Clay Christensen's Life Lessons

Harvard Business School’s Clay Christensen taught corporate executives how to kill before getting killed in business. Now he has a strategy for the rest of their lives
Christensen with four of his grandchildren in Belmont, Mass. Photograph by Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek

On a warm April evening, Clayton Christensen arrived at his home in Belmont, Mass., desperate for a peanut butter sandwich. Christensen is diabetic, and with his blood sugar low, he seemed out of sorts. As he crushed the sandwich in a few massive bites, it had the effect on him that spinach does on Popeye. No longer confused about why a reporter had been waiting on his stoop, the 60-year-old Harvard Business School professor and celebrated author of The Innovator’s Dilemma began to form his thoughts with two distractingly huge hands. He said that he’d sometimes regretted calling his most admired theory “disruptive innovation,” because the disruptive part strikes some as more alarming than advantageous. He confided that he read the entire World Book Encyclopedia by age 12. And he shared two intimate encounters he’d had with God, including one on the eve of a “widow-maker” heart attack in 2007, the first of three life-threatening health issues in as many years.

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