By Jorge Manuel Zelaya Fajardo
January 29th, 2020
Clayton Magleby Christensen was a distinguished American academic and consultant who died a week ago at the age of 67 from cancer complications. I never had the opportunity to meet him personally, which is a real shame because I think I would have enjoyed receiving a class with him. However, I met him through his books and his lectures, his interviews and his writings. Christensen was that kind of intellectual who has all the qualities of a good human being. His diaphanous clarity and intellectual superiority reached the reader with a real and human sense. His lines were always written to serve the student, reader or manager who read them. His tenure as professor of the Kim B. Clark class of the Harvard Business School was obtained due, among other things, to a high level intellectual background: Bachelor of Economics at Brigham Young University where he won the summa cum laude award , a master's degree in econometrics from the University of Oxford and then a master's degree in business administration from Harvard University with high distinction. It was also there that he obtained his last university degree: the doctorate in business administration. With his academic training, one would expect a completely focused career on teaching; however Christensen was a human being above average. Second of eight children, he was born in the state of Utah in the United States. In his youth he volunteered in Korea where he learned the language, which he spoke with extraordinary mastery. Professionally, he was a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group and General Manager of his own company (CPS Technologies) in the 1980s, then co-founded other companies, including Innosight Ventures and Rose Park Advisors. He also served as a member of the board of directors of various private and non-profit organizations, his participation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter –day Saints, was particularly outstanding in terms of leadership positions.
Clayton Christensen wrote 10 books among which, in my opinion, his masterpiece stands out: The Innovator's Dilemma (where he explains to us with an intellectual and pragmatic basis the concept of Disruptive Innovation). I have decided, with particular emphasis not to explain this concept in these lines with the sole purpose of provoking, in those who do not know it, the fervent desire to find out after reading this essay. The other favorite book of mine is an extraordinary book called How would you measure your life? (Which I find myself reading in this first month of the year)
However, I have decided to write these lines for two main reasons:
The first one to honor the memory of a giant in its field of action (it was literally a giant as it measured 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m)).
The second to share the most important thing I learned from him: The humility of a brilliant professional, who knowing his talent and ability, had no problem in manifesting it openly.
On several occasions he expressed that he had never imagined that Steve Jobs thanked him publicly for the profound influence he had had on him. The same with what happened with Andy Grove, Intel CEO
¨ I never imagined meeting these people, much less helping them in their ventures. ¨ - Christensen said more than once.
Now, from everything learned from Professor Christensen, what stands out in a special way can be read between the lines in the answer to a question asked by Harvard Business Review some years ago:
¨ I taught Andy Grove not WHAT to think, but HOW to think, so he could reach his own conclusions. That event changed the way I teach. I learned a lot from Andy Grove. When we teach our students that they must take into account real data, numbers, statistical facts and analysis (from the past) to make decisions (in the future), we are somehow condemning them to take action when the game is over. The only solution for the future is to HAVE A GOOD THEORY and with the lens of that theory, to test it by executing actions to validate it in a real way. ”
Simply awesome A clear explanation of an undeniable reality. A wise advice for an uncertain future. Like everything great, simple to say, difficult to accomplish.
As a professor, I plead guilty to what Clayton Christensen pointed out. Our data is from a past that not necessarily when projected will give us the expected result in the future. We live in a changing and fast world. However, taking the time to think and reflect on a GOOD THEORY should be the guide for the future. In the execution of that theory, the results will prove us right or wrong. Maybe when the results are not exactly what the theory says, they might come up even better (Serendipity).
Clayton Christensen died of leukemia complications, but his profound humility in teaching us to be better , will remain forever.