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The world loses its innovation guru

Clayton Christensen, Guru of “Disruptive Innovation,” died at 67 in Boston. Christensen was a Harvard professor whose revolutionary 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” summarized his theories about the impact of “disruptive innovation” on top companies, bringing him world fame.

This seminal book investigated industries like the disk drives market and excavating in order to present the importance of disruptive technologies. His ideas gained prominence throughout the web that was at its infancy at that time as well as throughout Silicon Valley. Some important business founders such as Steve Jobs or Andy Grove got inspired by Christensen’s idea of start-ups launched by outsiders able to create new market and values, disrupting the monopoly of renowned companies. These companies were focused on their established businesses failing to introduce changes due to the fear of losing profits. Therefore, start-ups took advantage of the tendency of big businesses to maintain status quo. According to Christensen, the reasons that enabled the most successful companies to succeed, such as responding to customers and next-generation needs as well as investing in technology, were the same reasons some of these companies flopped. These large corporations, which were focused on their “business as usual” which was able to bring them profits for decades, were unexpectedly faced with small, fast-moving, innovative companies that quickly entered markets taking large portions of market share. However, Christensen, who was himself entrepreneur and management consultant, provided corporate executives guidelines how to respond to the challenges of disruptive innovation, becoming an ally of corporate business leaders.

Prof. Christensen outlined some of the characteristics of disruptive technologies: “First, disruptive products are simpler and cheaper; they generally promise lower margins, not greater profits. Second, disruptive technologies typically are first commercialized in emerging or insignificant markets. And third, leading firms’ most profitable customers generally don’t want, and indeed initially can’t use, products based on disruptive technologies.” Professor Christensen’s book was a precursor of the boom of disruptive technologies, paving the way for companies such as Google, Facebook or Uber that were founded at least several years after the book was first published.  Christensen, who foresaw the rise of disruptive innovation, subsequently several more books on disruption in education and health care. His book Disrupting Class (2008) tries to explain why schools have problems and provides solutions, whereas The Innovator’s Prescription (2009) discussed the American healthcare system and the ways to improve it. However, since the concept of disruptive innovation was often misinterpreted, Christensen often wrote articles in order to explain it more thoroughly.

Rebecca Henderson, a fellow Harvard Business School professor, called Professor Christensen “a shining example of the way in which it’s possible to be an academic but have a real impact on practice”, while Forbes called him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 50 years.” When he learned he had cancer, Professor Christensen decided to write about his impact on the business world and how the disease changed his perceptions.  In the book was titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” he applies his management theories on one’s life and personal ethics, trying to come up with a formula for measuring how best to live one’s life. On the last day of his management class every semester, he wrote, he asked his students to “turn those theoretical lenses on themselves” and answer three questions: “First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?” Moreover, he wrote in his book: “Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved,” he continued; “worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”



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