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Clayton Christensen’s life was worth measuring — and celebrating

SHARE Clayton Christensen’s life was worth measuring — and celebrating
Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor and Salt Lake City native.

Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photograph

Renowned business innovation guru Clayton M. Christensen has been memorialized in well-deserved tributes from top leaders across the world since cancer tragically ended his remarkable life a few weeks ago.

Christensen influenced millions of people, including many of the world’s most prominent business and civic leaders, with his groundbreaking books, speeches and papers outlining how to run successful organizations in a rapidly-changing world.

He was twice named the world’s most influential living management thinker. He was the bestselling author of 10 widely acclaimed books, mostly on business management, but also on how to improve education and health care, how to lift developing nations out of poverty, and how to live a life with real meaning.

He bridged the gap between scholarly theories and practical implementation. All of his books were based on years of thorough research, holding to the highest standards of academic rigor. But they were grounded in reality, allowing business leaders to apply Christensen’s principles in the real world.

Titans of business and government across the world used his principles to prosper, including luminaries such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Steve Jobs of Apple; Andy Grove of Intel; and Reed Hastings of Netflix. 

Christensen also had a great impact in Utah. Intermountain Healthcare issued this statement: “Clay led the business world as one of its most innovative thinkers, and we were blessed that he shared his brilliant and unique perspectives while serving on Intermountain’s Board. ... he challenged us to pause amid the hectic pace of life to decide what’s most important and what will be our immutable values.”

Peter Metcalf, founder of Black Diamond Equipment, said that after a “trajectory changing” session with Christensen about 25 years ago, he returned to his business “and immediately changed our long-term strategy ... As I reflect back on Black Diamond’s long-term and continued success, I credit Professor Christensen with a substantial component of us getting it right.”

Harris Simmons, chairman and CEO of Zions Bancorporation, said listening to Christensen before he published his seminal book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” “... was the business equivalent of hearing Einstein explain that he was developing some interesting theories on time and space before he published his theory. Clayton’s insights have made a profound impact on many, many businesses. More importantly, he was an incredibly kind and gracious human being who taught many of us much about how to live a happy life.”

Clearly, despite Christensen’s professional success, it was his personal relationships and living a balanced and meaningful life that were most important to him. He enriched the lives of so many people, including his family members, his thousands of students, his associates at Harvard Business School, his myriad business contacts across the world and the members of his church.

I was blessed to personally know Clayton and I considered him to be a real friend. Interestingly, thousands of other people felt precisely the same way. Clayton had an extraordinary ability to truly listen, to focus on individuals and to leave everyone knowing he genuinely cared about them. There is no end of people who have a personal story about Clayton Christensen — how he enriched their lives in special ways.

Christensen was a Rhodes Scholar and a White House fellow, but he never forgot his roots, growing up with seven brothers and sisters in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park. I still smile remembering him describe one of his proudest titles: President of the Jordan River Yacht Club. As a teen, he and his brothers and friends built their own canoes and kayaks, and put their lives in jeopardy floating down the Jordan River.

Christensen’s life philosophy was summarized in his much-loved book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” The outpouring of affection toward him, and sadness at his loss, are testaments to how his life is measured.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.