Disruptive Innovation and University Structures (via Ninth Level Ireland)
An important but short blogpost, so I’ll quote it in full.
A great many people have put faith in Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. I do. The research is solid; as bulletproof as any business theory can be.
A few writers have applied the theory to higher education. (I’ve started a list of these authors, articles and books, below.)
One aspect of the theory suggests that disruptive innovation tends not to come from established organizations. While large, well-established organizations may have the resources to generate innovations, their commitment to existing customers, focussing on improving existing systems, and unwillingness to pursue niche markets, stops them from fully exploring new markets. Robert Birnbaum applied this logic to online higher education and came to the following conclusion:
“The logical conclusion of applying the theses of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution to higher education may be that virtual education can thrive in traditional colleges and universities only if it operates outside their normal management and value frameworks, with the consequent risk of losing institutional control.”
Robert Birnbaum, Academe, Jan/Feb2005, Vol. 91, Issue 1
Thus, if universities are to be the drivers of innovation and development that governments are now expecting them to be, then the way to drive this is the creation of novel entities that have permission to act differently. These entities (interdisciplinary centres and institutes, primarily) require new means of lateral and hierarchical accountability to be developed. Centrally-planned command and control methods of management will stifle innovation and development (as the late USSR discovered). Permission to fail is needed too though, or the necessary selection pressures required for choosing adaptive innovations will not succeed.