Clayton Christensen

Education, Healthcare Technology, Innovation, Management, Technology, TED Talk Speaker, Thinkers50

Travels from Massachusetts, USA

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Clayton Christensen Profile

Kim B.Clark Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in 2011 Clayton Christensen was chosen in a poll of thousands of executives, consultants and business school professors as the most influential business thinker in the world. Forbes magazine wrote that, “Every day business leaders call him or make the pilgrimage to his office in Boston, MA to get advice or thank him for his ideas.”

A devout Mormon, Clayton undertook missionary work in the Republic of Korea from 1971 to 1973. Though he has continued to serve his church all his life, he subsequently took a BA in economics, summa cum laude, from Brigham Young University, an MPhil in applied econometrics from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, and finally an MBA then a DBA from the Harvard Business School. He also has been awarded five honorary doctorates.

Before becoming a full-time academic, Clayton gained valuable real-world experience as a management consultant with BCG; he also was a co-founder of Ceramics Process Systems. He has had a hand in many other highly successful ventures, including Innosight, an innovation consulting firm, and its associated public policy think tank Innosight Institute. The boutique investment firm Rose Park Advisers has also benefited from his guidance.

The Economist selected Clayton’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma in its list of the top half-dozen best business books ever written. His other eight books and more than a hundred articles have been equally well received, gathering the Abernathy, Newcomen, James Madison and Circle Prizes. Each year the McKinsey Award is given to the best two articles published in the Harvard Business Review; Clayton has received this award five times.

  • View Extended/Alternate Bio

    Clayton Christensen wears many hats in his life: professor, author, entrepreneur, missionary, husband, and father.

    Clayton Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, where he teaches one of the most popular elective classes for second year students, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise. He is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on innovation and growth and his ideas have been widely used in industries and organizations throughout the world. A 2011 cover story in Forbes magazine noted that “Everyday business leaders call him or make the pilgrimage to his office in Boston, MA. to get advice or thank him for his ideas.” In 2011, in a poll of thousands of executives, consultants and business school professors, Christensen was named as the most influential business thinker in the world.

    Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Clay worked as a missionary for his church in the Republic of Korea from 1971 to 1973, where he learned to speak fluent Korean. He continues to serve in his church in as many ways as he can.

    Professor Clayton received his B.A. in economics, summa cum laude, from Brigham Young University and an M.Phil. in applied econometrics from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar. He subsequently received an MBA with High Distinction from the Harvard Business School in 1979, graduating as a George F. Baker Scholar. In 1982, Professor Christensen was named a White House Fellow, and served as assistant to U.S. Transportation Secretaries Drew Lewis and Elizabeth Dole. He was awarded his DBA from the Harvard Business School in 1992, and became a faculty member there the same year, eventually receiving full professorship with tenure in 1998. He holds five honorary doctorates and an honorary chaired professorship at the Tsinghua University in Taiwan.

    Prior to his academic career, Clayton worked as a management consultant with BCG in their Boston office and helped co-found Ceramics Process Systems, a Massachusetts-based advanced materials company. He has subsequently helped establish many other successful enterprises, including the innovation consulting firm Innosight, the public policy think tank Innosight Institute, and the boutique investment firm Rose Park Advisors.

    Clay is the best-selling author of nine books and more than a hundred articles. His first book, The Innovator’s Dilemma received the Global Business Book Award as the best business book of the year; The Economist named it as one of the six most important books about business ever written. His other articles and books have received the Abernathy, Newcomen, James Madison, and Circle Prizes. Clay is a five-time recipient of the McKinsey Award, given each year to the two best articles published in the Harvard Business Review; and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tribeca Films Festival (2010).

    Clay has served on the Boy Scouts of America for 25 years as a scoutmaster, cubmaster, den leader, troop and pack committee chairman. He and his wife Christine live in Belmont, Massachusetts. They are the parents of five children and grandparents to five grandchildren.

Clayton Christensen Speaking Videos

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Clayton Christensen's Speech Descriptions

Clayton brings his wide-ranging experience as both a businessman and academic to a number of vital areas; his keynote speeches introduce his theories regarding disruptive innovation and the ways in which companies and institutions can profit from it.

Clayton focuses very closely on the benefits and pitfalls of disruptive technological advances, be they in business, healthcare or higher education. His ideas on the potential growth available through disruptive innovations which transform complex expensive products into simple affordable ones provides a new way of looking at business models which no entrepreneur can afford to ignore.

Future Opportunities for Growth in Information Technology
In this session Christensen will draw upon several models that have emerged in his study of innovation to examine the future of information technology. He’ll explore which system architectures are likely to become most prevalent, and which vendors will supply them. The long-range competitive implications of outsourcing information services will also be examined; and he’ll offer some tools that IT managers can use to ensure that the services they offer meet the most pressing needs of company management.

  • To beat powerful competitors, companies should pick the fights powerful competitors either cannot or will not contest by either seeking out non-consumers who will welcome a simple product or by launching an attack on the low-end of an incumbent’s market among customers the incumbent is actually happy to lose. Tomorrow's most pervasive technologies are unlikely to come from today's leaders.
  • To connect with customers, companies must develop a product that successfully matches a circumstance that customers find themselves in. Traditional means of defining markets—like product categories or demographics—often run counter to how customers live their lives and therefore do not help companies successfully connect with customers.
  • In circumstances where products are not good enough to meet customer needs, a company needs to be integrated to improve the product’s functionality. In circumstances where the product is more than good enough, focused firms can beat competitors with speed, responsiveness and customization.
  • In highly uncertain situations that typify disruptive innovations, companies can follow a rigorous process by using an emergent strategy supported by a discovery-driven planning process that enables them to adjust their strategy when they encounter unanticipated opportunities, problems and successes.
  • CEOs needs to get involved in circumstances when a company’s standard processes are not designed to do what needs to get done.
  • Technological Enablers for Reducing Cost and Improving Accessibility of Quality Health Care
    Much of the discourse on making our health care system accessible relates to insuring the uninsured—with the unspoken assumption that the level and rate of increase in costs are what they are. This isn't the case. Technological enablers, coupled with business model innovation, have the promise of dramatically reducing the cost and improving the accessibility of quality health care. Christensen will talk about what these innovations are, and how they can be implemented.

    The History of Healthcare: From Intuitive to Precision Medicine
    In the absence of the ability to precisely define a disease, the care of patients is best undertaken by highly skilled professionals, whose intuition is based on deep experience. This describes the history of health care, and it is called the practice of intuitive medicine. Molecular biology holds the promise of transforming medical practice into a new phase that is called precision medicine. Christensen will discuss why it promises to dramatically reduce cost and increase the predictable effectiveness of therapy.

    Fixing the Health Care Business Model
    The process of making products and services more affordable and accessible begins when historically expensive expertise is commoditized. This has happened in every industry Christensen has studied, and healthcare is no different.

    In healthcare, this process is heavily dependent upon the ability to make a precise diagnosis, which is driven by molecular and imaging diagnostics. These technologies need to be coupled with business model innovation.

    One reason why healthcare is so expensive, and quality of care so inconsistent, is that today’s hospitals and physician practices are actually a conflated set of business models. In this session, Christensen will explain these problems and recommend solutions.

    Increasing the Probability for Success of a VC-Funded Startup
    Historically the probability that a venture capital-funded startup will succeed has been approximately 20 percent. In Christensen’s talk he'll contend that entrepreneurs can dramatically increase the probability of success if they make certain key decisions with the guidance of a few well-researched theories. He will describe what these theories or models are, and how they can be used to shape a great company.

    Disruptive Innovation and Catalytic Change in Higher Education
    Christensen will describe the root causes for why our schools have struggled to improve, and how to solve these problems.

  • America’s public schools have in fact been improving at an impressive rate for several decades. The problem is that the definition of improvement has changed.
  • The interdependent architecture of our present system mandates standardization in the way we teach and test. The problem is the differences in students’ learning styles or types of intelligence mandate modularity in teaching and testing.
  • Heavyweight teams always are required to define new product and service architectures. The problem is that architectural reform cannot be done within the functional structure of existing schools. Only functional improvement is possible. Chartered and pilot schools are heavyweight teams.
  • America’s poor performance in science, math and engineering is caused by diminished extrinsic motivation. Comfort and prosperity are the culprits; intrinsic motivation is our only hope.
  • Multiplicity of jobs requires multiple business models to address them.
  • Disruptive Strategies for Creating New Markets or Reshaping Existing Markets
    Christensen will explain disruption, the mechanism by which great companies continue to succeed and new entrants displace the market leaders. Disruptive innovations either create new markets or reshape existing markets by delivering relatively simple, convenient, low cost innovations to a set of customers who are ignored by industry leaders.

    One of the bedrock principles of Christensen's disruptive innovation theory is that companies innovate faster than customers' lives change. Because of this, most organizations end up producing products that are too good, too expensive, and too inconvenient for many customers. By only pursuing these "sustaining" innovations, companies unwittingly open the door to "disruptive" innovations, be it "low-end disruption" targeting overshot-less-demanding customers or "new-market disruption", targeting non-consumers.

    Creating New Growth Through Disruptive Innovation
    Christensen will explain why many of today’s markets that appear to have little growth remaining, actually have great growth potential through disruptive innovations that transform complicated, expensive products into simple, affordable ones.

    Successful innovation seems unpredictable because innovators rely excessively on data, which is only available about the past. They have not been equipped with sound theories that do not allow them to see the future perceptively. This problem has been solved.

    Understanding the customer is the wrong unit of analysis for successful innovation. Understanding the job that the customer is trying to do is the key.

    Many innovations that have extraordinary growth potential fail, not because of the product or service itself, but because the company forced it into an inappropriate business model instead of creating a new optimal one.

    Companies with disruptive products and business models are the ones whose share prices increase faster than the market over sustained periods.

    What People are Saying about Seeing Clayton Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Clayton Christensen offers practical diagnostic tools, remedies and poignant examples for achieving success whether you are attacking or defending.”
        Polaris Ventures

    “Your presentation at The Liverpool Summit—the content, the style, the humor—struck a chord with everyone, with 97% of the delegates rating you as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Very Good’.”

    “Clayton was everything we expected: provocative, persuasive, timely, easy to listen to and understand, provided a great deal of business understanding to our audience, and was an ideal standard setter for our three-day event. Everyone felt that they learned something new which was important to their work and our Innovation in Learning Summit. He also tailored the presentation to our petroleum industry audience. We recommend him very highly to others who may need his presence at their special event.”
        David Donohue, President, IHRDC

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    Books by Clayton Christensen:

    How Will You Measure Your Life?
    In 2010 world-renowned innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen gave a powerful speech to the Harvard Business School’s graduating class. Drawing upon his business research, he offered a series of guidelines for finding meaning and happiness in life. He used examples from his own experiences to explain how high achievers can all too often fall into traps that lead to unhappiness.

    The speech was memorable not only because it was deeply revealing but also because it came at a time of intense personal reflection: Christensen had just overcome the same type of cancer that had taken his father’s life. As Christensen struggled with the disease, the question “How do you measure your life?” became more urgent and poignant, and he began to share his insights more widely with family, friends, and students.

    In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions.

    How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.

    Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
    It’s no secret that people learn in different ways, so why, the authors of this book ask, “can’t schools customize their teaching?” The current system, “designed for standardization,” must by its nature ignore the individual needs of each student. The answer to this problem, the authors argue, is “disruptive innovation,” a principle introduced (and initially applied to business) by Harvard Business School professor Christensen in The Innovator’s Dilemma.

    The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out

    Praise for The Innovative University:

    “This superbly documented book is a must read for anyone who cares about America’s universities and colleges and the invaluable role they play in our contemporary society. Henry Eyring and Clayton Christensen remind us of higher education’s history and thoughtfully examine the critical strands of its DNA that require ‘re-engineering’ to insure survival and good health for our richly diverse system. Perhaps the best feature of this volume is that it goes beyond analysis to offer what is possible through models that are scalable, transferable, and responsive to the needs of learning, discovery, and engagement.”
        Molly Corbett Broad, President, American Council on Education

    The Innovative University offers fascinating new perspectives on very old questions: What defines a university’s identity? Are all universities cloned from the same ancestral stock? Are there still opportunities for diversity in American higher education, or is [a] single ideal to be approximated with greater or lesser fidelity? These questions resonate through the book’s narrative histories of an old university and a bold new one.”
        Harry Lewis, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University; author, Excellence Without a Soul

    The Innovator’s Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care / Edition 1
    A groundbreaking prescription for health care reform—from a legendary leader in innovation…

    Our health care system is in critical condition. Each year, fewer Americans can afford it, fewer businesses can provide it, and fewer government programs can promise it for future generations.

    We need a cure, and we need it now.

    Harvard Business School’s Clayton M. Christensen—whose bestselling The Innovator’s Dilemma revolutionized the business world—presents The Innovator’s Prescription, a comprehensive analysis of the strategies that will improve health care and make it affordable.

    Christensen applies the principles of disruptive innovation to the broken health care system with two pioneers in the field—Dr. Jerome Grossman and Dr. Jason Hwang. Together, they examine a range of symptoms and offer proven solutions.


      • “Precision medicine” reduces costs and makes good on the promise of personalized care
      • Disruptive business models improve quality, accessibility, and affordability by changing the way hospitals and doctors work
      • Patient networks enable better treatment of chronic diseases
      • Employers can change the roles they play in health care to compete effectively in the era of globalization
      • Insurance and regulatory reforms stimulate disruption in health care

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