Clayton Christensen: The Survivor

In the March issue of Forbes, there was a wonderful article on Clayton Christensen, best known as the author of the book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.  I heard him speak once while I was going to school for my MBA.  Looking back, that single talk probably contained some of the best advice I received during my two year program.

As I remember it, it was about drawing boundaries around the things that matter most.  He told the story of when he played Basketball at Oxford University as a center.  They had an undefeated season and advanced to the championship of what would be the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament.  The final championship game was to be played on Sunday.  He had made a commitment to God when he was 16 years old that he would observe the Sabbath by not playing basketball on Sundays.  He was under immense pressure by his team and his coach to play in that championship game.  Needless to say, he struggled with his decision, but ultimately ended up sitting in church while his teammates played the final game without him.  He considers this one of the most important decisions he ever made in his life.  President Monson retold this story in more detail in a General Conference Talk in October 2010.

 

He also told of story of when he started working at a consultancy.  He told his boss that he wouldn’t be working late hours because he needed to get home to spend time with his family.  Furthermore, he would not be working weekends.  When the boss started to push back, he told him that perhaps then this may not be the company and position for him.  This was not a threat – he seriously did not want a job that would encroach upon his family life and he was fully prepared to look for another job.  His boss let him keep to his schedule and he enforced it by taking a bus to and from work and was out of the office before 5pm every day.  With that said, there should be no mistake that he was not a hard-worker.  Anything you read about his life will erase any doubt about his work ethic.  His point was merely that he drew very crisp boundaries early in his life, so that he doesn’t neglect the things that are most important to him.

I’m saddened to hear about his health struggles – cancer, heart attack, and stroke all within a span of 3 years.  I’m sure the challenges he face must have a purpose.  He has been an inspiration to many.  The Fortune article was unlike any other article I’ve read in that magazine.  Clayton Christensen words were as if they were being delivered across a pulpit.   What a wonderful example of handling such adversity with grace and humility.  Thanks, Dr. Christensen!

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