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Clayton Christensen, a great person and a great teacher

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 26, 2020  |  Comments Off on Clayton Christensen, a great person and a great teacher

Recently we lost a humble giant of strategy, executive education and good people. The Wall Street Journal on Saturday featured an obituary for Clayton Christensen.  I had the honor of meeting him and working with him very briefly a few years back.  That experience and reading his books has had a profound impact on my life as a person and a professional.  I think that is important to remember and pay tribute to those kind of people.

The world will recognize Clayton Christensen for his work on disruptive innovation and the Innovator’s Dilemma series of books.  These books and ideas shape the way modern technology intensive business thinks about itself, its strategies and actions.  I hope that he is recognized for that work to the same extent that Coarse and others, for that is the recognition he has earned academically.

But Christensen was so much more than an academic.

Clayton Christensen was an accomplished business leader and value creator. I engaged Christensen to speak to a group of CIO’s at a Gartner EXP CIO forum a few years back.  In meeting him he reminded me to introduce himself as a business person before he became an academic.  The request was not boastful, but a way of making a deeper connection to the people he was going to talk with and teach later in the day.

Clayton Christensen touched more than just business strategy.  When he fell ill, he used his first hand experience with the health system to illustrate and advocate for reform.  The resulting book The Innovators Prescription, contributed to the movement toward more patient-centric healthcare.  It is a fascinating first person account of the health system from one of the smartest and most thoughtful of its patients.

Christensen was a generous collaborator.  You can tell from the varied co-authors in his books.  Uniquely in the world of business guru’s, he worked with others, encouraged them to contribute.  He lent his brand and mind to build up people rather than burnish his image or brand.  I am sure that those collaborators and coauthors feel the empty space his passing has created.

Above it all, Clayton Christensen was a profoundly thoughtful and giving person.  How Will You Measure Your Life? is a book that everyone should read, not just business people.  I know that it has brought reflection and change in my life.  The book is more than a “last lecture”, rather it is a discussion about what it means to be human and ways you should think about your life, priorities and accomplishments.  Its not a self-help book, but the application of Clayton Christensen’s intellect and his humanity to provide advice on thinking about who you are and what you are doing.  If you read only one of his works, this is the one that is a must read.

Clayton Christensen was a genuine and good person.  One who not only acted with integrity, but also engaged people with a gentle, humble and self-effacing charm.  I am a better person for meeting him, reading his works and incorporating his ideas into my personal and professional life.  Sadly the opportunity to meet him in person has passed, but you can still get to know him from his works.

If touching the hearts and minds of strangers in a positive way is a sign of a great person, then Clayton Christensen is among the great people one could ever have hoped to meet.

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Category: leadership  management  personal-observation  strategy  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.






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