid Four for Americans Only, June 7, 2008

Clayton Christensen

The earlier books on innovation, and especially The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business (Collins Business Essentials), are better. I strongly recommend that you buy both the above book and this book to have a larger understanding.

The book reads like a Harvard case study fleshed out from 40 pages to 230.

The book has exactly one bottom line: that self-paced instruction using online learning and (this is the cool part) interaction with other languages and cultures (e.g. connect an Arab learning English with an American learning Arabic), is the only way to introduce flexibility. It is this human dimension that carried the book to a four for the US audience only.

Everywhere else in the world they substitute discipline for technology and do quite well. I was troubled by the book/s very narrow focus. There is no consideration in this book, for example, of any of the following (just one example per literature category):

Don’t Bother Me Mom–I’m Learning!
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom
The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq
The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World
Idea Of A University: Philosophy (Notre Dame Series in the Great Books)
Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

Flyleaf notes:

+ Need to migrate from monolithic “one size fits all” methods (meaning teacher talks, all listen, or “didactic instruction” to student-centric technologies (my note: rather than human scale and practice)

+ Ages 0-4 are where the child actually learns all the self-confidence and other characteristics needed to succeed down the road (but no real discussion of this and how computers could help, that I saw)

+ Schools are too standardized, need modularity and flexibility (of course this is what the last two generations, and especially Generation 2.0, have been telling us–schools beat the creativity out of kids by the fourth grade, and today the best student drop out of high school rather than sit still for another two years).

+ They give Gardner full credit for discovering multiple intelligences, but they lost me a second time when they focus only on technology as the innovative solution, and fail to properly develop the theme for art, music, theater, social work, apprenticeships, and etcetera. This is a book with one simple message and focus on computers in the US classroom.

+ Schools have four jobs (none of them actively discussed in dollar and cents or program planning terms):
– Preserve democracy, inculcate values
– Provide something for every student
– Keep America competitive (ha. China graduates more HONOR students than we graduate students across the board)
– Eliminate poverty (this is a bit lame, reflecting no appreciation for structured inequalities outside the classroom, as well as political disenfranchisement and banking fraud including red-lining for future development profit).

The authors repeat one of the pearls of wisdom from The Innovators Dilemma (link in first line above), and suggest that those who wish to innovate should go after those not served, citing Apple’s genius in offering its early computers as toys for children.

+ Four factors are in favor of innovation (in US schools):
– Computer-based learning keeps improving (see Don’t Both Me Mom, link above, that book ends with recommendations for learning programs across the board that are online now)
– All can select pathways (this assumes they have been taught discipline and curiosity someplace along the line)
– Looming teacher shortage (I agree–advanced child care and factory worker angle are history–we need to learn to learn in all places)
– Costs fall significantly as market scales

They spend too much time on three business models, my first hint this might be a Harvard Case Study in book form:
– Solution shops
– Value chains
– Facilitated user networks

I write down from the book “best to combine disruptive business model with disruptive commercial system.” I have no idea what this means. From the poverty literature (see my lists), I received the idea of hybrid organizations, non-profits that catalyzed profits sufficient to attract foreign investment, e.g. low cost nutritious yogurt for children in India). Perhaps that is what they mean, I concluded after reading this twice that maybe they meant go after those not served *and* make it free at first (upgrades can cost).

Harnessing user-generated content is a key idea that may not be noticed. It is in fact the foundation for Web 2.0 and I expect the human factor will continue to scale in importance and the cost of technology declines.

The book ends weakly, with disappointing coverage of the 0-4 age or on educational research needed. They conclude with short messages for various stakeholder groups.

I went back through the book a second time, and would note that there are some very clever useful visualizations in the book, especially Figure 8.2 on page 187, and these alone are worth the price of the book.

In the end for me, the book was worthwhile but could have so much better if they had started with innovation ideas for each of the stake-holder groups they address in ending. The five billion poor are never going to be educated in a classroom, but we *can* give out free cell phones and create two call centers, one in China and one in India, that combine Internet access, Skype free telephone access, and access to a global network of 100 million or more volunteers able to answer any question in any language, free, at the time of it value to the poor person asking the question. THAT is world-class innovation because it creates infinite wealth, and does not limit itself to justifying charter schools because they can buy more computers.

Review: Seeing What’s Next–Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change

5 Star, Best Practices in Management, Change & Innovation, Future

Seeing NextBook-End for Prahalad’s Fortune at the Bottom, July 29, 2008

Clayton M. Christensen

The primary author’s first two books were each sensational in their own way–.I was particularly gripped by his description of the throw-away camara as being unattractive to the high-end camara shops, but when adopted by grocery stores, led to the 90% of the non-consumers of high-end camaras getting into photography. The key: low-cost offering for the non-consumers introduced outside the incumbent arena.

That is the heart of this new book, and the addition of two co-authors suggest that the author’s vision is spreading.

I actually read the two chapters on education and health care first–the first because my oldest son blew off his senior year in high school at not worthy of his time, and is now racking up community college credits at very low cost (with the same instructors from the higher cost Geroge Mason University) and is a living embodiment of the education chapters first focus: what matters is not credentialling from the higher end universities, but the low cost acquisition of “just enough just right” learning from key teachers (the brand is shifting from schools to teachers).

Both the education and the health chapters drive home three big points that I find compelling and exciting in the context of C. K. Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks):

1. The innovation and profit opportunities are with the non-consumers–the ultimate non-0consumers today are the five billion poor, and especially the 1.5 billion each in China and in India, two countries that have the capability to create call centers for “just enough just in time” learning via cell phone.

2. The keys to health innovation, both in the developed world of one billioin rich and in the undeveloped world of the five billion poor, are:

a. Creating “good enough” solutions that are very low cost and easy to push into remote areas that could not afford high end care; and

b. Pushing innovation down the pyramid from the expensive sites and specialists to the nurse-practitioners and ultimately to the patient themselves; while also moving the diagnostics and the remedies down to the point of care and aware from the hospital “hubs” that are now as antiquated as the airline “hubs” that block point to point travel.

Chapter Ten on “The Future of Telecommunications gave me goose-bumps. No kidding. Thunderclaps and blinding lighting accompanied the third page of this chapter, in part because I have been thinking about Open Spectrum (see David Weinberger’s brilliant chapter on this, free online, and also his new book, a sensational new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. Althought the chapter focuses priimarily on wireless versus hardline hardware options, and does not mention either the obvious fact that satellites still have too much delay for ubiquitous wireless from outer space (something that should go away in ten years with higher energy pulses), or the other obvious fact, that even wireless is being commoditized and that on demand services and sense-making are the next big offering from the innovators, I found this chapter compelling. Arthur Clarke said long ago that telecommunications should be more or less free as an enabler, and I agree. We need to make both communications and education free to all, and monetize the transactions, the patterns, the early warning, and the aggregate sense-making.

The next most important chapter for me was Chapter 3, “Strategic Choices: Identifying Which Choices Matter.” What stuck with me are three things:

1. Start early–don’t wait for everyone else to realize the need

2. Hire accordingly. This is HUGE. Most companies have a profile for new employees that is 20 years out of date. Most companies have no clue that Digital Natives are completely different from Digital Immigrants (as one author notes: this is the first generation where the kids are not little version of us–they are a metaphysical transformation well beyond us and anything we can comprehend). Hence, companies have to have the leadership needed to create a “safe” skunkworks where iconoclasts and others who are largely antithetical to the gerbils and drones hired in the past, can innovate without having to deal with the insecurities, ignorance, bad habits, and “rankism” of those trapped in the pyramidal paradigms of the past.

The Appendix provides a summary of key concepts and has some really excellent illustrations that are very helpful. The point within the Appendex that escaped me earlier in the book and was driven home here is that ultimately the innovative firms make investments as a means of learning, not as a means of realizing their pre-conceived notions of what is needed next. I continue to recommend the Business Week cover story of 20 June 2005, “The Power of Us.” Innovation, it appears to me, works best when firms both hire and invest to learn, *and* dramatically and deliberately expand the stakeholder circle to embrace the end-user being sought as a customer.

The rest of the book is very worthwhile for those that do not read broadly in the business or innovation leadership.

Other books that I have found as exciting at this one:
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
Mobilizing Generation 2.0: A Practical Guide to Using Web2.0 Technologies to Recruit, Organize and Engage Youth
The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom

Finally, a book I published with 55 contributors, free online but utterly wonderful in

Review: The Innovator’s Solution–Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth

5 Star, Change & Innovation

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminates Disruptive Innovation, Why Manager’s Fail At It,

October 7, 2004
Clayton M. Christensen
Edited 20 Dec 07 to add links to natural capitalism books

I was talking to a friend the other day about why major (multi-billion dollar a year) companies are not good at innovation, and he recommended this book. Wow! Looking at the companies I know and admire, it all became clear. Innovation *is* disruptive; the most promising marketplace is the opposite of their existing defense and intelligence clients–the people that do not get adequate intelligence support from the existing cash cow; and all of the middle and senior managers (Washington-based) are incrementalists who had succeeded at building bodies-for-hire accounts over decades.

For those who feel an intuitive faith in disruptive endeavors, this book is inspiring and also instructional. It specifically suggests that entrants will beat incumbents when the objective is to substitute lower-cost good-enough solutions for client needs that are not satisfied by high end production. However, it also makes clear that the *last* place you want to sell disruptive solutions in to is the existing high end client base. Go for new customers and new contexts.

In government intelligence terms: stop trying to teach the spies that they need to do a better job on open sources of information in 33+ languages. Instead, go after the Departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Agriculture, Homeland Security, and the elements of the Department of Defense that do not get adequate classified intelligence support. Establish Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) as a viable endeavor there, and in ten years come back and crush the spies in head on competition.

Three “litmus tests” that the authors put forward are very helpful to those seeking to monetize disruptive new ideas:

1) Is there a population of clients that has historically been under-funded, under-staffed, and have as a result *gone without*?
2) Is this group likely to appreciate lower cost “good enough” solutions?
3) Is it possible to be profitable while providing these clients lower cost good enough solutions (e.g. monitoring risk around the world, at the sub-state level, something the spies simply cannot do effectively despite their $50 billion a year budget)?

Another major lesson I drew from this book is that alternative channels can be phenomenally successful. One example the book uses: instead of selling low-cost throw away cameras through photography shops oriented to high-end perfectionists, move them into grocery stores and discount stores for the low-end market that could not afford a traditional camera. This *makes sense.* Hence, instead of trying to sell low-cost open source services to the people who think they have the most to lose from promoting them (the mandarins of the high-cost secrets), go instead to the least well-served end-users, the logisticians, acquisition managers, diplomats, etcetera, and get them to test localized rather than centralized solutions that then “explode” as other end-users see the low-cost success and emulate through decentralized adoption of new best practices.

The last half of the book is loaded with stuff useful to how I am going to structure my relationship with any major corporation–it focuses on a number of key factors including scale, profitability over growth, proprietary end to end solutions in the beginning, transitioning rapidly to open distributed solutions at the right moment, and ensuring that the team members are *not* (NOT) incrementalist line managers that succeeded by going along within a status quo system.

The following quote captures my perception of the imperfection of the guys at the top that don’t get it: “In many ways, the managers that corporate executives have come to trust the most because they have consistently delivered the needed results in core businesses cannot be trusted to shepherd the creation of new growth.” (Page 183).

The book goes on to discuss the conflict between the traditional processes of managing traditional businesses, the conflict between traditional business values versus those of disruptive innovators (who can tend to alienate and aggravate executives used to having life just so), and between the “pace” of big organizations that need 12 months to think about an opportunity, and small “fleet of foot” innovators that can evaluate, act, write a proposal, and win million-dollar jobs over a week-end.

The authors are generally negative about business unit consolidation, and make the point that the bigger the business gets, the more process takes precedence over people. They specifically caution against a strategy of acquisition as a means of growth, documenting the terrible toll this can take as a cash flow drain, in essence saying that really big growth cannot come from incrementalist approaches. I put the book down with the feeling that the really big companies need to think seriously about launching spin-offs, as Charles Schwab did, and the really small companies, like mine, have a fighting shot at beating the hell out of the established beltway bandits who are too slow, too arrogant, and too rich to be serious about innovation for the future.

This book made me smile, and it made me think. Super piece of work.

Here are some recently published books that can be combined with this one to reintegrate and re-energize our economy:
The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism: How the Financial System Underminded Social Ideals, Damaged Trust in the Markets, Robbed Investors of Trillions – and What to Do About It
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks)
The Ecology of Commerce
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization

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