Disruption is the New Norm

“Disruptive” always used to be the word for the naughty child at the back of the class ruining it for everyone else.  – Leigh Alexander

Accelerated by technology, and frequently associated with the unsatisfying term “innovation”, disruption is extending into all aspects of life. Disruption is about choice. It’s about putting the consumer at the centre of the experience. It doesn’t just transcend rigid rules and hierarchy, it actively mocks it. In doing so, it places design at the heart of the consumer experience.

Long the staple accompaniment of gin, Schweppes recently discovered that a level of disruptive activity unseen in the industry since the 1700’s required prompt action on its part. In much of Europe, Gordon’s or Beefeater London Dry Gin and Schweppes tonic, developed in 1771, has comfortably dominated this niche market for generations. With the advent of avant-garde products like Hendrick’s and Monkey 47 gins along with Fever-Tree “designer” tonic, this industry suddenly shifted from sudden disruption to abject disdain for the traditional industry staples. Failure to innovate comes at a perilous cost.

The “story” of gin today is as important as the beverage itself. Gin now has a personality, a new identity: there are clever names, quaint, copper gin stills, special glasses, bottles with unusual shapes and colours, essential flavours and essences. Sales are booming like never before. Gin, as an industry, has become personal. Design is about this personal experience as much as it is about the product itself.

This is not unlike what has happened in the beer industry where the meteoric craft revolution has left dominant labels like Budweiser and Heineken looking suddenly vulnerable. Craft beers with unique names like Geriatric Hipster Club, Apocalypse Cow and Smooth Hoperator speak of personality, not corporate structures. They are served in post-industrial facilities adorned with old school chalk boards that tell stories of an industry that is transforming the traditional, taking down the big guys, making beer personal. As with 3D printing, the scaling and availability of new technologies has brought open production and creation opportunities to the masses. The resulting disintermediation is largely responsible for this era of large-scale disruption.

Buying an Apple product is as much about the cult of the store experience and the pride in design as the device itself. Starbucks adopted a similar approach to coffee retail, while Nespresso took that idea one step further, creating an Apple-like industry around caffeine consumables. Uber is challenging the status quo of the transport industry. Netflix has transformed how we consume entertainment. Spotify and Apple Music now dominate the recording industry in ways unimaginable just a decade ago.

If disruption is the new norm. what, one wonders, are the implications for education?

Education is no stranger to systemic, cyclic patterns of ineffectual change and simultaneous paralysis engineered unwittingly by policy makers. In the case of the industries cited above, individuals leveraged the power of technology to personalize and customize the user experience with intentional design at the core of the revolutions that followed. Too often schools try to make students fit systems and rules. Too often teachers are held accountable for implementing never-ending trends and movements. Learning needs to be intentionally designed to be more personal, with the student at the centre of this open experience. Crucially, new technologies permit students to do this for themselves outside of school. 

Accelerated by technology, disruption is extending into classrooms, too. There are innovative things happening in more and more schools that focus on things like creativity, design, wellbeing, inclusion, making, invention, play, sustainability, student choice, and social entrepreneurship that augur well for the future of learning. Teachers can, and do – despite the deep-rooted clutches of tradition – hack and disrupt schooling, making learning personal in the process.

Disruption is no longer optional. If schools want to remain relevant, they must accept that this is the new norm.

Image courtesy of Bryan Mathers Visual Thinkery – http://bryanmmathers.com/