A few decades back Clayton Christensen shook things up with his theory of Disruptive Innovation (1995). Distilling it to its core - society’s productivity and computing capacity is progressing exponentially, thus democratizing power and inviting large-scale change. As a Harvard Business Professor, Christensen’s focus was on markets - the break-down of old and the emergence of new. He explains that entrepreneurs and startups have new super-powers, enabling a David-v-Goliath leveling of industry. This trope remains at the core of startup culture today, as companies like Uber (transportation), Tesla (automobile), Air B-n-B (hospitality), Amazon (retail), and others have transitioned from entrepreneurial startups into industry titans. They have innovated and disrupted all of us.
Disruptive Innovation is a far-reaching and debatable concept; widely deconstructed and critiqued. However, it is scaffolding for conversation around change-management - including thoughts on large-scale change in education as well our our pandemic after-life.
I’ve begun thinking of pandemic era education as the inverse of Christensen’s theory, i.e. I think of it as innovating disruption.
We all know what happened this past year, no need to re-iterate the details of COVID. It is a tragic and life-altering event that remains in-progress. It is a disruption that happened to us. It locked us down in our homes and forced a tidal-wave of remote working, teaching, and learning - enabled by our productivity and computing power. Educators leaned-in, innovated, and persisted. Digital nay-sayers and resistors did as they had too. Digital progressives leaned-in to assist, guide and support all that they could. The disruption has been significant, but we are innovating our way through it.
So now what? Vaccinations are flowing and light is at the end of the tunnel. Folks are excited by notions of a return to normal and broad recovery - mental, physical, economical, and educational. There’s hope. We need it, but truth be told I don’t want to be normal (lols). As educators have been innovating disruption this year, we have broken ground, progressed, and accelerated well beyond our norms. We have demonstrated our abilities to effectively teach, learn, and work remotely - large scale. It has not been perfect and it continues evolving, but it has been a water shed progression.
I drop this note simply to say, let’s not focus on a return to normal. A return suggests moving to the past, to yesteryear. A return to the comfort of our habits, rituals, systems, and routines as teachers and as learners. Much of which is good - yes - but not all of it. Likewise, the strength, momentum, and adaptations we've developed this year, are good. I hope we'll approach recovery with a growth mindset and embrace both the past and the future - balancing the best of both. This pandemic year has been a pivot between the past and future of education - a hybrid moment in time. Let’s recover, but let's not focus on a return to yesterday. Let's use the momentum and strength we've developed to keep innovating forward.
What Is Disruptive Innovation? (2015, December). Harvard Business Review.
Disruptive Innovations. (2017, October). Christensen Institute.
Don’t Look Back. (1978, August). Boston / Epic Records.