I Will Miss Clayton Christensen

A Great Man left us on January 23, 2020. Clayton Christensen focused on choosing character traits with his life and stories, over and over again. His life’s mission was being a representative of Christ and improving the lives of those who he came into contact with. He battled the trifecta in the last ten years: heart attack, stroke and then cancer. He was a member of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a professor at Harvard Business School and a sought after consultant. He wrote a famous book called The Innovators Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail and became a global thought leader on disruption in companies. Clayton Christensen changed the way people thought about managing: a smart manager doing all the right things can still fail if she ignores the low-end disruptors of her industry. I admired that he talked to his students at the Harvard Business School about the meaning of their lives and how to raise their children. One quote Clayton Christensen said when talking about how as our prosperity rises, we outsource jobs that children used to do, is this:

“These practical skills are being lost as we now pay others to do them, and then need two incomes to pay others.”

He also stressed how important family was to his students:

 ‘He had seen many people tell themselves that they could divide their lives into stages, spending the first part pushing forward their careers, and imagining that at some future point they would spend time with their families—only to find that by then their families were gone. Christensen had made a pledge to God not to work on Sundays, and a pledge to his family not to work on Saturdays and to be home during the week early enough for dinner and to play ball with the kids while it was still light. Sometimes, in order to keep these commitments, he would go to work at three in the morning.”

I posted here where Clayton Christensen is quoted by saying of all these gains on the home front where it is cheaper to buy clothes than make them and who has time to can tomatoes anymore, we as parents outsource jobs that our children used to do and as a result, he said,

“On the one hand, outsourcing work can feel liberating. Maybe it even means, as the data suggests, that many parents are spending more time with their children than the previous generation. But my research in the world of business suggests that outsourcing can cost you in the long run. When companies just outsource more and more and more of the work that they have to do, ultimately they have no ability to do anything.”

Clayton Christensen started to ask his students that were graduating to search, ponder and measure using three questions about their lives after Harvard. He gave a commencement speech that turned into a book: How Will You Measure Your Life?
1. How can I be sure that I will be successful and happy in my career?
2. How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse, my children and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
3. How can I be sure that I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail? (Enron’s Jeff Skilling was in Christensen’s class at Harvard.)

“He worried most of all about his students’ integrity. He told them about Jeff Skilling, but the thought of prison was so extreme he could see that most of them dismissed it. They didn’t seem to realize how easy it was for a good person (and he believed that almost everyone started out good; Mormons don’t believe in original sin) to make one tiny, unimportant compromise after another, until he was too compromised to find an honest way back. He told them about how at Oxford he had refused to play basketball on a Sunday, even though it was the national championships, because he had promised God he wouldn’t; and how much pressure his coach and teammates had put on him to compromise just that one time. Later, he realized that if he had said yes that time he would have had no standing to say no another time, and what he learned—one of the most important lessons of his life—was that it was easier to do the right thing a hundred per cent of the time than ninety-eight per cent of the time.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying:

“When I pass on and have my interview with God, he is not going to say, ‘Oh my gosh, Clay Christensen, you were a famous professor at H.B.S.,’” Dr. Christensen told the Journal in a 2016 interview. “He’s going to say…‘Can we just talk about the individual people you helped become better people?…Can we talk about what you did to help [your children] become wonderful people?’”

Kobe Bryant’s death came four days later. Another man who affected many lives in a profound, positive way. All the more reason for us to say, “How will we measure our lives?”

3 thoughts on “I Will Miss Clayton Christensen

  1. Thank you for paying tribute to such a good man! I have long been an admirer of his and have everyone of his books in my collection. He lived a disruptive (peculiar) life and encouraged everyone who would listen to do the same. Thank you, Suki! (Btw.. are you related? )


  2. Pingback: Clayton Christensen's Harvard Commencement Speech – "Peace Like A River…"

  3. Pingback: The Gap and The Gain – "Peace Like A River…"

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