DisruptED TV Magazine

A Case for How Disruption Leads to Innovation

By Dr. Christopher Nagy @DrCNagy

Dr. Christopher Nagy

The year 2007 created a tsunami of disruptive technologies that now impact how we work, study, live and play. In 2007, according to Tom Friedman in his latest book Thank you for Being Late (2016), the world experienced the greatest inflection point in history, and as a result, today’s world is forever changed due to those technological advancements in 2007. Key technologies were launched in 2007 that set the stage for the technology revolution we are experiencing today, and to a great degree, in the delivery of education.

Consider that in 2007, the Apple iPhone was introduced for the first time and Intel created non-silicon chips for the first time to increase speed and processing. Both Facebook and Twitter were launched while Google purchased YouTube in 2007. In that same year, the Android processing system was released and Amazon set the stage for digital media with the launch of the first digital Kindle book. Companies such as Airbnb started without any real estate and IBM Watson was introduced for the first time setting up the initial phase of the artificial intelligence era.

The 2007 technology acceleration created new applications to learning. A case in point, this past year, my administrative team and I introduced for the first time, drone technology as part of our pre-engineering program where students before graduating high school now sit for the test to be certified FAA drone pilots. We also introduced virtual reality as part of our welding, auto body painting and Law and Public Safety career programs. As a benefit of these technologies other than significant cost savings realized due to a decrease in product waste, we are seeing an increase in non-traditional students enrolled in these programs once thought of as gender specific — the fear factor having been removed. Furthermore, as part of our three-year strategic technology plan, we have embraced a digital learning environment that now includes the Google classroom, Google Suite of collaboration, digital books, web-based programs such as Soundtrap, a competitor to Apple’s Garage Band as well as a host of social media channels that now capture innovation in and outside of the classroom. Furthermore, we are launching this summer, a Future Ready Institute for professional learning that will create opportunities for staff be certified in technology applications.

According to Friedman (2016), as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen our view on the world and our lives and to synthesize more perspectives given that no one-size fits all. To this point, technology venture capitalist Hemant Tanjeja in his latest book, Unscaled (2018), addresses the economies of unscale which is a process to unpack or unravel prior economies of scale achieved only by very large companies. With the help of new artificial intelligence technologies, emergent innovators can now compete against the giant companies. In fact, the small companies are now in a position to gain the scale of big companies by renting part of the big company platforms gaining scale almost immediately.

Another example of this shift in scale can be applied to many schools where there is unused space. I am proposing that we look at our schools, assess the availability of unused space and ask how we can create incubator spaces to rent to small companies. Depending on the size of school district and resources, the small companies could gain scale almost immediately that otherwise may take a small company five-years to build. A benefit to the district in addition to revenue in this incubator example is the creation of a pipeline of real world internships or externships for students to apply what they have learned to inhouse company innovations.

The world today is driven by accelerations in technology, globalization, climate and geopolitics all interacting along a continuum simultaneously. This is illustrated by Nicco Mele’s seminal book The End of Big (2013) where he very astutely makes a case where the internet and social media make the proverbial David, the new Goliath. Supercomputers that were once only seen at IBM can now be carried in the palm of our hands as smartphones. Connectivity, immediacy and timeliness across continents, time zones and across cultures with the assistance of smartphones have been able to disrupt corporate boards and in other cases, bring down nations or mobilize a large group of people to demonstrate or protest.

All we need to do is look at the work of Erik Qualman whose Socialnomics 2018 (YouTube) and his book Socialnomics (2013) identify key suggestions to navigate the social media age while highlighting the ten largest populations in the world. Interestingly enough, seven of the top ten are not focused on land masses such as China, Russia or the USA, but rather on people and how they are connected to one another. Among the largest populations are social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Tencent, YouTube, Instagram and Linkedin. Depending upon the number of social networks individuals are enrolled, the degrees of separation move closer to three from six according to Niall Ferguson (2017). The world actually gets smaller the more connected we become. Ferguson also notes in his seminal work The Square and the Tower (2017) that social media companies tend to place followers in silos according to people of similar interests. This plays a major role for personal and professional lives. Today, students typically spend around five hours a day on social media. This presents an opportunity for educators to leverage that interest and seek to value social media as an interactive and informative tool that enhances the classroom experience.

The disruptive nature of technology places each of us in a position where we cannot afford to be content with the status quo or we become technologically and educationally obsolete. Futurists such as Jim Carroll and Gary Marx indicate that within a few short years, our resumes will reflect a list of discrete skills sets and credentials we have earned rather than list of jobs and degrees. Companies are interested more on problems to be solved and what skill sets are brought to their business. Some days, we feel as though we will never get to the top of the elevator because as fast as we go up, so too do technology and societal challenges.

The disruptive power of innovative technologies has also affected fields such as healthcare and social and emotional wellbeing. Recently across the nation, we celebrated in the month of April, Autism Awareness Month. Technological advancements in research noted by such neurologists as David Perlmutter in his book Brain Maker (2015), has bridged the gap between genetics and the environment whereupon the introduction of probiotics within the study of gut microbes has shown promise to reverse some of the symptoms of autism. Or in the area of exercise science and neurology, Zach Schonbrun’s book The Performance Cortex (2018) has shown how neuroscience is redefining athletic genius. Even looking back at the recent marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, the royal wedding ceremony reflected a significant shift in the normal pomp and circumstance protocol to a more modern and inclusive approach, another sign of the changing times and innovation.

Technology is also driving big changes in industry. Tesla the maker of electric cars, rockets and solar panels is seeing stiff competition as technologies become more readily available, prices for products go down. Who ever thought that Amazon would buy a grocery store chain named Whole Foods. Pilot programs are being run by UPS and Amazon with drones to deliver packages. Cell companies are looking to satellites to deliver signals to desolate areas. Companies such as Uber and Airbnb own no real estate or companies like Alibaba or Amazon own no inventory but are in the business to make connections. In recent years, Bitcoin has taken the financial world by storm. The technologies will necessarily change how financial institutions function. We have also witnessed seismic geopolitical changes be it in North Korea, China and Russia. In the end, these changes reflect this disruptive phase which has become our new normal.

When addressing my staff at the beginning of this school year, I noted that there are three ways to look at our world and our work and how we navigate within them, namely, to think inside the box, think outside of the box or look where there is no box and create a new pathway. I encouraged my staff to choose the latter for it encourages risk taking, innovation, entrepreneurship, engagement and creativity.

The world is generating more information and knowledge than ever before thanks to Moore’s Law and big technological advancements. This has a disruptive nature on our lives as educators and business men and women and necessarily changes how we think, work, process and play. As we look back to 2007 with an eye toward the future while navigating the present, we are challenged to embrace the changes technology present us and seek to be judicious, nimble and agile enough to grow personally and professionally as a result.

Ferguson. N. (2017). The square and the tower. New York: Penguin Random House, LLC.

Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank you for being late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations (First edition). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Mele, N. (2013). The end of big: How the internet makes David the new Goliath (First edition). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Perlmutter, D. (2015). Brain maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain- for life (First edition). New York: Little Brown and Company.

Qualman, E. (2013). Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business (Second edition). New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Schonbrun, Z. (2018). The performance cortex: How neuroscience is redefining athletic genius. New York: Penguin Random House, LLC.

Taneja, H. (2018). Unscaled: How AI and a new generation of upstarts are creating the economy of the future (First edition). New York: Hachette Book Group.

Dr. Christopher Nagy is a superintendent of schools for the Burlington County Institute of Technology and the Burlington County Special Services District. Dr. Nagy is a member of the Burlington County Workforce Development Board, Burlington County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is an author of a book and many articles, is an adjunct professor for doctoral program and is a guest presenter. He may be reached through Twitter @DrCNagy or on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopher-nagy-08949516/