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Renowned academic, author and businessman Clayton Christensen dies at 67

Renowned academic, author and businessman Clayton Christensen dies at 67

(Laura Seitz, KSL)



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SALT LAKE CITY — As Clayton Christensen drove to work early one morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he had a feeling that something important was about to happen to him.

In fact, this feeling told him he’d be given a much more consequential business opportunity than his current work as a professor at Harvard University.

Not long after, someone in a position of importance announced he was leaving the institution where Christensen worked, and Christensen “put two and two together,” the popular professor said to laughs from the audience who had gathered to hear his Tedx talk.

When the day came to announce the man’s replacement, however, they chose someone else. Christensen was confused. Why had he felt the position was meant for him?

"I wrestled with, 'How will they measure Clay Christensen’s life? If they’re going to not make me a leader of a large institution, how do I know my life has been worth living?'" he said during the 2012 talk, which he gave shortly after publishing his book "How Will I Measure My Life?"

On Thursday, the renowned academic, business consultant, religious leader and author died at 67 Thursday evening of complications from cancer treatment in Boston, Massachusetts, according to the Deseret News.

So, "how will they measure Clay Christensen’s life?"

Christensen certainly had a long list of accomplishments. The Salt-Lake born Harvard professor was considered one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth and one of the most influential business thinkers in the world.

His first and seminal work, "The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fall," has inspired thousands, including the likes of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings.

The book has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century and essentially coined "disruptive innovation" — a phrase that has since gone on to take life beyond what Christensen intended.

For Christensen, disruptive innovation is an idea or invention that creates a new market or network that eventually disrupts an existing market or network. This innovation then eventually displaces established, market-leading firms, companies or products.

While the phrase is now a catch-all term for techies trying to market their product, Christensen had higher standards for the phrase. Not all innovations are disruptive, even if they’re revolutionary, his theories claimed.

Christensen has since written several other books that speak to this idea of disruptive innovation, several of which tackle the world’s most complex problems from healthcare to education. The Christensen Institute is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to improving the world through research on the topic.

Before his death, Christensen also worked as a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School where he initially earned an MBA and a Doctor of Business Administration. Christensen also earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Brigham Young University and a Masters of econometrics from Oxford University.

Before he became a professor, however, he worked as a management consultant with a Boston consulting group and co-founded Ceramics Process Systems, an advanced materials company. He’s established a slew of other enterprises, including innovation consulting firm Innosight and investment firm Rose Park Advisors, named after his birthplace in Salt Lake.

And though Christensen's list of accomplishments is a venerable one, the answer to his question "How will they measure Clay Christensen’s life?" doesn’t necessarily deal with the material nature of any of them.

After a cerebral but concerted wrestle, Christensen concluded that God does not measure success hierarchically, as finite-minded humans do. What matters to God (and what should matter to each person, whether or not they believe in God), is how they use their circumstances and their talents to help and bless those around them, he said on that afternoon in 2012.

He is survived by his family, "the deepest source of happiness" in his life: his wife, Christine, and his five children: Matthew, Michael, Spencer, Ann and Catherine.

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