In a series of blog posts, we’ve begun to discuss how new technologies, coupled with the expectations of our youngest students, are combining to reshape the landscape of K12 education.

To get things started, today we are going to begin to unpack the concept of disruptive innovation.

On January 19, 2012 — after 131 years as an American icon — Kodak filed for bankruptcy. Unable to make the transition from traditional to digital film, the company’s main asset today is its portfolio of patents.


Of course, even if Kodak had been able to make the change to digital photography fast enough, the market may still have been quicker. The improving quality of camera phones and their ubiquity have made them much more popular than digital cameras, and some speculate that the digital camera market might be dead in five years time.

In a twist of irony, the new “popular kid on the block” Instagram has made its mark by going retro, putting filters on its photographs to make them feel older – harkening back to the glory days of Kodak. Yesterday, the iPhone app company with fewer than 10 employees but 30 million users was sold to Facebook for $1 billion dollars.


(One of the 20-something cofounders of this new media darling is a graduate of my former K-12 school in Brazil, but that is a subject for another post.)

The now popular academic term for this process is: Disruptive Innovation. Coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, a disruptive innovation most often leverages technology to create a new market that goes on to disrupt (or often replace) an existing market.

We can stay in the technology market to understand how quickly this can happen.


The chart above is a comparison of the stock prices of Apple and RIMM over the last 12 years. RIMM is blue and Apple is red. RIMM is the maker of the once world-beating Blackberry – so popular that at one point it was called the Crackberry. You can follow that trend to its peak in late 2008.

What happend since then? The iPhone happened. When it was first launched in 2007, the device quickly captured the fancy of consumers, but the Blackberry remained a stalwart for businesses – preferred for its security and enterprise management software. Over time, however, the iPhone began to change the way we used cell phones. They became so essential that the traditional firewall of business vs. consumer use was slowly dismantled. Today, this trend – called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – is one of the biggest in business. Just a few days ago, the CIO of IBM pledged to eventually support the personal technology device of every one of its 440,000 worldwide employees.

That’s disruptive!

Need more examples of how this works in other industries? Try finding a Blockbuster video rental store. Think of what Amazon did to Borders.

At its heart disruptive innovation is about more than newer and better technology – it is about using technology to think about and do things differently.

In my next post in this series, we’ll look at three disruptive concepts that are having a direct impact on education.