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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.

How to Be a Good Person In Two Difficult Stages

  By Shlomo Maital

Amos Oz

    American writer and humorist James Thurber once observed, in a serious moment: It’s more important to know some of the questions than to know all the answers.

    And years later, Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman observed, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

   So, here is a question that is hard to answer – maybe even, one that can’t be answered.

   How can I be a good person? A better person?

     One of my big disappointments (of many) with business schools, is that they teach people how to be good managers, bottom-line driven, and not how to be good persons too.   The results are often disastrous (take, for instance, Oxycontin and Purdue Pharma).

   So, from the vantage point of my grey hair and over seven decades on this earth, here is my ‘take’ on the title question. And my answer, for certain, can and must be severely questioned.

     Becoming a good, and better, person, is a two-stage process.

   Stage One, or Grade One. Follow what the late author Amos Oz once said:   ‘We can fold all the moral imperatives, the Ten Commandments, and the human virtues, into a single commandment: Thou shalt not inflict pain. That is all. Do not hurt.’

   Cause no pain. This is the Ten Commandments folded into one. Oz died last December. He wrote many wonderful books and should have won a Nobel Prize. In her eulogy his daughter Fania Oz-Sulzberger quoted his ‘cause no pain’ words.  

   It’s hard to complete Grade One successfully. It’s complicated. What if, sometimes, you need to cause pain, to prevent more pain later? As doctors and surgeons may do?

   So, let’s say you pass Grade One. What is Grade Two?

   It is the core principle of startup entrepreneurship.

   Make meaning. How? Create value. Make people happy. Or more broadly:   Make people happier, smarter, healthier, wiser, more secure….

   Make people happy. Don’t just cause no pain. Cause happiness. Actively.

   And that idea too is complex. Make people happy – how? In any way? Do I lie to them, when truth would cause pain?

   Being a good person is really hard.   But I’ve found, probably way too late in life, that if you avoid hurting people and actively find small ways daily to make people happy – you yourself find a great deal of happiness and meaning in life.

     Now, why didn’t I figure that out sooner?


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital