I finally got around to reading through a great report jointly published by the Center for American Progress and the Innosight Institute. Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education was published in February of last year and was authored by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn, Louis Caldera and Louis Soares. For those of you that enjoy anything written by Clayton Christensen and team, this is a must read and addresses an important topic. However, I do believe the report glosses over a key job that colleges and universities are hired to perform. That job is to provide an environment where students gain wisdom through the college experience,  a critical piece to the transformation to adulthood. It is far from clear how that job is or will be disrupted. However, if and when an enabling technology begins addressing that job even feebly, the pace of disruption will accelerate tremendously and all but the most prestigious colleges and universities will be overwhelmed.  

Disrupting College Report by Christensen et al
The Disrupting College Report was published in February of 2011.

I read an interesting article about Mobile Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Technology on the LiDAR News website today.  It was written by Ted Knaak of Certainty 3D.  It is Ted’s perspective that adoption of mobile LiDAR scanning technology by transportation agencies is driven more by organizational issues rather than the hardware and software.  I share that perspective wholeheartedly.  He draws some valid conclusions and makes instructive recommendations to improve the rate of adoption.  I think Ted’s on the right track here in many respects, but I believe there are a couple fundamental perspectives to bring to bear that would improve understanding and might open the door to additional strategies to gain market traction.   

The article cites the tremendous improvements in efficiency that appear to be enabled by LiDAR surveying technology:  a 10x improvement in the number of scans that can be completed in a day, 80% reduction in required field time, a half-million data points per second at speeds of 45-50 mph for ground-mobile units, and even more staggering numbers for airborne systems.  However, despite these impressive performance numbers, transportation infrastructure projects have been resistant to widespread adoption of the technology. 

Ted had an informative discussion with a state surveyor from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).  The perspectives expressed by the FDOT surveyor were tremendously valuable and drove Ted to consider a much broader view of the customer’s ecosystem.  I will get to Ted’s recommendations in a moment, but first a sidebar. 

Any time someone mentions ‘disruptive technology’ I immediately re-register the numerous wisdom nuggets that come from Clayton Christensen’s seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma and its more instructional sequel The Innovator’s Solution.  Of particular relevance here is Christensen’s mantra to focus on the circumstance and the job to be done rather than the customer.  What exactly is the job to be done? Are you helping the customer do their job better?  Are you factoring the entirety of the job?  Are you asking the customer to change their job? 

The last of these questions is a doozy.  In many cases, and quite often it seems where LiDAR technology is involved, the customer is being asked to change their job in significant ways.  From personal experience, this is a huge challenge, especially with governmental organizations.  As Pip Coburn’s The Change Function articulates, those customers will only act when the pain of adoption is less than the level of their crisis.  Companies with emerging technology products, no matter how stellar their performance metrics, must focus relentlessly on minimizing the pain of adoption while being leery of circumstances where the customer’s sense of urgency is limited.