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Clayton Christensen: Just a guy from Rose Park

Published: Saturday, Nov. 27 2010 11:24 p.m. MST

"I thought he put his finger on issues and the solutions better than anybody I had ever seen before," said Ken Riff, M.D., vice president of strategy for the Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management Division of Medtronic, the world's largest medical device manufacturer. Riff was talking about the book Christensen wrote with Jerome H. Grossman, M.D. and Jason Hwang, M.D. called "The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care."

"Clay's prescription is exactly what U.S. health care needs," Riff said.

But Christensen's success hasn't changed the boy from Rose Park much. "Clayton is one of the finest men I have ever met in my life," Archibald said. "He is extremely bright, he is truly an intellectual. And yet … the way he treats people and the way he acts he is one of the most humble, unassuming people that I know. ... He makes everyone around him feel like they are the superior one, that they are the focal point. And you never get the impression that the world revolves around Clayton."

Sharing his faith

"One of the things I admire about Clay is that he manages to be very comfortable in articulating his faith and what he believes in while still reaching out and being inclusive and embracing," said Clark Gilbert, President and CEO of the Deseret News and a former student of Christensen's. "His voice is not just a voice of strategic insight, but a voice of faith and values to a much larger community than just his immediate LDS circles."

An macro-example of this was Christensen's Harvard Business School speech titled "How Will You Measure Your Life?" The speech was printed in the Harvard Business Review and was one of the most popular articles to ever appear on its website. In many ways, it was a slightly less religious version of his speech to BYU-Idaho. Slightly. It took examples of the decisions he made in his life and the impact they made — like not playing basketball on Sunday.

An example on the other end of the scale is Connie Zhang, a former student of Christensen's who now owns her own consulting business called Riley Creek Advisors.

Zhang came to study at Harvard Business School from Beijing, China, and took Christensen's class on innovation theory in her second year. Although her husband, Andrew Feng, was a member of the LDS Church, she was an atheist.

Then Christensen and his wife Christine spoke to Zhang and a group of students in their home about the history of various Mormon pioneers in the New England area. The thing that struck Zhang was that a professor who was supposed to be smart actually believed in God.

"In China, our idea is that only people who are really weak ... believe in religion. Strong people don't believe in religion," Zhang said. "He was such a wonderful man and he believed in religion, so that triggered me to want to know more."

After the fireside was over, Zhang walked over to Christensen and said, "I am quite interested in what you and Christine talked about. I would like to know more about the church."

Christensen punched his fist into his palm and said with a big smile, "You've just made my day!" He told Zhang that he and his wife had been praying to have someone who they could teach about their faith.

"Clayton Christensen totally changed my life," Zhang said of her baptism into the LDS Church. "My life, my new life wouldn't be like this. I wouldn't have the happiness I'm enjoying and the eternal perspective."

The biggest test

A friend suggested to Christensen that perhaps he could write an article explaining what he had learned by going through all his health challenges. "That's the worst thing I could ever do is to write an article on what I have learned," Christensen said, joking with him, "because if somebody e-mailed a copy of that up to heaven, God would look at it and say, Dang, the guy, he still doesn't get it, does he?' And then he's going to zap me with something else."

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