The Seven Basic Disruptions – Education Edition

The Seven Basic Disruptions – Education Edition

Imagine you are about to be amazed by an innovation.  A CEO stands on a stage.  A thought leader stands on a stage.  A developer stands on a stage.  We click to the first line of a think piece.  A journalist writes the age-old formula, “Remember when we used to do things this archaic way?”

At the surface, so hungry are we for creativity and thought leadership and so boundless is the marketplace of solutions, we might think the story of any innovation could be shared with us next.

But in fact we can be sure there are certain things we know about our disruption narrative before it even begins.

And so begins the prologue for my upcoming think piece, The Seven Basic Disruptions (Education Edition), a study of the different ways in which we weave the narratives of disruptive innovation.  You might think you are onto something breathtaking and new.  You probably are not.  But you certainly are walking in the footsteps of tried and true narratives proven to sell disruption.  Whether you are a technovangilist, an innovator, a thinkfluencer, a journalist with a heart of silicon, or a plebeian, this book is for you.  Remember, you were once in an education system, so you can speak with expert authority on what is wrong with the comprehensive social structure of education, taking centuries (nay millennia) of history and shaping it into 1500 digital words in an effort to provide a solution either as-a-service or in a listicle.

(The Seven Basic Disruptions – Education Edition is an Open text; rights and terms of use are currently being vetted by lawyers.  Access to this chapter is on a CP-AC-NE-FYEO 5.0 License)

Overcoming the Inertia – Education has not changed in 3 30 60 100 300 1000 years.  Choosing an element of history to fixate on in order to amplify your disruption makes for arguably the most popular disruption narrative motif.  Sometimes it is the fault of bureaucracy, sometimes it is a lack of shifting a framework, other times it is nothing but the fear of the establishment. But every time it can be employed as prerequisite for a disruption that will jostle the stale space.

1.0 to x.0 – A highly popular narrative form in recent years, referencing the manner in which commercial software* updates its software offerings.  Kick it up to 2.0, or 3.0, or 4.0, or just keep going!  If someone beats you to a specific version number, add one to the number and publish in your favorite tech trade! Moreover, this is an especially popular disruption narrative if you have used an earlier disruption narrative in a prequel…refer to that disruption as 1.0 and show how the new and updated version will rectify the problems of the first narrative that weren’t problems in the first narrative.

*it is important not to reference number as per the open source subculture; moving towards 1.0 does not heed disruption’s gallop!

The Product Technology is a tool, a neutral and sterile tool that can lift any and all things out of poverty and oppression through the emancipatory magic of its application.  This narrative focuses entirely on sharing your disruptive ware and its boundless majesty.  Your product is poised for greatness!  Your product is already doing great things those in-the-know are in-the-know about!  You already caught the world by storm, you wrapped a string around it, you put it in your pocket!  A colonialist anecdote will hit the spot! Certainly, there are elements of the other disruption narratives here (a sub disruption on inertia or reification), but the product stands alone at the end of the song.

Research and Return – The disruptors from all narrative types largely come from outside the world of higher education research/teaching/administration (otherwise it wouldn’t be such a mess amirite?) Research and Return focuses on those intrepid individuals who ventured into the mystical and unknown space of educational research, to defy the odds and beat back the qualitative to provide results for a consuming public.  There might be a little biography, but it only serves to establish the disruptor on his quest to slay the beast of coding and data analysis.

Research and Return differs from reification because it posits the disruptor as novel to the space and not overcoming odds beyond those of the system.  Here the research of the foreign concept of education plays stalwart to the disruption.

x for Education – Finding common ground is one of the hallmarks of high-spirited disruption.  Being able to play into an existing disruption trope with your own disruption…that’s a disruptive disruption right there.  That could be Uber for Education, or AirBnB for Education, or Lyft for Education (but be careful and make sure you are disruptive enough, lest you produce MySpace for Education).  The commonality of the space provides an even easier engagement of the topic, a simplification that will drive home your disruption and even earn a few chuckles (hey, I see how a ride-sharing service is easily equated to what Marx would call a societal superstructure due to the complexity of its space in bureaucracy, civil society and public discourse) to boot!

A Tragic System – The earliest disruption narrative, A Tragic System has its roots going back all the way to several decades ago when the earliest disruptions were largely told around Usenet groups and newspaper clippings from the perspective of failures of the status quo.  A greater understanding of formulating disruption narratives (as well as the field’s movement away from accepting a Clayton ex Machina as an acceptable narrative resolution) has seen this system become largely dormant.  However, an excellent use of A Tragic System can still drive people to action through melancholy focus on bloated and clogged systems and the harm these spaces will do if left to languish in a disruption-less void.

Reification – Our disruptions are perfect (in part because we have designed the narrative to extoll such thinking), but our disruptors sometimes make mistakes.  Do not fret, this is an opportunity to use the personal to sell the powerful.  If life gives you lemons, focus on the orchard you grew thanks to partnerships or venture capital and blame the lemons for your problems because they turned out to be lemons.


Image – Disruption as a Strange Loop by Alan Levine – CC BY 2.0

Posted on: October 28, 2015admin

3 thoughts on “The Seven Basic Disruptions – Education Edition

  1. This time, things are different – (only for the truly brave disruptor this one!) “You might recall that we tried this before in (the pre-internet age/the early days of the net/the first dot-com boom/the rise of web 2.0). It failed, and it failed because we didn’t have enough (bandwidth/data/friends/institutional advocates/algorithms/money). But now we have – or we soon will have! So this time we can make it work, and bring those old dreams (pause for ageing ed tech folks to dry eyes/trousers/martini) to life once again. We took a wrong turn, and it is time to get back to the ONE TRUE PATH.

  2. I would say you are looking at a very unique look at the 1.0 to x.0 motif OR it is a very ambitious reification strategy happening. The work of Thrun (2013, 2014, 2015) in this field focuses on his growth as a person in AI and how that can benefit education more than the things are different part of things.

    That said, if someone were to be as brave as you point out and willing to put some of the blame on something even tangential to their product…and that’s a big if…then you could see this disruption narrative gain some potential.

    Bonus points for the One True Path. I get more into how all disruption narratives eventually filter into the one true path, and if we look back to the earliest disruptors and the cultural anthropology studies excavated through glances at Harvard Business Review we can see the earliest narratives either were people/products that found the ONE TRUE PATH and their eventual Valhalla or people/products that did not find the ONE TRUE PATH and ended in a tragedy of a quiet press release and shutdown of operations.

    1. Here’s an example I just saw, on virtual worlds.

      They are rare, but they do come up. Thrun’s pivot, Richard “AllLearn” Levin’s comments on joining coursera…

      … Michael McDonald’s acceptance (with 1985’s “Sweet Freedom”) that it was possible to marry a Hollywood Soundtrack Hit with smoothitute and demonstrate his relevance whilst still keeping Koko’s fire…

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