Clayton Christensen passed away last month. I’ve been thinking about that sad news, reflecting on his life and legacy frequently over the last couple of weeks.
What was Christensen’s greatest work, his largest contribution?
Many of us will immediately think about The Innovator’s Dilemma, which has been called the most influential business idea of the 21st century. I love the story of how, limited to ten minutes, Christensen explains his theory of disruption through the story of the steel-mill industry to Andy Grove. Because the theory is distilled so crisply, and because Andy Grove is so brilliant too, Grove is able to grasp it and immediately pivot Intel into an entirely new strategy.
My most recent read of his was Competing Against Luck, which opened my eyes to thinking about products and services much more clearly; customers hire products and services to do jobs for them. If you understand what job customers are hiring you for, you will drive innovation and growth. I won't soon forget the lesson of the milkshake dilemma.
As powerful as both those works are, and he has many others too, to me, his most important legacy is How Will You Measure Your Life? Here he takes the brilliant insights he derived for business and innovation and applies them to our personal lives. What makes Christensen so unique is his ability to sort through complexity and distill it down to a few theories that can be applied across a wide range of situations. As a systems thinker, I fundamentally believe that there are certain underlying principles that guide all human systems. I am enthralled by the way he takes fundamental learnings from business and applies them to our personal lives. It gives me a better understanding about how I can apply his ideas to my life in multiple dimensions.
Looking back on it, I wish I would have paid more attention to it when it was published. But I was too busy climbing the mountain, only to realize I was going over a cliff five years down the road. Fortunately for me, largely due to family and friends that stuck with me and helped me recover, I’ve survived and have come back stronger than ever.
In my last corporate role, I was President and COO of a technology company, making more money than I ever dreamed of, and I was miserable, unhappy and exhausted. Everyone around me recognized it but the one person who could do something about it, me. Stressed out, out of shape, on blood pressure meds, and fueled by coffee, I rarely smiled. I felt alone in the world, although I had lots of people willing to help me, if I would only let them. When you find yourself in this situation, you feel you are alone and unique. Christensen does a great job of explaining how this happens to the best of us, as the addiction to the short term adrenaline rush of problem-solving and the pursuit of more and more of the tangible trappings of success drive us down a path we never intended. I knew better, until I didn’t.
Strategy is not what you say you will do. It’s all about resource allocation – how we actually spend our time, our money and our energy. Most of us are out of balance. We are not effectively allocating our resources to what is most important in our lives. Our relationships require an investment, and, just like in business, we need to make that investment before we need those relationships to support us.
In Clayton Christensen's own words: “The relationships you have with family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in your life. But you have to be careful. When it seems like everything at home is going well, you will be lulled into believing that you can put your investments in these relationships on the back burner. That would be an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it often is too late to repair them...the time when it is most important to invest in building strong families and close friendships is when it appears, at the surface, as if it’s not necessary.”
How are you doing at investing in the most important element of your life?
If there is anything I can do to help, please reach out to me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Peck, because relationships matter most.