There is a professor at the Harvard Business School, Clayton Christensen, who is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth, and he’s coined a term called Disruptive Innovation. In highly simplified terms, it describes the introduction of some very simple idea or product that can transform an existing situation from the ground up.

What happens when you take that kind of principle and apply it to education? Some of our students have been exploring just that. The notion is to move people out of what has now become a memorized routine just long enough to laugh, smile, appreciate something, ask a question, or introduce a new idea. This kind of disruption encourages creativity, allows for the expression of gratitude, brings an awareness of change, and an ability to make new connections.

Earlier this spring, one of CA’s student clubs staged a disruptive innovation in the hallways of the Upper School. Students in the World Dance Club wrote a series of tasks or movements on a stack of notecards. Those who wanted to participate were told to meet right after lunch at the entrance of the Upper School. Each participant was given a note card and told to “Act out what is on the card for five minutes, until the bell rings.” And so the chaos began.


It is similar to the idea of a “smart mob” (or flashmob) where a group of people assembles suddenly in a public place, perform an act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, or artistic expression.


“The reactions ranged from being completely unaware to complete befuddlement,” says participant and student Paige Klump. She says, “My card read, ‘Fly down the hall squawking like a bird, return, and listen to the guitar for 30 seconds, repeat.’ So I did. Others were playing a fake Ping-Pong game, dancing, and more…I heard those students who weren’t participating ask what was happening. It piqued the interest of a lot of students, and it got us thinking about what other types of academic or social assignments could make a similar point using the same principle of distractive education.”

CA’s Student Philanthropy Board employed the same idea to get students to think about the idea of access to education. For just a few minutes and without students’ advance knowledge, teachers staged a setting that others without the same access to education might face: a classroom with no chairs or technology, an assignment that included copying things from a chalk board, and only one piece of paper. The messages were that a meaningful education and compassionate teachers are not givens; indeed, many people’s access to a quality education is compromised in any or all of these ways.

It is similar to the idea of a “smart mob” (or flashmob) where a group of people assembles suddenly in a public place, perform an act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, or artistic expression. Online, one can see this phenomenon play out in many, usually-comic ways, such as the way the group “Improv Everywhere” performs scenes from movies on subway trains or in other public places.

The cast of CA’s Upper School play, the Mystery of Edwin Drood took the idea further and acted out scenes of the play in the middle of lunch to generate interest in the production. Magazine editor Bill Wasik, who is credited with “creating” one of the first flashmobs in New York
in 2003, claimed they were “a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity.” If you are on campus at CA, watch for the next disruptive innovation coming your way.

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