A thought provoking post from Ben Evans. The central discussion is around productivity and how it is often achieved. What is laid out here is perhaps a different way to think about how businesses evolve and change, but not through Christensen’s disruptive innovation:
What killed those machines was not better, cheaper competitors but a completely different way to address the same underlying business need. Instead of hundreds of people recalculating insurance rates, the company bought a mainframe. The business need was being met, but the mechanism changed completely and the old tools disappeared.
I’ve long been a critic of Christensen’s work - not that I disagree with it entirely, just that it’s often viewed as the singular model for change and innovation. So often cases are shoe-horned into the model’s narrative that are it becomes a case of historinics and where facts are severed in order to fit. Disruptive Innovation has so often become Procrustean bed. I’ve come to view disruptive innovation as just only one model for change, and it’s certainly not the only gig in town.
What Evans lays out is perhaps another model in which to think about change and innovation. One that looks not at the tools and tasks, but in meeting the same needs by changing underlying systems and models being employed.
The business need was being met, but the mechanism changed completely and the old tools disappeared. That is, the way forward for productivity is probably not to take software applications and document models that were conceived and built in a non-networked age and put them into the cloud, or to make carbon copies of them as web apps.
While Evan’s focusses on software, my thinking is around education - how do can we change the ‘model’ rather than just the tools we use?
Over time, those verbs get combined, broken apart, linked, created and removed as the tools change, the organization is changed by the tools and of course the underlying business itself changes. You don’t actually send email or make a spreadsheet - you analyze, delegate, report, confer, decide, track and so on. Or, perhaps, ‘what’s going on, what are we doing and what should we doing?’ Each set of tools fixes that into a different pattern, but one should not look at that pattern and assume that that’s the way things must be done - that that’s what ‘real work’ looks like.
I think there’s space here for real change and innovative thought and practice. It might be what George Siemen’s calls unbundling - but perhaps it’s more remodelling.
Source: Office, messaging and verbs
Image: Robert Baxter, Classroom.