Disruptive innovation is critical – but it is the opposite of what many people think it is

Written by Lant Pritchett

Disruptive innovation is the key to long-term excellence, even though its early results are less glamorous than those of approaches that seek to be at the “cutting edge” of innovation.

The term “disruptive innovation” is thrown around a lot in policy discussions about education system reform. However, it is important to recognise that, when this term was introduced by the late Clay Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma, 1997), it had a specific meaning which is diametrically opposite to the meaning that many people now ascribe to it. This is not a purely semantic point; the original idea of “disruptive innovation” is a key concept that can help solve the problems facing low performing education systems.

I briefly recap the way in which Professor Christensen used the term and discuss how this concept relates to current debates in the education sector.

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