Commentary

Clayton Christensen, Who Disrupted Conventional Thinking, Dies At 67

Clayton M. Christensen, a so-so entrepreneur and management consultant turned Harvard Business School professor who wrote the groundbreaking book “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail,” died Thursday in Boston of complications from leukemia. He was 67. 

Christensen “first coined the idea of disruptive innovation in a 1995 Harvard Business Review paper co-written with Harvard professor Joseph Bower. The concept, further distilled in Christensen’s 1997 book … and subsequent works, might appear simple now: that new, cheaper and seemingly inferior ideas in business and technology have potential to create entirely new markets that revolutionize and overturn the status quo,” write  Tony Semerad and Peggy Fletcher Stack for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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“But Christensen’s clear and accessible scholarship on the theory over two decades, rooted in research on real-world examples, is said to have helped make disruptive innovation among the most influential business concepts of the early 21st century,” they add.

“Soon after the book was published, Intel CEO Andy Grove stood up with a copy of the book at Comdex in Las Vegas and declared it the most important book he’d read in a decade. The two men appeared together on the cover of Forbes magazine in 1999 -- and both Christensen and the business world were changed forever,” Tad Walch writes  for the Deseret News.

“A former all-state basketball player and local leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dr. Christensen was perhaps an unlikely Ivy League academic. Raised in poverty on the west side of Salt Lake City, he demonstrated a somewhat extreme brand of thriftiness, saving tray liners from fast-food restaurants and driving the same Chevy Nova for years, even though his 6-foot-8 frame left him pressed against the ceiling,” Harrison Smith writes for the The Washington Post.

“He had previously worked as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and co-founded an advanced materials company before joining the Harvard faculty in 1992, deciding he was better suited as an analyst than as an executive,” Smith adds.

“As a consultant and professor, Dr. Christensen saw his role as telling people how to think rather than what to do. He urged students to look beyond profit margins and near-term results,” James R. Hagerty writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“‘More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies,’ he wrote. ‘That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people,’” Hagerty adds.

“He enjoyed exchanging ideas as much as, if not more than, imparting them. Despite bouts of serious illness over the past decade, including a heart attack, stroke and cancer, he continued to produce new books -- including about the organization of the healthcare industry he came to know at first hand -- helped by a devoted team. In 2013, he described his collaborators as ‘a group of people who aren’t bound by tradition but really are in pursuit of truth [about] the processes of management.’ 

“His last book, “The Prosperity Paradox,” about how to use innovation to fight global poverty, was published a year ago,” Hill adds.

Christiansen lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, with his wife Christine, three sons and two daughters. His family tweeted a message about his life along with details about forthcoming funeral and memorial services on his timeline yesterday.

“We are grieving but we are also celebrating the legacy of a man who has made an incredible and indelible impact on the worlds of business, of health care, of education, of economic development and beyond.He changed the way people think. He helped them grow. He encouraged them to focus on what is most important: defining and pursuing a meaningful and purposeful life,” it said, in part.

“Once you see the world through Clay’s landmark theories of disruption and innovation, you can’t un-see them. They pervade everything in your life. They are the lenses through which I think about everything I see in the world -- so much so that at this point, much of my writing and speaking voice is in many ways inseparable from that of Clay’s. It’s just who I am,” writes  his “mentor, friend, coauthor and cofounder” Michael B. Horn in Harvard Business Review.

1 comment about "Clayton Christensen, Who Disrupted Conventional Thinking, Dies At 67".
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  1. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, January 27, 2020 at 1:07 p.m.

    Thanks, Thom. I had never heard of him.

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