Members of the HBS’ Latter-day Saint Student Association share how the beloved HBS professor inspired them and others to build more principled, integrated, and outwardly focused lives.
Note: After careful consideration and in accordance with the new Harvard University guidelines for events and meetings on campus due to COVID-19, the memorial service for Professor Clayton Christensen on Friday, March 13th will not be held. The family and school are deeply touched by the outpouring of support during this difficult time. We would like to encourage you to continue sharing memories of Clayton at memoriesofclay.com.
In the weeks since Professor Clayton Christensen’s passing on January 23, nearly every major national and international news outlet has published a tribute to this great thinker and teacher. The articles are filled with superlatives about the lasting significance of his management theories as well as the influence of his teachings on countless students and readers on leading a measured, fulfilling life. Even more remarkable has been the outpouring on social media of very personal accounts of ways in which Professor Christensen inspired and touched individuals from all walks of life around the globe. This multitude of social media posts offers a deeply moving glimpse into how many people he reached and how he affected so many in their personal lives. Remarkably, these stories come not just from fellow academics or luminaries but also from people whom he befriended in an airport or whom he taught twenty years ago in class, in a lecture, or through one of his books.
Here on campus, Professor Christensen’s passing has likewise generated a flood of inspiring stories from staff, faculty, administrators, and students—including those who never personally met him but admired him from a distance. Among those most influenced by Professor Christensen’s life and teaching are members of HBS’ Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA). A devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Professor Christensen led a life that was a unique demonstration of success without compromising the things that mattered most, or perhaps more accurately, success by prioritizing things that mattered most. For members of the LDSSA and the broader HBS community, Professor Christensen represented a standard of faithful, purposeful, principled living.
A point of reference
At HBS, Latter-day Saints comprise a small minority of the student body, and it can be intimidating for students to come to a new place where few share their faith. Yet, it is not uncommon for fellow students to say, “Oh, I read one of Clayton Christensen’s books. Isn’t he a member of your church? His ideas really influence the way I think about important decisions.” For a Latter-day Saint student new to the HBS community, this type of recognition conveys a sense of belonging and respect. Though there are and have been other visible members of this faith at HBS, Professor Christensen served as a point of reference—at HBS and beyond—for what a Latter-day Saint is. Members of the LDSSA have benefited from his consistent effort to share all of himself, including his personal faith, with the HBS community.
An integrated life
One of the characteristics that made Professor Christensen unique was his approach to his many roles in life, integrating them rather than compartmentalizing them. He frequently told stories of how dinner table conversations with his family or classroom interactions with students helped him refine his groundbreaking management theories. He also frequently ported his management theories over into more personal realms, teaching how Disruption Theory could inform one’s life strategy, or how Jobs Theory could improve the way religious congregations care for their members.
One manifestation of Professor Christensen’s habit of integrating his life was his unwavering commitment to his faith. When asked to work on a Sunday as a new Consultant at BCG, he first explained his belief in the Latter-day Saint principle of sabbath observance and then responded that he was unable to work on Sundays. As a professor at HBS, he developed a practice of praying in preparation for each class he taught that his students would feel God’s love for them through his teaching. In a world where many view faith as being incompatible with the workplace or its effects being inversely related to professional success, Professor Christensen’s example powerfully demonstrated that “it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time.”
An enabler of others
Professor Christensen was famously committed to improving others’ lives. For him, management was a powerful avenue toward lasting impact on others as “no other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.” He often brought on less experienced co-authors for new books, mentoring them through the research and writing process and granting them exposure to a wide audience. It is fitting that his most recent book, The Prosperity Paradox, describes how innovation can be a tool for elevating nations out of poverty.
Having reflected deeply on the real purpose of his own life, Professor Christensen turned his focus outward. Rather than money or position or influence, his measure of success in life was the good that he could do for others. He described it in the following way: “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. 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.”
Till we meet again
Professor Christensen’s passing leaves a substantial void here on campus and in the many other communities where he was involved. To all, he stood as an example of principled, integrated, outwardly focused living. For generations of LDSSA members and alumni, his life is a unique demonstration that it is possible to prioritize those things that are most important in life, achieve professional excellence, and remain true to religious commitments. His example enables us to live more authentically, integrating different facets of our lives rather than compartmentalizing them. With the traditional Latter-day Saint farewell, we say to Professor Christensen, “God be with you till we meet again.”
The Latter-day Saint Student Association serves members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints within the HBS community, supporting students in their efforts to develop friendships and balance the demands of school, personal, family, and religious obligations.