Clayton Christensen 1952-2020

I never met the man, but it seems everyone who did praised his personality before speaking of his work.

Christensen attended the 2014 SAP SAPPHiRE NOW conference in Orlando, were he had a discussion with Hasso Plattner concerning in-memory software.  Plattner said, “SAP is the model candidate for the Innovator’s Dilemma; I see the Dilemma everywhere.”

He also was in town to address Phily’s Arts & Business Council at least twice, the last time less than a year ago. I would be interested in knowing if anyone can remember other occasions when he came to Philly.

Tom Peters probably wrote the most influential business management book of the 1980s, In Search of Excellence (1982). It was simplistic in a sense, and some execs simplified it even more than was intended. “Paralysis by Analysis”was the stated evil; American business over-analyzed things to death and became afraid to act. There was truth to that, no doubt, compared at the time to Japanese business that seemed to be always striving for continuous operational improvement. But I recall some execs reacting to the book by throwing out tons of reports, saying they weren’t needed anymore. There was almost an anti-intellectual , anti-quantitative nature to it.

Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) was not a reaction to Peter’s work, but in some ways challenged it. Peters was keen on customer focus, but Christensen argued that the challenge was not to only to focus on existing customers, but non-customers segments with similar needs. Dilemma provided an important analytical framework for analyzing product lifecycles that didn’t formerly exist before. The Boston Consulting Group’s growth/share matrix, considered a major advance in strategic thinking at the time, was so limiting. Christensen must have realized that when he worked there.

Christensen was also a pretty good basketball player at BYU, and a Rhodes Scholar.

A few years back, every press release or businesss plan I saw for a startup claimed it was a disruptor, so the model was a bit overused. But at least it made people think.