Clayton Christensen: Just a guy from Rose Park

Published: Saturday, Nov. 27 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Christensen graduated from West High School, where he was student body president, and set his sights on BYU.

"I remember going as a freshman to BYU and just like being a kid in a candy store," he once said, "looking at that course catalog and reading about all these interesting courses, and I wanted to take every one."

Christensen interrupted his studies to go on a Mormon mission to Korea from 1971 to 1973. "Korea at the time was the poorest country in all of Asia. And yet all these people that I lived with were the happiest and most wonderful people I could have imagined," Christensen said. "I got the sense that happiness has nothing to do with money. Absolutely nothing to do with money."

Ironically, he would spend his life studying how businesses make and lose money.

Rhodes Scholar

After his mission, as a senior at BYU, Christensen was selected as a Rhodes Scholar to study at Oxford University. "It was very clear that it was going to be inconvenient to be a Mormon in Oxford," he said. The local LDS Church leader asked him to be young men's president in charge of local youth, but he knew it would take a lot of time. He studied until 7 p.m. every night, then spent the rest of the evening working for the church.

About this time, he learned his father was dying from Hodgkin's disease. As Christmas of 1976 approached, Christensen got permission to come home to visit his father for one last time before he died. He spent this last time together helping his father put together his life's history. After his father died, he returned to Oxford and the cold, damp room at Queen's College.

Christensen added another responsibility to his available time by playing on the university's basketball team. The team did very well with him as its center. The final game for the championship was scheduled for Sunday. He had made a decision when he was younger to never play on the Sabbath and thought that, at first, this game might be an exception. But ultimately he told his coach he couldn't play, and went to church instead — praying for their success.

Oxford won.

"Which must mean I wasn't as important to the team as I thought I was," he said with a laugh. In his talk to BYU-Idaho, he said this decision was important because, "my whole life has turned out to be an unending stream of extenuating circumstances, and had I crossed that line just that once ... it would have been so much easier to cross the line again."

President Thomas S. Monson of the LDS Church recently retold Christensen's story in the church's General Conference. "The lesson he learned," President Monson told the church, "is that it is easier to keep the commandments 100 percent of the time than it is 98 percent of the time."

Experimental pancakes

According to his younger brother Carlton, Christensen wanted to shape up before he got married.

"He was marrying this very high-class girl from Bountiful," Carlton said with a laugh. Her name was Christine. Christensen even made a deal with his younger sister Nancy to slap him in the face every time he did one habit he was trying to conquer.

After they got married and children came along (Matthew, Ann, Michael, Spencer and Katie), Christensen liked to make breakfast including pancakes.

"I made it different every time. Every place else in the world if you want to get pancakes it is always the same. Why grow up our kids without teaching them to experiment?" Christensen said. One time he was thinking about how much he liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "Instead of taking all the time to spread peanut butter onto your pancakes or onto your toast, let me mix it right into the batter. It tastes the same and it saved time. And I thought it was just fantastic, but the kids rebelled a little."

His son, Matthew, may still be rebelling a little. He said most of the pancake experiments didn't work out and joked that his dad's taste buds are "in the bottom of his stomach."

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