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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.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital