Clayton Christensen, author of ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’, 1952-2020

Gordon B. Johnson

Clayton Christensen, the management thinker who conceived and developed the thought of “disruptive innovation” and motivated generations of business enterprise pupils and entrepreneurs, has died, aged sixty seven. Universally recognised as “Clay”, he passed away on Thursday as a end result of complications from leukaemia. Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard […]

Clayton Christensen, the management thinker who conceived and developed the thought of “disruptive innovation” and motivated generations of business enterprise pupils and entrepreneurs, has died, aged sixty seven. Universally recognised as “Clay”, he passed away on Thursday as a end result of complications from leukaemia.

Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Organization School, where Christensen experienced taught because 1992, paid tribute to his “brilliance and kindness”.

Roger Martin, previous dean of Rotman School of Management and a friend of Christensen, explained to the Economic Situations, he was “unfailingly enjoyable, form and generous to anyone, and that did not improve as he grew to become a lot more famous”.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a further Harvard colleague, paid tribute on Twitter to a “big thinker [and] very good colleague”, crafting “sadly, loss of life is the supreme disrupter”.

Christensen was ideal recognised for the tips he laid out in his seminal guide The Innovator’s Predicament, posted in 1997, which explained how incumbents who neglected the lessen finish of their market place could be disrupted by new and progressive merchandise. One particular main case in point was how “mini-mills” sprang up to challenge standard metal companies.

This central thought — including the recommendation that companies ought to disrupt by themselves to escape the destiny of complacent incumbents — influenced Silicon Valley’s innovators. Among admirers of his function were Andy Grove of Intel and Steve Work of Apple. Entrepreneur Steve Blank tweeted on Friday: “We all stood on [Christensen’s] shoulders. Right now we lost a large. RIP.”

The destiny of big companies these as Eastman Kodak, swept away by the 1st round of digital disruption at the turn of the century, appeared to add further more body weight to the theory. But it also encouraged imitators to extend, distort and exaggerate the ability of disruptive innovation, pursuing inventive destruction for its very own sake, in means that manufactured Christensen himself not comfortable.

Christensen’s thought does not hold for all circumstances. Dependent on the theory, he initially assumed Apple’s Iphone, a highly profitable substantial-finish innovation, would fail, for occasion. He attempted to admit effectively-started objections by evolving his thought in subsequent books and article content, to the irritation of critics.

He was wounded, having said that, when Jill Lepore launched an assault on the central thought and its effects in The New Yorker in 2014. Characteristically, he attempted to draw lessons from her critique. “It served me realise that, Clay, you never have to be apprehensive if you did not get a little something proper since it just offers you an chance to increase the thought,” he explained to the Economic Situations in 2016.

Christensen was struck by how numerous Harvard MBA contemporaries grew to become mired in unethical tactics, divorce and discontent

Born in 1952 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Christensen was a devout Mormon who grew to become a distinguished chief in his church — in all respects: at 6ft 8in, he towered over most persons. He analyzed economics as an undergraduate at Brigham Youthful College and used econometrics at Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar. But he wore his leadership and his intellectual ability flippantly and with an innate modesty.

Christensen was a gifted and sought-soon after teacher on Harvard’s MBA and government education and learning programmes, but contrary to some distinguished academics, he chosen not to preach. He appreciated exchanging tips as much as, if not a lot more than, imparting them. In spite of bouts of severe disease over the past ten years, including a coronary heart assault, stroke and most cancers, he ongoing to deliver new books — including about the organisation of the healthcare sector he arrived to know at 1st hand — served by a devoted staff. In 2013, he explained his collaborators as “a group of persons who are not certain by tradition but really are in pursuit of truth [about] the processes of management”.

His final guide, The Prosperity Paradox, about how to use innovation to combat world-wide poverty, was posted a yr back.

In his tribute to Christensen, Prof Nohria talked of “Clay’s amazing passion to aid anyone uncover that means and contentment in their life and careers”. This was most obvious in his 2012 guide How Will You Evaluate Your Life?. Written with James Allworth and Karen Dillon, it constructed on a discuss that Christensen utilised to give to pupils at the finish of their MBA system, about how to control their life and professions. He experienced been struck by how numerous Harvard MBA contemporaries, including Enron’s disgraced chief government Jeff Skilling, grew to become mired in unethical tactics, divorce and discontent. In accordance to Prof Martin, if questioned about how to dwell lifestyle, “though he would have under no circumstances mentioned it, [Christensen] would have been justified in answering ‘like me’”.

In spite of his afterwards health and fitness setbacks, Christensen ongoing to exude an quick-going charm and very good humour, as effectively as a silent delight in his relatives. He is survived by his spouse Christine, and small children Matthew, Ann, Michael, Spencer and Kate.

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