The debate about the future of the university has traditionally been formulated as a dichotomous battle between “idealists”, or self-protecting groups of “research freedom”-loving academics, who fight under the flag of Humboldtian values, and the “market”-oriented policy makers and reform minded people, who fight with entrepreneurial spirit and Schumpeterian wit. And of course there are the disruptive innovators, say a Khan Academy, or MOOCs, who provide new ideas, new prospects, but also raise the overall entropy of the already chaotic educational system. In all, never has been the educational scene more turbulent and more diverse. It is both an exciting and a daunting time for those who are at the helm of universities.
I have always loved the middle ground though. I am an ally of innovation and market-oriented participation, yet I think it worth some time to slow down from time to time and explore some of the underlying values and cultural underpinnings.
I have been reading this interesting book on the concept of self-cultivation or ‘bildung’ which can be said to be one of the foundational concepts of the German University, and thus the modern research university (though there are some contending voices whether the ‘role model’ assumption holds).
The simple story outlined by Jim Collins in the previous post is just the very first step in understanding why good companies fail.
The very old and well-known idea from Christensen & Bower (1996) and the Innovator’s Dilemma suggests that the very strategies that helped firms to reach success cause them to fail as the environment change and new entrants succeed in introducing and developing disruptive innovations. His examples of the hard disk industry and the steel mills are also very well known.
Now, here is another speech centered on this idea by Don Sull from the London Business School. He explains that there are 5 types of commitments that can bind companies:
1. Frames (assessments)
2. Processes (formal, informal)
3. Resources (tangible and intangible)
5. Set of Values (identities)
Michael Tushman another Harvard faculty and part of the MIT innovation discourse talks to MBAs about the motives of the Swiss watch industry at the time of disruptive innovation. I thought it just ties in well with the last post. He gives a short explanation of why the swiss watchmaker industry resisted change when new disruptive technology arrived with lower prices and better performance.
The well-known example of the mini steel mill revolution is compared in this video with possible disruptive changes in higher education. Christensen offers great suggestions to academia to integrate online and traditional education.
I am convinced that although traditional seminars are key for development of students, novel ideas should be incorporated into the curriculum to keep competitive. Joint efforts such as the Singapore-MIT Alliance us also a good approach. Other universities could also benefit from more cooperation.