Deflating conflated business models

Clayton Christensen and his co-authors characterize health care institutions as "conflated business models" in their book: The Innovator's Prescription. Institutions of higher education appear the same way to me. By trying to serve all masters, they serve none well. Their unfortunate combinations of value propositions, revenue streams and quality control mechanisms realize the "worst of both" business models they've conflated. The economies of scale that drove the expansion into enormous institutions have resulted in soaring costs, internal inefficiencies, increasing access problems, vastly under-served populations, under-utilized capacity and burdensome overhead.

One of my favorite distinctions in Christensen's model of disruptive innovation draws the line between innovations driven by technological breakthroughs and those resulting from users getting different jobs done. The migration of classified advertising from newspapers to was not a "build it and they will come" better mousetrap. The migration arose from helping others who could not afford newspaper classifieds or were not committed enough to invest the cash and time required to sell their item through a newspaper. The underlying computer online access, programming and servers made it all possible, but did not cause the migration. The distinction helps us avoid getting over-enamored with new technologies that then follow the Gartner hype cycle pattern.

When a migration occurs, the incumbent institution experiences a disruption characterized by any of those words listed on the left. I'm foreseeing four migrations out of the conflated business models that currently comprise institutions of higher education. I'll detail all four of these during the coming week here.

  1. From institutional umbrellas to global research institutes: The portions of higher ed involved in scientific, engineering and technological advances will separate themselves from the other vehicles for the delivery of undergraduate educations. These institutes will be tied to governmental, philanthropic and global industry funding sources while feeding cultivated talent, research findings and proven models into their conferences, collective horizontal efforts, vertical enterprise spaces and innovation cycles.
  2. From degree programs to life-changing collegiate experiences: Most residential colleges demonstrate "student life" as a core competency. The "Dean of Students" and "Director of Athletics" oversee the "rite of passage" for thousands of young adults. The campus activities, social experiences, residences and "academic" lifestyle create life-long memories, friendships and character-defining breakthroughs. Liberal arts courses serve this model effectively.
  3. From tutelage by professional professors to utilization of certification testing facilities: College diplomas are very poor predictors of job performance for designers, lawyers, legislators, managers, doctors, social workers, and a whole host of other professionals. Assessment of competencies has evolved dramatically in the past decade while learners have gained confidence in informal and self-directed modes of skill acquisition. Life long learning is becoming necessitated by the prevalence of new technologies, disruptive innovations and repeated career changes.
  4. From college dropouts to instigators of the next economy: Those stigmatized failures to complete accredited degree programs demonstrate the right stuff to launch a new economy. Their "unproductive time wasted" has been invested in emerging markets for the transformation of our planet at the local level. The 65- 72% of adults without college degrees can provide us with solutions that cannot be offered by industrialized democracies.

Being an outsider to higher ed at this point in my life, each of these migrations can show up on my radar. I am not consumed with insider workload pressures, premises or expectations. Yet having been an insider to higher ed during three phases of my quixotic life journey, I can empathize with how these migrations can appear inconceivable, unrealistic and irrelevant within the walls of academic institutions. As I explore these migrations this week, I intend to examine them from both of these perspectives.

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