Higher Ed and “No Ordinary Disruption”

One book we should be discussing this summer.

June 25, 2015
No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends by Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel.
Published in May of 2015.
This review is an argument for postsecondary leaders and emerging leaders to put No Ordinary Disruption on your summer reading list.
The consultants from the McKinsey Global Institute who wrote this fine book don’t have all that much to say about higher education. That is good, as postsecondary education is not their speciality. You will need to read this book and apply the ideas back your campus and our industry.
The big idea of No Ordinary Disruption will be a familiar one. Winter is coming. Change is occurring in every industry. The shift to a global information economy is 10 times as fast and 300 times the scale as the last major shift, that from an agricultural to an industrial economy. 
Our intuitions about how our industry will change (whatever industry you work in), will be bound by the limits of linear thinking. The biggest risk faced by leadership today, according to the McKinsey guys, is investing only in incremental change.
3 of the forces identified in No Ordinary Disruption have particular relevance to higher ed:
Force #1 -  Urbanization and Growth in Emerging Markets:   
Can you name the world’s biggest cities? Give it a shot, and then go and check this list of population by “cities proper” (a definition that encompasses all those cities run by a single local government).  Maybe you guessed Shanghai (24 million), and Beijing (21.5 million), Seoul 10.3 million), Tokyo (9 million), and New York City (8.5 million). I bet you missed Karachi (23.5 million), Tianjin (14.5 million), Lagos (13.4 million), Guangzhou (12.7 million), Mumbai (12.7 million), Dhaka (12 million), and Shenzen (10.5 million).
Now let me ask you this. Do you know how many students on your campus come from any of these fast growing cities in aspiring countries? What are you doing to market your campus based and online programs in these cities? What programs and degrees are the citizens of these cities looking for? What are the local universities serving these cities?  Is it possible that the real action in postsecondary education in the 21st century might occur in a city that you have never visited, and that you have barely even heard of?
Force #2:  The Accelerating Pace Competition Enabled by Technology Change:
I think that we think that we understand our competitors in higher ed. I also think that there is a chance that we might be wrong.  No Ordinary Disruption demonstrates how incumbents are seldom surpassed by the obvious contenders. It is doubtful that a messaging application like What’sApp was ever on the radar of former powerhouses Blackberry and Nokia.  
If we look beyond the next 10 spots down on the US News rankings, who do we think may be a threat? Who is the non-adjacent competitor that is going to attract our students, take our tuition dollars, and redirect our research funding? Is it possible that the rapid pace of technological change, combined with a series of demographic and economic changes, is creating the conditions for competition that we don’t see coming?  How would our actions on campus change if we were willing to entertain that possibility?
Force #3 - Demographic Shifts:
The leveling off of the high school graduating population is a daily reality if you run an institution of higher learning in the Northeast. (This year the Northeast had about 608,000 high school graduates, a number that is project to decline to 576,00 by 2028. Compare that to the South, where HS graduates will rise from 1.1 million to 1.32 million by 2025). This is a migration and fertility story set in a larger demographic story. By 2030 fully one-in-five people in the US will be 65 or over. Within 30 years the majority of the US population will be nonwhite. This shift to a majority minority population will occur for those 18 and younger by 2020.  Looking even further out, by 2060 two-thirds of all kids will be nonwhite. 
Who is planning for demographic shifts at your institution? If this planning is only taking place in the Admissions Office then you have a problem. In the decentralized university, all of us need to be thinking of how a changing demographic mix will alter how we go about our business. Where will our students of tomorrow come from? Will they have similar backgrounds and experiences as our students of today? How should demographic trends influence how we think about our campuses? Our faculty? Our communications?
No Ordinary Disruption does a great job of illustrating the impact of discontinuous change on a range of businesses and organizations. I hope that we find some way to apply the lessons and stories contained in this book to the challenges that we face today and tomorrow in higher ed.
What are the big think books on your nightstand?
What are you reading?


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