CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — In the words of one of Clayton Christensen’s famous business theories, there was a job to be done at his funeral on Saturday. In the words of the book he cherished most, it was to mourn with those that mourn.

And so they did just that, 858 family members and friends, including the governor of Massachusetts and a famous basketball figure, students, accomplished business executives, scholars and colleagues. On a cold winter day cast in deep gray, they laughed and cried, prayed and sang, celebrated his life and hoped together for a better, eternal one.

Related
Clayton Christensen, guru of disruptive innovation and Latter-day Saint leader, dies at 67
Clark Gilbert: How will you measure your life? A tribute to the life of Clay Christensen

“It was a great service, a great tribute to an extraordinary human being,” said Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business School, where Christensen taught for more than 20 years.

Christensen, the father of the internationally influential theory of disruptive innovation, died Jan. 23 at age 67 of complications from cancer. After his death, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told the Deseret News, “Clay was hugely influential on me as CEO. I owe much of our success to his writings.”

But before, during and after Christensen’s funeral service, he was remembered far more for the enormous personal influence he had in the lives he touched.

“His voice will be really missed for a lot of reasons that go way past his insights and his genius about management,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said. “That’s why I’m here. I really value him as friend. He had this tremendous capacity to make whoever he was talking to feel like their opinion mattered.”

Baker visited with the Christensen family during the viewing before the funeral at a Cambridge chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near MIT.

“I actually tweeted out after I heard the news that he passed the article that he wrote about, ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ I sent it to a bunch of my friends and said, ‘Just start it, OK, because I promise you if you start it, you’ll finish it.’ And I heard from dozens and dozens of people who got back to me and said they read it, and then they sent it to a bunch of people, because he had incredible ability to land on wisdom that wasn’t just about academics. It wasn’t just about managing, but it was about, you know, being a good person and living a life that matters and having purpose. ... He had a fabulous capacity to put both of those things together.”

The governor made those comments before the funeral, during which all five of Christensen’s children spoke. The final speaker was President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He testified about the reality of the afterlife and described Christensen’s mission there.

Christensen first influenced Boston Celtics President and General Manager Danny Ainge when he was a Celtics rookie in 1981. Ainge, a former College Player of the Year at BYU, has won NBA championships as both a player and executive.

⁩“The thing that I have thought of this past week, since he left us, was his impact on me as a young member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints⁩,” Ainge said as he waited in line for the viewing. “How bold and powerful and strong Clayton Christensen was in the Boston area gave me a lot of strength and confidence in being more open with my faith.”

Christensen shared his faith in a way that made his love clear whether others accepted his message or not, family and friends said.

“You could fill Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play, with people who legitimately thought they were one of Clay’s best friends,” former OnStar CEO Chet Huber said before the funeral, “because when he was with you, that was what you felt. He had the world shut out, his focus was on you, his care was on you. He had a gift that just touched so many people’s lives. I will profoundly miss him. It’s up to us now to make sure it keeps going.”

Christensen recruited Huber to teach sections of the disruptive strategy course he developed at Harvard Business School. The course, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, is the most successful second-year elective at the school, Nohria said.

“Institutions are nothing but the example set by individuals in them,” the Harvard business dean added. ⁩“Our highest aspirations as an institution teaching leaders are exemplified in Clayton Christensen. He embodies the highest aspirations we have as scholars, as teachers and as human beings.”

To his family, Christensen was a beacon of light as monumental as the two lanterns Robert Newman hung in the spire of nearby Boston’s Old North Church on the night of Paul Revere’s ride.

His daughter Ann recalled the Forbes magazine cover that launched her father into the spotlight. He was pictured next to the CEO of Intel, who used Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation to remake the computer chip giant.

“Andy Grove’s big thinker,” the Forbes headline blared.

Grove, who died in 2016, was short. Christensen was 6-foot-8. But the cover had multiple meanings. Professionally, Christensen’s business frameworks — disruption is omnipresent in the era’s vocabulary — were on their way to becoming much more notable than his physical frame.

He made the cover personal, too, said a daughter, Ann Christensen. Forbes declined his request to allow his wife, Christine, to appear in the photo with him and Grove. So he switched his wedding ring to his right hand, which rested in view on Grove’s shoulder.

He did it, he told his daughter, so his wife “would know she was part of the picture, too.”

All five of his children spoke — Matt, Ann, Michael, Spencer and Kate — and remembered him for their parents’ remarkable marriage, the way he fathered them, and the love for basketball he transferred to all of them.

Ann called her father her hero, dearest friend, greatest champion, most trusted adviser and strongest ally.

Spencer offered a definition of his father’s theory to help explain him.

“Disruption theory describes how new entrants can turn a market upside down by offering something that is inferior to what’s currently available, but is attractive and good enough to consumers at the low end,” he said, adding that it was poetic that his father came up with it because he was a consummate low-end consumer who liked beat-up old cars and never wasted anything.

The children laughed at his quirks — he was an appallingly bad cook, Ann said — and shared important turning points and lessons.

Michael said his father’s first teaching job at Harvard went poorly until he explained his struggles to a man next to him on a plane. The man advised him to teach with greater love. So, before his next operations class, he knelt in prayer in his office to ask God to allow his students to feel God’s love for them through his teaching.

“These prayers were answered,” Michael said. “It didn’t matter if Dad was teaching students about supply chains, manufacturing job shops or disruptive innovation, somehow his students could feel a sense of love in those classrooms, and not just Dad’s love for his students, but something greater.”

It was a hinge point in his life.

Now, Ann said, if he had been at the funeral, “He could go through this audience and tell us all why he loves each of you.”

Kate said he radiated optimism for each person’s full potential.

“It was empowering because he really believed in you and wanted to help you be the best at living up to the privilege of being you.”

She said his approach to leading others was to help them think and act for themselves by teaching them not what to think, but how to think.

“His work,” Ann added, “was a vehicle for him to help as many people as he could be more effective in their chosen work, transform their communities, find their purpose, and be happier people. Teaching principles allowed him to empower countless others to yield other really important insights and uncover important truths about the world around them.”

Christensen’s giant physical frame began to fail him a dozen years ago. He suffered a heart attack, a stroke that forced him to use immense effort to regain his capacity for language, and two bouts with cancer. He spent eight straight months in hospitals during his final year.

“We began to see what it’s like for a righteous, humble Christian to endure to the end,” Matt said.

Still, Christensen persevered.

“Perhaps the greatest example he has shown us,” Nohria, the Harvard dean, told the Deseret News, “is how he fought through the rage of illnesses that the vast majority of us would use as an excuse to rest. When he had his stroke and words wouldn’t come, he found a way for his class to collaborate with him; the class would fill in the words. The best way we can move forward is to be inspired by his example.”

He also had an exemplary marriage, Nohria said. He called watching Christine Christensen wheel her husband to class when he no longer could walk one of the most beautiful images he had of them.

“He served and he gave and he buoyed people up with everything he had until the wheels fell off,” Kate said.

President Eyring closed the funeral by saying Christensen’s physical struggles are behind him in the afterlife.

“It’s real,” he said. “There really is a spirit world. He’s in it, and it’s real.”

He said Christensen is joyous in the assignment he has been given there to share the gospel.

“Can you imagine if you were trying to run the mission among the spirits in prison if Clayton Christensen arrived?” he said. “Do you have any idea?”

President Eyring spoke directly to Christine Christensen.

“I pray that the Holy Ghost will help you with the nostalgia and the feelings of loss, but I pray that he will let you feel the joy and the power of what he’s now doing and will do.”