What is Disruptive Innovation?

I have been learning so much while on this journey in earning my Master’s.  I read a book by Michael Horn, Heather Staker and Clayton M. Christensen titled Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools for one of my courses and I just couldn’t put it down because it is such an eye opener for me in looking at our educational system.

Upon hearing the term “disruptive innovation” for the first time, I recall having somewhat of a predisposed inclination that whatever it was that we would be learning this course, was not going to be something of a positive outcome.  Growing up, I’ve learned that words that are prefaced with “dis”, generally have a negative connotation associated with them, so I was curious…”What were we going to be disrupting?”  After watching the week’s videos and reading the book Blended, I now have a solid understanding of what disruptive innovation is exactly. Simply put, disruptive innovation occurs when a person, group, organization brings something completely new to the market that “disrupts” an existing market or system already in place (Harvard Business Review, 2008).  For many people, change is not welcome and so the idea of disruptive innovation really maybe something negative to them, but as a whole, disruptive innovation switches things up to make things convenient and more affordable for consumers.

Disruptive innovation can really come about from any one person either as part of a group or organization or even just a consumer.  My personal thought on this is that people need to always stay inspired and curious about the world and things around them, because just the Scott Anthony mentioned, it only takes a spark of inspiration for someone to come up with a disruptive idea.  For us educators that are apart of a big organization, however, I do feel that it is important to have our leaders behind us.  We need to be given the freedom and space to create this ideas… to be allowed to think outside the box, if you will (Harvard Business Review, 2008).

Unlike disruptive innovation, sustaining innovation is more of the notion of improving an already established system or method in place, by listening to the needs of customers.  What are our current customers demanding how can we satisfy those demands?  Improvements are made, but only to aide in sustaining the current model.  Disruptive innovation can be used as a catalyst for change because what is essentially happening is that newer, better and more convenient ways are being created for people to continue to do the things they love- whether it be shopping, gaming, reading or listening to music.  We listen to a lot of music in our household, and with two little ones, it is much easier for me to open up my Spotify app on my phone and play what ever song my kids want to hear the moment. This beats me going to the store and spending hundreds of dollars on CDs when I can pay a small monthly fee and have pretty much any type of music selection available to me at my fingertips.  But before Spotify, we had Pandora. Pandora was the disruptive innovation that occured in the music world.  It’s convenient, simple and FREE!  Granted, listeners will hear an ad every now and then but gone are the days where we have to go out and buy CDs and cassettes of our favorite music, we now have it on our computers and on our mobile phones.  When you have kids in the house, their music tastes change DAILY, so it’s great being able to listening the Frozen soundtrack one minute, and then Kidz Bop the next.

I feel lucky right now, because I’m in a position where disruption innovation can really change our organization.  We are a private PreK-8 school in Houston, and in about a year, we will be breaking ground on a new building.  For over a year now, we have been brainstorming and thinking of ways in which we could create an unbelievable maker-space for our students.  There have been countless “What If” meetings and division meetings where we have brainstormed ideas on a physical element on how we can create the best spaces for our children, and the renderings that the design team presented to us a couple weeks ago were amazing.  One thing we want to be in our area are leaders in education and leaders in technology.  I’m privileged to be a part of an organization that encourages this outside the box thinking.  The challenge for me, personally is seeing what I can do at the Early Childhood level, because as stated in Blended, you see more of a need in disruptive innovation at the high school and sometimes middle school level- rarely at the elementary level.  My eyes are being opened, and I’m fascinated with disruptive innovation being used to improve our schools and education system!



Harvard Business Review. (2008, October 20). How to stop disruptive innovation opportunities [Video   file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGzXWO_anLI

Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2014). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. John Wiley & Sons.

2 thoughts on “What is Disruptive Innovation?

  1. Hi Nancy,

    I really thought the Blended book was an awesome read, too. I had the same “predisposed inclination” that whatever we were about to embark upon might not be pleasant. As we go further into our studies, my desire to make a change in my educational institution grows, and honestly, sometimes it isn’t so pleasant. I am getting the feeling that some teachers around me don’t like the fact that I am doing new things with my students. The teacher right next to me, although she has had a difficult year and is not returning, even said to me that she thinks technology is “a problem.” She feels it is a distraction and more difficult to keep kids on task. I wanted to let her have it, ha ha, but I didn’t. Anyway, I guess my point is that change does require some amount of discomfort, and I believe I’m starting to feel that.



  2. Hi Nancy,

    Great writing here. The “Blended” book was also an eye opener for me. I, too, was a bit apprehensive about the term disruptive innovation, that is, until the book explained the term. Honestly, though, I remain a little bit uncomfortable about what is to come, I believe. I have really tried to put the ideas we have been learning about to work in my classroom, and I think I am meeting with resistance from some other teachers. One who teaches right beside me, although she had a tough year and is not going to return, told me that she thinks technology is the problem. (She knows that I’m getting a degree in digital learning and leading). I wanted to let her have it, but I didn’t. I think, at least for me, I am going to continue to meet resistance along the way.


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