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Clayton Christensen’s Legacy

 By Shlomo Maital

Clayton Christensen

   Harvard School of Business Professor Clayton Christensen passed away last week. He died of cancer.

   Christensen’s main legacy – what he is widely known for – is the concept of disruptive innovation – innovative ideas that totally change the nature of an industry or market. This, of course, is precisely what startups do, and it took Christensen to show us a road map for effective disruption.

   But I will remember Christensen, who was a deeply religious Christian, for his 2010 article, “How will you measure your life?”.[1] 

   Why? Because so few young people even bother to ask that question, and Christensen threw a spotlight on the question, while his students still had time to shape their career paths in its light.

   “On the last day of class”, Christensen wrote in the article, “I ask my students to…find cogent answers to three questions.

* First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

* Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

* Third, how can I be sure I will stay out of jail?”

     In short, career, family, ethics.   I would change the order. I would put the ‘relationships’ or ‘family’ question first. A career of disruption, in startups, necessarily takes a heavy toll on family life, and young people must be aware of this from the start, if they choose this path. When my friend David “Dadi” Perlmutter (former #2 in Intel worldwide) spoke to entrepreneurship students at Technion, he shared 10 lessons with them – and the first was about family.

   And going to jail? It is not a facetious or cynical question, Christensen insists. Two members of his Harvard class went to jail.

     For CEO’s who radiate arrogance, Christensen counsels, “Remember the importance of humility”. And for radical bottom-liners, “Choose the right yardstick”. Also: “Create a culture” – no, not corporate culture. Family culture. “Children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.” This is wonderful advice!

     And – most important – Allocate your resources. “Your decision about allocating your personal time, energy and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy”.

   I wish I had read that decades earlier. After taking early retirement, I simply stopped going to meetings or committees. A vast waste of time. I should have done that years ago.

[1] Harvard Business Review, July – August 2010.

Big Disrupters of 2014

By Shlomo Maital  


Disruptive technology is technology that completely changes the ‘game’ for established players in an industry – changes the nature of business, products, services, marketing or other key aspects of doing business and creating value.  Harvard Business School Prof. Clayton Christensen drew our attention to disrupters many years ago.  Established companies that ignore disrupters do so at their peril.

   Here is  part of the Financial Times list of the major disrupters of 2014.   According to Financial Times reporters, “the range and number of individuals and companies that are upending business models around the world” is on the rise.  … “the disrupters are everywhere”.

  1. Uber: Tim Bradshaw and Murad Ahmed has become “the poster child of Silicon Valley for disruption”; the 5-year-old company revolutionised the taxi business in 230 cities and 51 countries without owning a single car, through its smartphone app.
  2. Alibaba: This online retailer, with $300 b. worth of online sales has transformed retail in China. It is now “snapping up low hanging fruit in overly state regulated markets” for everything. 
  3. Bob Diamond in Africa: He quit Barclays, and has now shown you can make money by inveting in sub-Saharan Africa. He raised $352 m. through an IPO in London in Dec. 2013, and has done deals in Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania. 
  4. Aldi and Lidl: They are disrupting the grocery market around the world, and Aldi is even exploring China.  They have doubled their market share in the UK in the past four years.  Aldi has opened 1,350 stores in the U.S. and aims at 2,000 by 2018. Lidl too will soon invade the U.S. market.
  5. Ford:   Hard to think of Henry Ford’s moribund car company as a disrupter, but the new F-150 pickup truck, with an aluminium body, never used before on a high-volume vehicle, is indeed a disrupter. To do this Ford had to replace arc-welders with new machines to screw, rivet glue and laser panels together.   I remember another disrupter – Subaru, which made aluminium engines in 1973; I bought one, it was great, but was warned it would fail. Soon everyone was using aluminium for engines.
  6. Tesla: last June founder Elon Munk offered to open up its patent book, which is very large, to rivals, “in the spirit of open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology”. This was a clever move, not just PR. Munk wants the big car makers to adopt Tesla technology and boost the market for electric cars. Imagine if other large companies (Intel, IBM, Hitachi, Samsung, Apple) opened THEIR patent books so that everyone could use them free of charge.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital