World War 1 began just over 100 years ago.  It is worthy of study for many reasons.  Hardcore History Podcast author Dan Carlin suggests that the assassination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, which precipitated the war, represents one of the most influential events in modern history.

The failed resolution of that world war created the framework for the next. The war also provides to us many illustrations of the abject failure of people to respond to innovative disruptions.

Germans in Lowicz

At the beginning of the war,  there were still people convinced of the use of horse cavalry as an effective attacking force in 1914.  Certainly cavalry had usefulness due to its mobility advantage and the lack of automobiles during this time, but several conflicts since the early 1800’s had revealed the disastrous effects of modern military technology on the mass cavalry charge.  Many cavalry units still carried spears and swords just like cavalry units had been armed for centuries.


Another tactic that was no longer effective was the infantry charge against a fortified position.   The disruptive innovation of constructing elaborate trenches and defending them with machine guns rendered this tactic obsolete yet it was repeated over and over throughout the war.  In one of the earliest engagements of the war, during the Battle of the Frontiers,  the French army suffered 27,000 dead in a single day.  Over 329,000 French soldiers were killed, wounded or captured in the first 30 days of World War 1 as a result of their leader’s commitment to a now ineffective offensive strategy.  Yet, despite many other examples of these incredible losses, both sides were slow to adapt to these disruptive technologies and tactics that had now changed warfare.

Machine Gun World War 1-Jager Battaliaon n. 12 hoosiermarine

There was plenty of evidence that old ideas were no longer working.  Battlefield reports of failure and first hand observations were dismissed because they were not supportive of long-held beliefs about combat.  The leaders would not and in some cases could not react to the new reality of warfare despite sufficient data suggesting new approaches were needed.

Blockbuster video

The rise and fall of Blockbuster video is another more recent example of an organization failing to properly embrace disruption.  The company began in 1985 in Dallas, Texas and eventually became a Five Billion dollar company before declaring bankruptcy and shuttering operations in the United States in 2013. There are other reasons for Blockbuster’s failure, but certainly the too long commitment to the business model of the neighborhood brick and mortar video store contributed to its demise.  Online video, on-demand movies, and DVD subscription based services that eliminated onerous late fees had completely changed the industry.  Simply put, Blockbuster’s customers no longer wanted to rent and buy videos in the way Blockbuster wanted to offer them.

Most of us are not just slow to adapt to a new disruption but actively resistant.  We are good at teaching others old things that we already know but often fail to absorb lessons from new learning ourselves. We refuse to recognize that rules have changed.

What rules have changed in education?  What are you resisting learning because it is not aligned with your past experience? What new disruptions (or micro-disruptions) are you refusing to embrace?