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Many years ago, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen developed the notion of disruptive technology: Technology that unobserved threatens the fundamental dominant technology in an industry, and quickly makes it obsolete. Now he and colleagues have applied this notion to education. In America, they note, faced with overwhelming constraints, schools are (under the radar, often unnoticed) innovating new models of schooling. 

The same, I believe, is happening in Israel. The vaunted “Ofek Hadash” (New Horizon) strategic innovation in Israel’s educational system was developed top-down, led by a consulting company, with little participation by teachers in the field. I spoke to some of those teachers. They showed glaring obvious flaws in Ofek Hadash, that could easily have been fixed had they participated in the formulation process. Despite this, innovative experimentation is going on in many schools. Problem is: There is a lack of a benchmarking process, in which great ideas spread rapidly from best-practice schools to mediocre ones.

Here is how Christensen (interviewed in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge) describes the process in America, whose schools are no less troubled than those in Israel:

…. on average, schools have done a better job adjusting to disruptions imposed upon them than have companies in the private sector. Our research shows that the classic signs of disruption are now occurring in the world of education, in the same ways they occur in the other contexts we have studied.

Computer-based or online learning is beginning to fill the void and plant itself and make inroads in the education system in classic disruptive fashion. Online learning has increased from 45,000 enrollments in 2000 to roughly 1 million in 2007, and shows signs of continuing to grow at an even more rapid pace.

Computer-based learning is an exciting disruption because it allows anyone to access a consistent quality learning experience; it is convenient since someone can take it virtually anywhere at any time; it allows a student to move through the material at any pace; it can customize for a student’s preferred learning style; and it is more affordable than the current school system.
 
In education, the tools of the software platform will make it so simple to develop online learning products that students will be able to build products that help them teach other students. Parents will be able to assemble tools to tutor their children. And teachers will be able to create tools to help the different types of learners in their classrooms. These instructional tools will look more like tutorial products than courseware initially. And rather than being “pushed” into classrooms through a centralized selection process, they will be pulled into use through self-diagnosis—by teachers, parents, and students who don’t have access to another tutoring option.

Can Israeli schools take up Christensen’s challenge and disrupt the misguided establishment’s “strategy”?

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Here is a true mystery for our readers:

 • Ford has spent the last thirty years moving all its factories out of the US, claiming they can’t make money paying American wages.

 • TOYOTA has spent the last thirty years building more than a dozen plants inside the US. The last quarter’s results: TOYOTA makes 4 billion in profits while Ford racked up 9 billion in losses. Ford folks are still scratching their heads, and collecting bonuses. GM is essentially bankrupt.

Chrysler is dead in the water.

Why?

Simplify, Einstein counseled. 

What is the simplest of all explanations – which, according to the scientist’s principle known as Occam’s Razor (eliminate everything but the bare essentials from a theory), is generally the most powerful and accurate?

Success in making and selling cars rests mainly on making beautiful, appealing, sexy, lovely, and hard-to-resist cars. This is done by managers who love CARS, and the car business, not accountants who love bottom lines. The true bottom line is: Do you truly love cars? Do you have a passion for them? And do you know how to find people who share your passion and know how to design incredibly beautiful ones? 

Remember Chrysler? When bankruptcy loomed, along came Lee Iacocca, a true car man, who loved beautiful cars (he led development of the Ford Mustang, one of history’s most beautiful cars), and revived Chrysler, not with outsourcing and bean-counting but with design.

Toyota makes beautiful innovative cars that work, tailored to the needs and dreams and wishes of those who buy them. Low end, medium end, high end. Lexus trumps Mercedes. Corolla trumps Focus. 

Ford makes ugly cars tailored to the needs and dreams (as its managers perceive) of bottom-line quarterly-statement-focused shareholders.

Which company would you bet on, in the long run?   

And why does Ford simply not get it?

In 1990 the legendary rock band Deep Purple, a huge innovator, visited Israel during the first intifada. Soon they will return. Their leader, interviewed on Kol Israel, explains their vision.

Deep Purple was first formed 40 years ago, in 1968, in Hertfordshire, England. They have sold 100 million albums worldwide, and were once called “the world’s loudest band”. They refuse to label themselves as ‘heavy metal’ or any such tag. “We are musicians, not performers,” their leader says. “We play music on the stage, not put on a show”. This in part explains the huge and faithful following Deep Purple enjoys, decades after it was launched. They are real, they are authentic. 

In this, a key principle of innovation is revealed: Authenticity. Make sure your product is what it says it is, what it claims to be, and does what it claims to do. Today, there is so much fakery – the dubbing of the little Chinese girl’s voice at the Olympics opening ceremony is a tiny example, as is the revealing storm of protest that ensued — that people increasingly crave what is real.

In their new book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (HBS Press, 2008), B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmour state the key principles of authenticity.

* The craving for authenticity is “getting more intense in an increasingly artificial world”.

* To be perceived as “fully authentic”, your company must “be true to itself and what it says it is to others”.

* Effective marketing today involves “placemaking experiences” which enable companies to be who they say they are.

* Authentic offerings should be rendered as: natural, original, exceptional, referential (referring to other authentic offerings) or influential. 

Even totally fake offerings, like Disneyland or Vegas, “can be perceived as authentic”, note the authors, if they are “honest about their fakery”.

So, innovators: Ask yourself – is your innovative product or service offering real, true, honest, or is their any element of dishonesty, hype, excessive claims, spin or deception involved? Is your marketing deceiving or honest? In the Age of Authenticity, you just cannot fool any of the people any of the time, despite what Abe Lincoln said. This is part of the explanation for Deep Purple’s abiding long-term success.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
August 2008
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