I met Clayton Christensen only once. It was 2012, and thousands of business scholars were gathering in downtown Boston for the Academy of Management, the industry’s biggest conference of the year. People from all around the world presented papers, networked, applied for jobs. Keynotes were delivered in gigantic lecture halls packed with hundreds of curious PhD students, aspiring postdocs, and tenured professors.
Not everything felt like a rock concert, though. Two years earlier, I’d defended my doctoral thesis on Christensen’s theory of disruption, and I was keen to present some of my arguments to anyone who would listen. Our paper was assigned to a small seminar room. There were hundreds of such backwater sessions, and usually only the coauthors and a few acquaintances from last night’s cocktail party showed up.
A few minutes before the session started, Christensen entered the room. I was stunned. Why would someone of his status even bother to find our paper in this haystack of academic research? But he listened carefully, and his presence was calm and focused. After our presentation, Christensen made a couple of remarks—most of them reflective and self-critical—and acknowledged some of our arguments.
This man was clearly not in the game to gain prestige or try to push an agenda. He came across as humble, thoughtful, and curious in a way that left me astonished and impressed.