I felt inspired to write this article after researching Disruptive Marketing and Learning Organisations: Boy! What an interesting subject choice. It ties in neatly with an interesting talk I listened to by Sir Ken Robinson (Ted Talks) called “How Schools Kill Creativity”.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s magazine, The Marketer, dedicated a spread to Disruptive Brands in its November 2014 publication. A disruptive brand is a brand that brings about a change in consumer behaviour; “One that displaces an existing market, industry and technology and produces something new and more efficient.” (The Marketer p7, 2014).

A good example of a disruptive brand is Nestlé who through continuous learning and experimenting, researched and applied the ‘Razor and Blade’ business model to its coffee division and created Nestlé Nespresso in 1986. It is disruptive because it took a large share of the coffee machine market, both domestic and commercial. The brand Nespresso is now present in 60 countries, employs 9500 people and has 320 boutiques worldwide.

An example of an undisruptive brand is Kodak: Kodak did not invest in continuous learning and innovation and it was unfortunately replaced by brands that embraced the opportunities of the digital age. Kodak does still exist but is a shadow of its former self.

If you don’t want to do a Kodak then read on …

Learning Organisations (LOs)

Disruptive brands are often created by Learning Organisations (LOs) which are “organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.” (Senge PM, 1990 via http://infed.org). Senge identified five disciplines to becoming a LO, one being “Mental Models” which are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action” (Senge P, 2006, p 8). In order for an organisation to become a LO, it must challenge the way it has previously understood the world. Mental models must be continually scrutinised and challenged so businesses can be ready to respond to threats and exploit opportunities in the most effective way possible.

Disruption in education

Unfortunately, our school children are still being educated to do the opposite: students who scrutinise school policies are generally considered to be disruptive in the negative sense and maybe labelled as ADHD. Challenging the norms still goes against the culture in many schools. After a recent discussion with a parent, the words ‘disruptive’ and ‘mistakes’ formed a common thread throughout her childrens’ reports. Therefore, her children may grow up believing that mistakes are a sign of failure when in fact some mistakes may help her children grow creatively. Education prescribes a one-size-fits-all approach, rather than a nurturing approach so students not gifted at arithmetic or literacy can often be forgotten.

Schools and colleges have introduced business studies into their curriculum, however, I recently mentored 15 year old business students and the word ‘disruption’ was used in classes and is still considered a negative word. How can the word disruptive be so positive in business and so negative in education?  Especially when “Disruptive Technologies” was introduced 20 years ago in a Harvard Business Review article called “Disruptive Technologies – Catching the Wave”. The education system needs to become flexible and learn to have an external focus.

Nurturing innovative culture

I would recommend that tutors learn about the characteristics of an innovative culture so they can ensure creativity and innovation become integrated into school culture. Only then will these creative culture characteristics, which children are born with,  become habit and help children develop life skills, improving their chance of succeeding in life as well as being part of global success. Students should be encouraged to channel negative disruptive behaviour into innovative ideas and that can only be done if the education system as an entity becomes a flexible Learning Organisation.

It does not make sense that we are born with the skills to be innovative, then the education system spends millions working against mother nature only for us to have to relearn this skill again once we leave school. Wouldn’t it be simpler and more cost effective if innovation was nurtured from a young age and demonstrating that disruption can be a good thing.

Mistakes at work

Referring back to our LO gurus, Peter Senge and Reg Revans who both state that in order to become flexible, an organisation must be open to risk and encourage mistakes to become innovative. So why are our school-leavers frightened of being wrong and thinking that mistakes are worst thing they can make?

Many businesses measure mistakes and scald staff which creates a blame culture and inhibits loyalty. It’s not really surprising because for years our education system has also brainwashed business leaders into thinking mistakes are evil and a sign of failure. In an innovative culture, leaders should ask: “What did we learn from these mistakes”? An example of this is the humble 3M Post-it note. The 3M team was developing a new adhesive which was not strong enough for a certain project. However, a bright spark thought outside the box and 17 billion dollars later, 3M are enjoying that mistake. This should be taught at schools.

Back to school

We need to close the gap between the fear of failure and the learning-doing culture required for learning organisations. Then we have a chance to close the gap between the rich and poor. Many of the thriving entrepreneurs seem to be the ones that took a risk and escaped the education system before creativity and disruption was sucked out of them.

If students were educated to be positively disruptive there would be more entrepreneurs, the gap between rich and poor would lessen because there would be more successful businesses. I would suggest that a new way of teaching needs to disrupt the current education system so we can generate a country of innovative school leavers rather than a lucky few.