Clayton Christensen

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Clayton Magleby Christensen (April 6, 1952 – January 23, 2020) was an American academic and business consultant who developed the theory of "disruptive innovation", which has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.[1][2] Christensen introduced "disruption" in his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma, and it led The Economist to term him "the most influential management thinker of his time."[3][4] He served as the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School (HBS), and was also a leader and writer in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).[5]

Clayton Christensen
Clayton Christensen World Economic Forum 2013.jpg
Christensen at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2013
Clayton Magleby Christensen

(1952-04-06)April 6, 1952
DiedJanuary 23, 2020(2020-01-23) (aged 67)
Alma materBrigham Young University (B.A.)
Queen's College, Oxford (M.Phil.)
Harvard University (MBA, DBA)
Known for"Disruption" and "disruptive innovation" concepts, The Innovator's Dilemma

Christensen was also a co-founder of Rose Park Advisors, a venture capital firm, and Innosight, a management consulting and investment firm specializing in innovation.[6]

Early life and educationEdit

Clayton Christensen was born on April 6, 1952, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the second of eight children born to Robert M. Christensen (1926–1976) and his wife, Verda Mae Christensen (née Fuller; 1922–2004).[7] He grew up in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City and attended West High School, where he was student body president.[7] Christensen and his siblings were raised as members of the LDS Church. Christensen was an avid basketball player who stood 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) tall, and later became the starting center on the men's basketball team during his time at the University of Oxford.[8]

After graduating from high school in 1970, Christensen was accepted to Harvard University, Yale University, and Brigham Young University (BYU). He "decided to make the decision a matter of prayer" and felt a "clear impression" to attend BYU, which had awarded him a full scholarship.[9] Christensen majored in economics, and was classmates in his first-year economics course with future U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney and future Harvard Business School dean Kim B. Clark.[9] While at BYU, he took a two-year leave of absence from 1971 to 1973 to serve as a volunteer full-time missionary for the LDS Church. He was assigned to serve in South Korea and became a fluent speaker of Korean. Christensen returned to BYU after completing his missionary service, and in 1975 graduated with an Honors B.A. summa cum laude in economics.

After graduating from BYU, Christensen won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two years studying applied econometrics at Oxford's Queen's College, receiving an M.Phil. in 1977.[9] While at Oxford, Christensen was a member of the men's basketball team, which won back-to-back British University Sports Federation championships in 1975 and 1976 and the English Basketball Association's national championship for non-league teams in 1977.[citation needed] Christensen then returned to the United States to attend the Harvard Business School, receiving an MBA with high distinction in 1979.[10]


After receiving his MBA in 1979, Christensen began working for Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as a consultant and project manager.[7] In 1982, he was named a White House Fellow and took a one-year leave of absence from BCG to work in Washington, D.C. as an assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, serving under both Drew Lewis and Elizabeth Dole. In 1984, he and several professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology founded an advanced ceramics company called Ceramics Process Systems Corporation (now known as CPS Technologies). Christensen served as its president and CEO through the late 1980s, then decided to leave the company and become a university professor. He returned to Harvard for doctoral study in business, receiving a Doctor of Business Administration degree in 1992. After completing his doctorate, Christensen joined the Harvard Business School's faculty and set a record by achieving the rank of "full" professor in only six years.[7]

In 2000, he founded Innosight LLC,[11] a consulting and training firm. In 2005, together with his colleagues at Innosight, he launched Innosight Ventures, a venture firm focused on investing in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. In 2007, he co-founded Rose Park Advisors LLC (named after the neighborhood in Salt Lake City where he was raised), an investment company which applies his research as an investment strategy.[citation needed]

He served on the board of directors of Tata Consultancy Services (NSE: TCS), Franklin Covey (NYSE: FC), and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.[12] He also served for a time on the editorial board of the Deseret News.[13]

At HBS, he taught an elective course he designed called "Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise", which teaches how to build and manage an enduring, successful company or transform an existing organization, and also in many of the school's executive education programs. Christensen was awarded a full professorship with tenure in 1998, and held eight honorary doctorates and an honorary chaired professorship at the National Tsinghua University in Taiwan.[14]

Christensen was the best-selling author of ten books, including his seminal work The Innovator's Dilemma (1997), which received the Global Business Book Award for the best business book of the year. One of the main concepts depicted in this book is also his most disseminated and famous one: disruptive innovation. The concept has been growing in interest over time since 2004, according to Google Trends' data. However, due to constant misinterpretation, Christensen often wrote articles trying to explain the concept even further. Some of his other books are focused on specific industries and discuss social issues such as education and health care. Disrupting Class (2008) looks at the root causes of why schools struggle and offers solutions, while The Innovator's Prescription (2009) examines how to fix the American healthcare system. The latter two books have received numerous awards as the best books on education and health care in their respective years of publication. The Innovator's Prescription was also awarded the 2010 James A. Hamilton Award, by the College of Healthcare Executives.[14]

In 2017, Christensen predicted that “50 percent of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years.”[15]

Personal lifeEdit

Christensen and his wife Christine (née Quinn) married in 1976. They had three sons, Matthew, Michael, and Spencer, and two daughters, Ann and Catherine. Their eldest son, Matthew Christensen (b. 1977), was a member of Duke University's 2001 National Championship basketball team.[16]

As a member of the LDS Church,[17] Christensen served from 1971 to 1973 as a missionary in Korea and spoke fluent Korean.[18] He served in several leadership positions in the church, including as an area seventy from 2002 to 2009, a counselor in the presidency of the Massachusetts Boston Mission, and as a bishop.[19] His book, The Power of Everyday Missionaries, was a leading work in the LDS Church on how all people could be involved in sharing the gospel no matter their position in the church. He was also a moving force behind the creation of For All The Saints, a book by Kristen Smith Dayley on the history of the LDS Church in New England, published in 2012 to which Christensen wrote the foreword.[20]

In February 2010, Christensen was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma,[21] and in July 2010 he had an ischemic stroke that damaged his speech and required him to undergo speech therapy.[22][23] In 2011, Christensen published two books: The Innovative University[24] and The Innovator’s DNA (Harvard Business Press). Christensen had leukemia and died on January 23, 2020, aged 67, due to complications from his cancer.[25][26]

Honors and awardsEdit

  • In 2011, Forbes called him "one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years" in a cover story.[22]
  • In both 2011 and 2013 he was ranked number 1 in the Thinkers 50, biannually awarded and is considered the world's most prestigious ranking of management thinkers.[27]
  • In 2017 he was ranked number 3 in the Thinkers 50.[28]
  • 2014 Herbert Simon Award[29]
  • In 2015, he was honored with an Edison Achievement Award[30] for his commitment to innovation throughout his career.
  • 2015 Brigham Young University Distinguished Service Award[31]


Journal articlesEdit

  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Bower, Joseph L. (January–February 1995), "Disruptive technologies: catching the wave", Harvard Business Review
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Overdorf, Michael (March–April 2000), "Meeting the challenge of disruptive change", Harvard Business Review.
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Bohmer, Richard; Kenagy, John (September–October 2000), "Will disruptive innovations cure health care?", Harvard Business Review, 78 (5): 102–12, 199, PMID 11143147, archived from the original on June 14, 2011.
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Cook, Scott; Hall, Taddy (December 2005), "Marketing malpractice: the cause and the cure", Harvard Business Review, 83 (12): 74–83, 152, PMID 16334583.
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Marx, Matthew; Stevenson, Howard H. (October 2006), "The tools of cooperation and change", Harvard Business Review, 84 (10): 72–80, 148, PMID 17040041.
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Baumann, Heiner; Ruggles, Rudy; Sadtler, Thomas M. (December 2006), "Disruptive innovation for social change", Harvard Business Review, 84 (12): 94–101, 163, PMID 17183796.
  • Christensen, Clayton M. (July–August 2010), "How will you measure your life?", Harvard Business Review.
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Dillon, Karen; Hall, Taddy; Duncan, David (September 2016), "Know your customer's Job To Be Done", Harvard Business Review
  • Christensen, Clayton M.; Bartman, Tom; van Bever, Derek (September 2016), "The Hard Truth about Business Model Innovation", MIT Sloan Management Review



  1. ^ Bagehot (June 15, 2017). "Jeremy Corbyn, Entrepreneur". The Economist. p. 53. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  2. ^ Wolfe, Alexandra (September 30, 2016). "Clayton Christensen Has a New Theory". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  3. ^ Schumpter (January 30, 2020). "Clayton Christensen's insights will outlive him". The Economist. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  4. ^ Rifkin, Glenn (January 25, 2020). "Clayton Christensen, Guru of 'Disruptive Innovation,' Dies at 67". The New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  5. ^ Walch, Tad (January 24, 2020). "Clayton Christensen dies at 67 after lifetime of business, spiritual influence". Deseret News. Retrieved February 11, 2020.
  6. ^ Wieners, Bradford (May 3, 2012). "Clay Christensen's Life Lessons". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d de Groote, Michael (November 27, 2010). "Clayton Christensen: Just a Guy from Rose Park". Deseret News. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  8. ^ "Decisions for Which I've Been Grateful". BYU-Idaho. 2004. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Gardner, Peter B. (Spring 2013). "The Disruptor". BYU Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
  10. ^ "Clayton Christensen". Disruptor Awards. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  11. ^ "Clayton Christensen, Co-Founder".
  12. ^ List of Becket Fund Board members
  13. ^ Deseret News obituary of Christensen
  14. ^ a b "Clayton M. Christensen - Faculty - Harvard Business School". Archived from the original on August 14, 2012. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  15. ^ Johnson Hess, Abigail (August 30, 2018). "Harvard Business School professor: Half of American colleges will be bankrupt in 10 to 15 years". / CNBC. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  16. ^ Toone, Trent (January 25, 2012). "Mormons in the ACC: Tar Heel guard plans to serve mission, while former Duke center reflects on career". Deseret News. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  17. ^ "Why I Belong, Why I Believe".
  18. ^ "Biography". Retrieved February 15, 2013.
  19. ^ "New Area Authority Seventies", Church News, April 20, 2002, retrieved February 15, 2013
  20. ^ Deseret News obituary on Christensen
  21. ^ "Comments on my health".
  22. ^ a b Whelan, David (March 14, 2011). "Clayton Christensen: The Survivor -". Forbes. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  23. ^ "Clayton Christensen - My Health". Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  24. ^ Christensen, Clayton M (2011). The Innovative University. Josey-Bass. ISBN 9781118091258.
  25. ^ Hagerty, James R. (January 24, 2020). "Harvard Professor Clayton M. Christensen Turned His Life Into a Case Study". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  26. ^ Walch, Tad (January 24, 2020). "Clayton Christensen dies at 67 after lifetime of business, spiritual influence". Deseret News. Retrieved January 24, 2020.
  27. ^ "The Thinkers50 Ranking 2013". Thinkers 50. Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  28. ^ "Thinkers50 Profile". Thinkers 50. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  29. ^ "Clayton M. Christensen receives Herbert Simon Award". Official Page of Rajk CfAS's Herbert Simon Award. November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 12, 2014.[unreliable source?]
  30. ^ "Edison Achievement Award". Retrieved May 5, 2017.
  31. ^ "Celebrating Exceptional Alumni". BYU Magazine. Fall 2015. Retrieved May 5, 2017.

External linksEdit