Following a quiet though valiant year-long battle with cancer, Clayton Christensen died Jan. 23, 2020. Clay was many things to many people. A renowned Harvard Business School professor (he loved to teach, above all else). The world’s most influential management thinker. A prolific and inspiring writer. A powerful presenter. An encouraging and empowering colleague. A spiritual leader and beloved family man. To us here at Stern Strategy Group and Stern Speakers, he was a valued and longtime client. And to me, he was – IS – a dear friend, a truly great person to whom I owe so much.
I met Clay in 1997 and signed him to the speaker’s agency for which I worked at the time. In 2006 (and after I passed a four-year non-compete agreement with my former employer), Clay contacted me to talk about the future, both his and mine. We met and he urged me to start a new kind of speakers agency. Consistent with his smarts and humility, he had a strategy for me in mind. Within an hour we laid plans for my new agency and his next two books.
Clay defined 21st century business with his disruptive innovation theory. It’s become the root – and the heart – of how we transform and grow organizations, improve global economies and lift nations out of poverty; how we think about and urgently work to fix the broken systems of health care and education. The list of his professional achievements is as impressive as it is long.
In a sentence: Clay forever changed the world of business. His legacy will live on through his groundbreaking theories, best-selling books, and the countless students and executives he taught, mentored and influenced over the last 25 years. “The Innovator’s Dilemma” was required reading for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ team; Jeff Bezos tells his Amazon executives to read another of Clay’s seminal books, “The Innovator’s Solution.” Apple’s Steve Jobs. Intel’s Andy Grove. There aren’t many, if any, powerhouse leaders or organizations that haven’t been impacted, in some way, by Clay’s work or by the man himself.
For all that Clay accomplished in his professional life, he urged people not to reserve “your best thinking for your career.” Too often, he said, “we measure success in life against the progress we make in our careers.” This – “How Do You Measure Your Life?” – is Clay’s true legacy, his life’s most meaningful work. Yes, he helped businesses do better. But perhaps most importantly, he helped people be better humans, encouraging them to lead lives of greater commitment and purpose.
Deeply committed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Clay explained, “When I have my interview with God, he’s not going to point out that I was a professor at Harvard Business School. He’s just going to say, ‘Clay, let’s talk about the individuals you helped become better people.’”
Yes, let’s talk about that. Let’s think about… do… be… what is truly important. This is how we must not only measure our own lives but remember and honor the life and legacy of Clayton Christensen. Rest in peace, friend.