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Clayton Christensen's new book 'How Will You Measure Your Life?' generates unique buzz from major publications

Published: Friday, May 11 2012 3:56 p.m. MDT

Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor and Salt Lake City native who is an active Mormon. (Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photograph) Clayton Christensen is a Harvard business professor and Salt Lake City native who is an active Mormon. (Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photograph)

It isn't every day an interview in Forbes explores the nature of God. But it isn't every day that Forbes talks to Clayton Christensen.

Christensen, the famous Harvard business professor, has made a living out of doing and writing about the unexpected: innovations that strike companies between the eyes and knock them flat, counterintuitive ways of framing questions that change how people see the business world and small, ignored competitors that bury industry giants.

Now with a new book set for release Tuesday, Christensen is again doing the unexpected — talking about the deepest implications of his Mormon faith with publications like Forbes, The New Yorker, The Financial Times and Businessweek.

And he is only getting started.

With his book, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" co-written with James Allworth and Karen Dillon, Christensen is being sought for profiles as never before. So far, the book is generating overwhelmingly positive reviews and has even been identified by CNBC as one of its 12 most anticipated books of 2012.

And it is giving Christensen an opportunity to talk about his work, life and faith.

Forbes' Bruce Upbin wrote a short article and posted two videos of a conversation he recently had with Christensen.

Upbin called the book "one of the more surprisingly powerful books of personal philosophy of the 21st century.

"Christensen makes a great point in his book about how hard it can be to commit to doing the work of studying and clarifying your core values, whatever they may be," Upbin wrote in a comment. "By honing his kindness, forgiveness, honesty and selflessness, he's built a foundation that helps him know the right thing to do in all cases."

In the first Forbes video, Upbin tells Christensen, "It's a very different book than your other books."

Christensen responds by saying, "In the scriptures, we are told you can't really understand happiness unless you understand sadness. You don't know pleasure if you don't know pain. It's part of life. So can you learn something from somebody who has gone from success to success to success? I don't think so. It has to be somebody who has failed and failed and succeeded and succeeded."

Christensen talks about how people get off track in life, how to be a better spouse and how children need to work.

In the second Forbes video, Christensen explains why atheism is a religion. He also takes on the alleged conflict between religion and science by explaining a "restored" concept of God shows he is in the universe — not outside it.

"And his power comes because he understands all of the laws of the universe perfectly," Christensen said. "And so he can do all of these things, not because he is outside of the universe, but he is within it and he understands it. And so if that is your view of God, then if you learn something that is true, it helps you become more like God. And there's actually not a conflict between science and religion if you view God in that way."

Not your usual Forbes fare.

And not your usual The New Yorker fare either.

However, Larissa MacFarquhar writes about Clayton Christensen in the magazine and talked about Christensen in an online forum.

"On the one hand, Christensen's faith is extremely important to him, and so is the Mormon community, so that is a large part of his life," says MacFarquhar. "He lives in Belmont, a suburb of Boston, in which there is a small Mormon community (including Mitt Romney) and a Mormon temple.

"But he loves discussions, he loves talking about his faith, and he is a missionary at heart, so I think he really likes living in a part of the country where he is surrounded by people whose views are different from his own."

MacFarquhar also talked about how the book is "very personal" to Christensen.

"But his co-authors (in this case as in all the others) are full participants, and I assume they make the books better than they would otherwise be, precisely because they are not Christensen clones," she said. "James Allworth is a former student of his, but far from being a Mormon, he is an atheist; Karen Dillon isn't an atheist but she isn't a Mormon either. Both James and Karen say that discussing how to live a good life with Christensen has affected them deeply, and I imagine that goes both ways."

Bradford Wieners in Bloomberg Businessweek wrote about an event that changed Christensen's life:

"'I'd been raised Mormon, but there comes a time where you are not following what you've been taught, but discovering for yourself if it's true,' Christensen says. Each night from 11 to midnight, he huddled near a space heater in a pre-Columbian Oxford building, read chapters from The Book of Mormon, and prayed to know 'if some charlatan had written this, or was it really from someone who talked to God?' While praying one night, he found himself enveloped in a feeling of love so profound he wept. This feeling stayed with him for an hour, and left him certain he was a son of God."

Andrew Hill in The Financial Times points out that the book is not a religion book.

"It is no autobiography," he wrote. "Prof Christensen writes comparatively little, for instance, about his faith, even though he told me he had become 'much more open about the importance of religion in our lives.' But he uses personal experiences to underline the message, such as the day his mother taught him to repair his own jeans (the virtue of self-sufficiency) or his habit of leaving work early so he could play with his children (the need to invest your time appropriately)."

The book grew out of a speech Christensen gave at Harvard that took his research in why some companies succeed and some fail and applied it to how to succeed in life. He illustrated the concepts with examples taken from his own life. The article based on the speech, "How Will You Measure Your Life?" became one of the most popular articles ever published by Harvard Business Review.

The new book seems to be part of what Christensen described in a Deseret News profile last November. He spoke about the ultimate questions he has tried to answer with his life.

"When I have my conversation with God at the end, whether I was a stake president or whatever position I had or didn't have in the church and in my life, actually won't come up in God's conversation with me because he just doesn't think that way," Christensen said. "He's going to say, 'Ok Clay, so I put you in that situation. Let's just talk about the individual people whose lives you helped. And then I stuck you in that situation. Tell me about the lives you helped there.'"

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