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How will you measure your life?

A tribute to Professor Clayton Christensen (April 6, 1952-Jan 23, 2020) of Harvard Business School.

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Professor Clayton Christensen, who died last week, was the author of the ground-breaking book The Innovator's Dilemma, which was voted by The Economist as one of the six most important business books ever written.

AS MENTEES, we are deeply saddened by the news of the passing away of Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School (HBS) last week.

The world lost a leading thought leader who has contributed so profoundly to the way how businesses should evolve. His impact is a legacy. "Through his research and teaching," the dean of HBS, Professor Nitin Nohria, wrote. "He fundamentally shaped the practice of business and influenced generations of students and scholars."

The ground-breaking 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma authored by Professor Christensen was voted by The Economist as one of the six most important business books ever written.

For those of us who have heard him speak, we would have been most impressed by the way he passionately presented his theory and thinking of disruptive innovation - step-by-step, example after example, and filled with analogies.

Putting theory into management consultancy

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Kuen Loon: "I first knew Clay when he taught me in the Building Sustainable Successful Enterprise course in my second year (year 2003) when I was in HBS. That was my best course for me in HBS.

"Coincidentally, at that time, he was already involved with the Singapore government on a project, and being a Singaporean, we connected immediately.

"I was the co-founding member of Clay's management consultancy business Innosight Asia that was started in Singapore in 2006 that put his theory into practice. Clay went on to be a member of Singapore's Research Innovation Enterprise Council which drove the R&D direction and vision for our country.

"I have known Clay for nearly two decades and I have the greatest respect for Clay who has had such a profound impact in my life - the way I think and the way I believe. He was my mentor, my role model and my friend.

"But most of all to me, he was simply such a great and humble man who had such deep moral values. He was a Godly servant, most loving husband and wonderful father. This is what I learnt the most from him and it has had a lifetime's imprint on how I live my life. All these years of interactions and friendship with Clay are my life's highlight. A journey that is most treasured and remembered for a lifetime."

Putting theory into fund management

Chin Hwee: "As I joked recently on the stage as the guest speaker of Harvard Business School alumnus dinner, I was not smart enough to get into HBS... but thanks to his former student Kuen Loon, I got to know Clay whom has made a lasting impact on my life.

"More than a decade ago, I was involved with Clay and his family in setting up the Disruptive Innovation Fund, which put his theory into fund management practice.

"Supporting his eldest son Matt Christensen over the years, the hedge fund has done very well and making multiple times over the last decade for investors.

"In the early days, it was not uncommon to be asked: Does the theory work? The stellar fund results are an objective yardstick and prove that Clay's theory is not just a theory.

"Personally, Clay was humble and had no airs, he was among one of the nicest persons I have ever met, despite of his intellect (voted #1 management global thinker)."

"Clay was not just a management guru, he also focused as much on a life well lived. In 2012, he wrote How Will You Measure Your Life? with two co-authors, in which he recast his management theories as a formula for measuring how best to live one's life."

Metrics that matter

In this book, Clay wrote: "I came to understand that while many of us might default to measuring out lives by summary statistics, such as number of people presided over, number of awards, or dollars accumulated in a bank, and so on, the only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people.

"When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage - a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life."

That is something for both of us to ponder upon.

  • Tan Chin Hwee, Harvard Kennedy School 2011, and Ho Kuen Loon, Harvard Business School 2004, are Singapore-based CEOs and have directly benefited from the mentorship of Professor Clayton Christensen over the years.

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