Organizations Can’t Disrupt Themselves

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve been hearing through the grapevine for a long time that Denver’s much ballyhooed portfolio strategy was in deep trouble. Robin Lake calls it out today in Denver’s Storied Portfolio District is Starting to Act Like Just Another City School System.

It might be more useful to think of this as: the Denver district has acted like just another city school system for almost its entire history, flirted with the idea of being something different, but then yielded to political gravity in an entirely predictable fashion.

Clayton Christensen explained years ago that organizations don’t disrupt themselves. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not deftly transition to making personal computers rather than die- they just died. Every other brand in General Motors took every opportunity to slip their knives into Saturn’s back- sure enough GM eventually squandered an enormous amount of public goodwill for Saturn before it eventually died. School districts don’t willingly hand over empty buildings to outside operators. All of this falls somewhere on the water is wet, objects fall to the ground, you don’t fight a land war in Asia spectrum of the self-evident.

Jay noted years ago that you can call your district Superintendent a “harbor master” but in the end it is a tomatO tomAto exercise, especially if they are still hired and fired by boards elected in single digit turnout elections dominated by incumbent interests. Building new rather than attempting to reform the old remains the best strategy.




10 Responses to Organizations Can’t Disrupt Themselves

  1. Greg Forster says:

    If the districts won’t turn over empty buildings maybe we can use the stadiums and shopping malls. How many students would fit in the Astrodome?

  2. matthewladner says:

    I hear there is a beautiful charter school in what used to be a Florida Target store…

  3. Mike G says:

    What do you think of Achievement First’s Greenfield project? They have ~30 charters. They decide to create a new model to compete with their existing model. Seems promising. Is that an example of “disrupting yourself” or something else?

  4. matthewladner says:

    I don’t think a new model, or even a new competing model would fit the definition. GM and Ford have competing brands. Here is an article that tries to nail down terms:

  5. […] Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation, points out, organizations don’t disrupt themselves. Getting government schools and their unions to veer far from their modus operandi is not […]

  6. […] Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation, EdChoice fellow Matthew Ladner writes, “Mainframe computer manufacturers did not deftly transition to making personal computers […]

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