4 posts categorized "Perspectives on Innovation"


Higher Education Online: Disruptive Innovations and the Disaggregated Future

Michael Fienen draws together some excellent resources in a Sept. '09 post, The Online Education Game is Changing, that sketches out some of the fascinating changes that have been drawing my attention.

He begins with a look at StraighterLine, a company that is attempting to offer web-based, low-cost, easy-to-transfer college credits, that he discovered through an article about the company by Kevin Carey.

Fienan then goes on to explore some of the aspects of such companies that make them disruptive rather than sustaining innovators and therefore a threat to established players.

He closes with the slideshow by David Wiley embedded above. It's well worth a look and, yes, I checked out all 85 slides, a rare event in my world!

Interestingly enough David Wiley is not only an active faculty member at Brigham Young University but he's also a "founder and board member of the Open High School of Utah and Chief Openness Officer of Flat World Knowledge." That means he's viewing the situation from multiple angles with experience in both sustaining and disruptive innovation.

Related Cultural Research Coverage:
Understanding Sustaining vs. Disruptive Innovation
in Higher Education and Academic Libraries

Understanding Sustaining vs. Disruptive Innovation in Higher Education and Academic Libraries

I take the concepts of sustaining and disruptive innovation from Clayton Christensen whose book, The Innovator's Dilemma, I highly recommend. Like all good concepts, the related terms are used to mean other things by other people. Here's what I mean:

I typically use "sustaining innovation" to mean innovations that can be incorporated into the existing practices of organizations including innovations that disrupt standard modes of practice but that can be integrated into the already existing structures of dominant players.

"Disruptive innovations" are disruptive in an even deeper way than simply forcing changes in existing practices in that they disrupt existing models of success. Disruptive innovations are initially inadequate to the jobs performed by current solutions. Perhaps worse for those with a currently successful business model, disruptive innovations require different models to succeed, models which dominant players are unable to effectively pursue because their skillsets are based on past success rather than emergent realities.

For example, the call quality of mobile phones meant that they were inadequate to many of the needs of fixed line callers but for those who needed mobility, poor call quality was an acceptable trade-off to be able to conduct business or keep up with one's friends.

Over time the quality of mobile phone networks improved but, by the time mobile phones became a threat to existing landlines, incumbent players were too far behind to catch up. Though the full story is more complex and landlines have not disappeared, their role is shrinking at a rate that no one would have expected even a few years ago.

Disruptive innovators perform like stealth companies in plain view. Everyone can see them yet those who are threatened cannot see what they are until it's too late. Such shifts may take years to become overnight successes but suddenly everything will have changed and brands that seemed all powerful will be laid low.

A recent example in education has been the uptake of Google Apps for Education as an alternative to Microsoft Office. At first, nobody would have thought free online services could replace Microsoft Office, given the software's incredible ubiquity and complex development, but it's happening.

An example still in the "there's no way that will every be a threat" category is the University of the People (UoPeople), described as the "world’s first tuition free online academic institution". The UoPeople has gathered some serious support and, from what I recall but can't currently find online, their first entering class had a sizable percentage of students from the U.S.

Whatever you think of such an institution's potential threat to established universities, consider the fact that this school does not have a library or employ librarians and does not appear to offer a separate course in information seeking skills. Since disruptive innovations succeed when key chunks of soon-to-be outdated business models are removed, it's incumbent on librarians to take a proactive stance, one that goes far beyond simply finding new allies or incorporating new technologies within a structure that may well collapse unexpectedly.


Clyde, Where Are Your Library Innovation Posts?

I haven't been asked the headline question yet but I wanted to take a moment and clarify what I'm doing with this blog and how it relates to library innovation.

Two things are currently happening:

1) I'm writing my way into the topic which is how I typically work when blogging. If I was doing academic writing, my focus in public papers would be much clearer because a lot of this process would not be visible. But since I'm a blogger, you, dear reader, get a look at my process whether you want to or not!

2) Library innovation does not occur in a vacuum. I'm ultimately most interested in library innovation in higher education but that focus means that not only do I need to take into consideration the many factors affecting higher education as a whole, since a library serves a whole institutation, but also such areas as public and school libraries, because students come to college having already experienced such settings.

So I will bring up issues that may not seem to directly connect to higher ed but are actually quite influential in establishing the context for academic library usage [or non-usage, as the case might be].

That means that I'll also be discussing what I've learned on the open web over the last nine years during which much of my time has been spent as an online traveler and web publisher. I'll also be referring to my many years working in bookstores, where I learned much about customer service and about human navigation of information resources.

I would like to be able to say that whatever I blog about will therefore be connected to library innovation but that's a bit too easy. So I will do my best to at least make brief references regarding the relationship between a particular post and the topic of innovation, if that connection does not seem obvious, while occassionally allowing myself the blogger's perogative to go off-topic.

If you have any special interests related to library innovation that you would like me to dig into it, please let me know in the comments or at:

On that note, if you have any large files, commercial email, promo material or a newsletter you're hoping to sign me up for without permission, please uset:

It's the smart thing to do!


John Hagel on Knowledge: From Stocks to Flows

Abandon Stocks, Embrace Flows - A Conversation with John Hagel

Joshua-Michéle Ross speaks with John Hagel, Co-chairman of Deloitte’s Center for the Edge:

"One of the key principles that we have around this notion of a Big Shift in the aggregate is that increasingly we're moving from a world in business where the source of economic value is less and less around stocks of knowledge, what we know at any point in time, and it's shifting much more to the notion of participating effectively in flows of knowledge."

This is the kind of thinking on which I draw from the business world to consider questions related to how libraries might change in the years ahead. In many respects, academic libaries both archive stocks of knowledge and gather flows of knowledge.

But a shift from stocks of knowledge to flows might also suggest a move from traditional guide roles, such as pointing researchers to sources of data, to more active creator roles, such as creating mashups of data as new information sources.

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