The Conditions To Ignite Self-Disruption

Launching a self-disrupting program is like starting a campfire: You have to get the initial conditions right for it to succeed.

When you arrange the kindling, the old newspaper, the sticks and logs just right for your campfire, the spark of a single match will naturally transform the pile into a warm and cozy blaze. But if the initial arrangement is skewed, your fire will fizzle out before the logs catch or you’ll end up generating a lot of suffocating smoke but little flame.

Similarly, for a self-disrupting program in K-12 education to take off and eventually transform learning experiences across a school district, you need to set that program up with the right conditions for success.

» Select a leader with a vision and motivation to transform education. Don’t pick someone whose past experiences come entirely from running and improving conventional programs.

» Give the leader a clear charge to build a program that will eventually become an attractive alternative to conventional education.

» Don’t try to improve an existing program in which people remain invested. Create a new program from scratch or completely rebuild a failed program from scratch.

» Identify the program goals for student outcomes, then give the program leader the freedom and flexibility to decide how best to meet those goals.

» Give the program leader freedom over budgeting, staffing, curriculum, instruction, schedules and grading practices.

» Let the program leader decide whether to participate in centralized staffing, purchasing, transportation and IT systems.

» Give the program leader leeway to experiment and fail forward in the short term.

» Option A: Focus on offering educational experiences that your district previously has not offered, such as experiential learning, work study, new course electives, preparation for college entrance exams or out-of-school learning experiences.

» Option B: Focus on serving students who are not currently enrolled in the district’s mainstream programs, such as homeschooled students, independent study students, medically homebound students or dropouts.

» The program replicates conventional approaches to schooling.

» The program experiments initially with innovative approaches, but then gravitates toward conventional approaches to schooling.

» Students and families put pressure on the program to adopt conventional forms of schooling.

» Students drop out of the program to return to conventional schooling.

» The program serves nonconsumers but never improves to become attractive to students enrolled in conventional programs.