Clayton Christensen

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Clayton Christensen, Mormon business guru

Clayton Christensen was a U.S. business guru and professor at the Harvard School of Business.

Christensen was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often mistakenly called the Mormon Church. At Harvard Christensen taught a course called "Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise." The concluding lessons deal with successful living, including honesty in business, and happy family life.

Christensen was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952. He faced multiple, usually terminal, health challenges, and seemed to have overcome them. He passed away on January 23, 2020, from a battle with cancer.

He graduated with highest honors in economics from Brigham Young University in 1975. In 1977, he received an M.Phil. in applied econometrics and the economics of less-developed countries from Oxford University where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He received an MBA with High Distinction from the Harvard Business School in 1979, graduating as a George F. Baker Scholar. In 1982-1983 he was a White House fellow, serving as an assistant to U.S. Transportation Secretaries Drew Lewis and Elizabeth Dole. In 1992, he was awarded a DBA from the Harvard Business School, receiving the Best Dissertation Award from the Institute of Management Sciences for his doctoral thesis on technology development in the disk drive industry. He was the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School (Official website).

Christensen served a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ to South Korea (1971-1973), and as a result spoke fluent Korean.

Until his passing, he and his wife, Christine, lived in Belmont, MA. They are the parents of five children. Christensen, in addition to his professional endeavors, served actively in the lay clergy of the Church of Jesus Christ and was active in Boy Scouting for many years.

Christensen was widely sought after as a speaker, adviser, and board member. His research has been applied to national economies, start-up and Fortune 50 companies, as well as to early and late stage investing. He was an adviser for the government of Singapore, and was a board member at India’s Tata Consultancy Services (NYSE: TCS), Franklin Covey (NYSE: FC), W.R. Hambrecht, and Vanu.

Christensen was famous for his concept of "disruptive innovation," the term he has famously used to describe simple technologies that overthrow entire industries. He was a a four-time recipient of the McKinsey Award for the Harvard Business Reviews’s best article. Christensen applied his theory to to business management, education, and health care. One of the world's leading business strategists, Christensen devoted his life's work to understanding why great companies fail. He was later asked to explain why great people fail. He developed a following, not only of people in business, but of all pursuits, seeking to apply his model to virtually every aspect of life, even religion.

Christensen made a name for himself in the late nineties with The Innovator's Dilemma (1997), a book that explains his theory of disruptive innovation—the process through which a simple new product or service upends established industries. Digital photography, mobile phones and online shopping are all examples of disruptive innovations. The prospect of the next disruptive start-up—the next Netflix or iTunes—tends to fill otherwise healthy corporations with dread. Today, many of these new products and processes are now coming from emerging markets, or from individuals exploiting a business climate where barriers to entry in many industries are remarkably low. [1]

The Innovator’s Dilemma received the Global Business Book Award for the Best Business Book of the Year in 1997, was a New York Times bestseller, has been translated into over 10 languages, and is sold in over 25 countries.

In 2009 Craig Hatkoff, a real-estate investor and author, launched the Disruptive Innovation Awards at The Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded. Christensen received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010. Hatkoff and Irwin Kula, a rabbi and intellectual, are working on a book that applies Christensen's theories to religion and spirituality.

Christensen watched many over-achievers over the years over-invest in their careers and under-invest in their families. Christensen said, "the most enduring and deep source of happiness and satisfaction in your lives will come from intimate relationships that you cultivate with the members of your family and with your close friends."

In the spring of 2010, he delivered an unorthodox speech to the graduating class. It dealt with life success in the context of business not being the #1 priority. Karen Dillon, editor of the Harvard Business Review, heard students refer again and again to this address, so she enlisted his help to turn it into an article.

The subsequent piece, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" spread like wildfire on the Web, becoming the most popular HBR article of 2010 in terms of traffic. Business blogs linked to it. David Brooks wrote about it in The New York Times. In the article, Christensen used business school language to communicate his ideas about life, family, and priorities—Create a strategy, allocate your resources, create a culture, avoid the "marginal costs" mistake, remember the importance of humility, choose the right yardstick. [2]

In November 2013 Thinkers50 "measured Harvard professor Clayton Christensen's life over the past two years and named him the world's most influential living management thinker at an Oscars-style event ... in London." [3] Adding to the accolades, a British reporter called him "perhaps the nicest man ever to lecture at Harvard Business School." In accepting the award, Christensen counseled all present to spend more time with their families. At such an auspicious event, one could be surprised that there were no dry eyes in the house. Here were Latter-day Saint values at a business event; such values are so central and universal, they transformed the experience for everyone.

The month before, Christensen questioned four decades of business-school convention wisdom that management's job is to maximize profits, according to an story. That leads to "efficiency innovations" that burnish a company's bottom line, he said, at the cost of the greater long-term benefits to the economy of "empowering innovations." (Think research and development.)
The loss of empowering innovations in the American economy over the past few decades at the expense of efficiency innovations could have dire consequences.
"If you want to know what the future of America looks like, just look at Japan," he said. "You can feel the same thing happen in the United States, and I worry a lot about that."
The biennial Thinkers50 awards debuted in 2001, and Christensen made the top 50 every time. He reached No. 1 in 2011; the only others to win top honors twice are management legends Peter Drucker and CK Prahalad. Christensen was positioned in the No. 2 spot in 2015.
In 2011, six months before Thinkers50 ranked Christensen No. 1 for the first time, Forbes called him "one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years" in a lengthy cover story. He ranked at the top of the list in 2013, second in 2015, and third in the 2017 Thinkers50 list.
His website,, includes a prominent section, "Why I Belong and Why I Believe," about his personal faith and his commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other Books by Clayton Christensen

  • Disrupting Class — which looks at the root causes of why schools struggle and offers solutions was named one of the "10 Best Innovation and Design Books in 2008” by Business Week and the best Human Capital book of the year in the Strategy + Business Best Books of 2008.
  • Prescription (2009) — examines how to fix the problems facing healthcare. So as to further examine and apply his frameworks to the social sector, Christensen founded Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank, in 2008.

Further Reading