17 August 2009

Disrupting Class

Ive been reading Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class, and it’s fantastic. I really enjoyed his previous books (The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution), but this one is my favorite so far. Even if you haven’t read the first two, don’t hesitate to pick this one up – he and his two co-authors do a good job of establishing the necessary foundation for their ideas.

The book is all about education, but both the examples and the implications apply nicely to technology development, which is really where he got his start. One of the main takeaways for me is the difference between a sustaining innovation and a disruptive innovation. Sustaining innovations are all about improvements, getting better at doing what we do.

He gives the example of IBM mainframes getting bigger and more powerful in the 70’s. Disruptive innovations are all about doing things differently, for people who are “non-consumers” of the original capability (think Apple marketing computers to kids as toys in the early days, instead of to companies like IBM was doing). Interestingly, disruptive innovations are generally worse than the state of the art (those toy Apple computers couldn’t do a fraction of what an IBM mainframe could do)

So, the F-22 is a great example of a sustaining innovation. It’s “the most capable” jet fighter, with the stealthiest stealth and the boomiest bombs. It is largely what the traditional “consumer” (i.e. the AF) asked for. And these little FISTy UAV’s are disruptive innovations. They don’t do as much as a manned fighter. They’re less capable in a lot of ways. And they’re targeted to “non-consumers” of jet fighters… i.e. the guys on the ground, soldiers and marines, etc.

The book points out that traditionally-minded organizations typically “shape every disruptive innovation into a sustaining innovation – one that fits the processes, values and economic model of the existing business…” So it should be no surprise then that the AF only had officers controlling UAV’s, while the other services (the “non-consumers,” in Christensen’s lingo) allow enlisted troops to control and operate their own UAV’s.

His book explains so much of what’s happening in the world of innovation. I look forward to finishing it, and heartily recommend it for anyone who’s interested in improving education or, more broadly, understanding the mechanisms of introducing change.

1 comment:

RhetTbull said...

You should create an Amazon affiliate link and any time you recommend a book, post a link. That way RPL could earn a little $ and make it easier for readers like me to 1-click buy.