The major challenge facing higher education has been brought about by educational technology and its ability to bring about disruptive change. In March 2000 Clayton Christensen and Michael Overdorf wrote “Meeting the challenge of disruptive change” (Harvard Business Review), which discussed why so many successful companies have such trouble innovating, and then laid out decision rules that set out plans for action for companies in order to give them the best chance for successfully innovating. This seems like a fairly direct application of this framework, and one that I would expect my students to bring up fairly quickly in their analysis when thinking about what higher education institutions should be doing in relation to this challenge.
The innovation framework
The authors described a 2×2 framework, with one axis being fit with organizational processes, and the other being fit with organizational values. The idea is that the path towards innovation depends upon the fit between the existing organization and the innovation needed:
|Well||Functional or light-weight teams||Heavyweight team, developed in-house, then spun off|
|Poorly||Heavyweight team, within organization||Heavyweight team, separate spin-off or acquired organization|
Applying the framework to higher education
I think it’s fairly clear to anyone who has been around higher education for any period of time that it does not have the right values to innovate. Everything about higher education is centered on stability and incremental change. From the framework we can now see that we’re going to end up with a heavyweight team that will eventually have the commercialization of the project be in a separate organization. The only remaining option is whether development will be done in-house or in a spin-off organization.
This option is determined by whether or not the existing organization has the right processes to innovate. Here I am just going to focus on the decision-making protocols (one of the significant processes) of a fairly typical top business school. Each tenured faculty member has what amounts to lifetime employment and operates more-or-less as an independent contractor. He is accustomed to teaching the classes he wants, how he wants, with the topics he wants, in the programs he wants, and generally at the times he wants. Sure, not every professor gets what he wants every time, but the professor expects his desires to be taken into account. When major questions are addressed, task forces are convened, data is gathered, committees are formed, faculty meetings are held (and held and held), further data is gathered, votes are called and postponed, more meetings are held, and then the proverbial camel emerges from the other end. Then, assuming that some type of decision is made, actually getting faculty to do something significant is another matter entirely — the phrase “herding cats” is frequently bandied about. So, I would say “no,” higher education generally does not have the right processes to innovate.
Thus, according to the innovation framework above, this would say that when a higher education institution is addressing the wholesale changes required by technology, they should create a heavyweight team dedicated to the inovation task. The team should have complete responsibility for its success, and it should end up operating in a separate spin-off or acquired organization.
The next question is how should this be done? For a future post…