When I, along with Jason Hwang and Clayton Christensen, founded what has become the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, we didn’t know what the experience would yield. We wanted to create a place where we didn’t just write nice books that sat on people’s shelves and gathered dust, but a place that created and shaped meaningful dialogues that would produce systematic change.
Over the past several years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to do just that. Our education team has galvanized a conversation around transforming our monolithic, factory-model education system into a student-centered one powered by the disruptive innovation of online learning so that all students can realize their fullest human potential—an idea that was not on the radar before 2007. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve as the executive director of that team since we founded the Institute and to work with so many wonderful educators, partners, and colleagues around the nation and world in this endeavor.
When we founded the Institute, our plan was that the individuals on our team wouldn’t stay forever. After having impact, we hoped they would move on at some point to other roles where they could continue to use the theories of disruptive innovation to help transform the world in powerful ways.
I am personally now at just such a point where I am ready for new challenges. The work that the Institute does—setting vision, articulating strategies and roadmaps to realize the vision, and communicating these ideas to and with various stakeholders—is critical. But as President Theodore Roosevelt would have said, I’m now ready to enter “the arena” and work on the ground with the entrepreneurs shaping the future of education. The challenges our education system faces are too significant for me to not dig in at this level as well.
As a result, my last day as executive director of the education program at the Institute will be tomorrow, October 9. I will continue to do some research and writing for the Institute, and I will be a sounding board for the team as a board member and distinguished fellow. But a significant focus in my next stage of life will be to work with a portfolio of education companies in a variety of board and advisory roles to help shape the future of education in ways that I could not as executive director, while also continuing to write and speak on the future of education.
The companies I support will be announced in the days and weeks ahead, and as I step down as executive director of the Institute, I do so excited about the team’s ongoing work and impact.
The timing of my resignation is also not accidental. Of the utmost importance to me was being able to leave the Institute’s education team in the hands of an outstanding leader who had gone through the right schools of experience such that she could take the reigns of the team and lift our work to new heights. In Julia Freeland Fisher, who will take over as director of the education program, I have full confidence that we have the right leader for the right time. Julia’s research and presence has already made a strong mark on the fields of blended and competency-based learning, and her current research on the emerging tools and practices that can radically expand who students know—their stock of “social capital”—by enhancing their access and ability to navigate new peer, mentor and professional networks stands to be a game changer.
Similarly, our work on blended learning, which has helped educators understand how to use disruptive innovation to transform their schools, has laid bare how many changes we need in the education ecosystem to create a truly student-centered one. Thomas Arnett’s work on the important role teachers will have in that new system, what those roles will be, and how we will prepare teachers for them is critical to moving the field forward. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue to advise Julia and Tom in a formal capacity.
Finally, as I mark this transition point, I would be remiss in not calling out the significant role that my mentor, co-founder, and friend Clay Christensen, continues to have on my life. Coauthoring Disrupting Class with him and Curtis Johnson was a life-changing event. The continued work Clay is doing in health care and economic and job growth is critical. And his ongoing commitment to take the anomalies people find to his theories of innovation and improve them so that they can shed greater insight is not only important in and of itself, but it also sets a powerful example to which all researchers should aspire. Having had the opportunity to sit in many of Clay’s classes multiple times, I’ve seen the impact insightful and critical student comments have on his thinking and how, while he might debate a point during a class, the next year when he teaches the theory he will have improved it by taking the anomaly into account. I only wish those students could see the change they catalyzed.
Those theories of disruptive innovation have been critical to my success in life and a guiding north star for how I live my life. They also remain the Institute’s bedrock and guide—and the foundation upon which it can continue to generate not just great insights, but great insights that have positive impact. As I step down as executive director, I have faith that the Institute will continue to build on those theories to do just that.