Oct 2019

What Real Change Looks Like

Experts offer three guiding principles of innovation

By Goldie Blumenstyk

A new Chronicle Intelligence report, “The Innovation Imperative: The Buzz, the Barriers, and What Real Change Looks Like,” goes beyond the hype to take a look at real work and progress around innovation, as well as the barriers that can make change so difficult to achieve. The following excerpt, by Goldie Blumenstyk, describes this landscape. To purchase the full report and other Chronicle Intelligence products, go to

Whether you’re energized, skeptical, or a bit of both, there’s no denying that the innovation imperative has become an animating force in college leadership since the 2000s, and especially in the wake of the Great Recession. More than a talking point and a conference theme, it is now a currency of its own, a standard by which institutions and presidents are judged and even ranked.

1) Lingo can be counterproductive.

When Christensen applied the “disruptive innovation” theory to colleges, the goal was to signal the potential for traditional higher education to be upended, says Michael B. Horn, a consultant and co-founder of the Christensen Institute. “If it were just called ‘primitive improvement that causes change,’” he says, “I don’t think that it would capture attention.”


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