Our church and the world lost a towering figure this week with the passing of Clayton Christensen. He was legendary in the business world and to a generation or two of students at Harvard Business School. But for those who really knew him, it was his intense faith and the genuine way he lived his life that will remain his greatest legacy.
We reached out to some friends of Faith Matters who also happened to be friends, students or colleagues of Clayton. We asked them to reflect on just one experience in which he touched and shaped their lives. Here are just three examples
Thomas B. Griffith–friend of Clayton, Federal Judge, former chief legal counsel of U.S. Senate
Is there a more powerful example of the ‘radiant Mormonism’ about which Richard Bushman speaks than Clayton Christensen?
My admiration for Clayton began when I was a freshman at BYU. A campus publication interviewed Clayton when he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford. Asked what he had done at BYU to help him win the Rhodes, Clayton touted the value of attending the weekly Devotionals and Forum Assemblies held in the Marriott Center.
I knew that there weren’t many things I could do to be like Clayton, but this was one of them. And so every Tuesday morning I found myself in the Marriott Center, sometimes listening to religious exhortations, other times listening to secular scholars at the forefront of their disciplines who were grappling with complex issues that mattered.
The life of the spirit joined with the life of the mind. That was Clayton. From his example then, and later from his friendship, I learned that not only can the two be joined, but that each is more fully explored and developed in tandem with the other.
Several years ago, a member of my court asked if I could persuade Clayton to speak at a regular lunch of our judges. My colleague had been deeply impressed by the profile of Clayton that appeared in the May 4, 2012 issue of the New Yorker magazine and wanted to meet him. It’s an astonishing article. Not only does it chronicle Clayton’s groundbreaking contributions to understanding how businesses succeed and fail, but it also describes in detail and with great respect a profound spiritual experience Clayton had with the Book of Mormon while at Oxford. The recounting of that experience and its central place in the piece makes the profile a near perfect description of Clayton’s life. His monumental contributions to the world were inextricably intertwined with his abiding faith that the Restoration story is true.
Clayton’s approach to life is a model for Latter-day Saints. We are not to retreat from society, but rather lean into it. And when we are at our best, we will bring to a world that we love insights from the Restoration that will bless the lives of others.
Josh Turnbull–former student
On a chilly winter morning in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was invited to meet one-on-one with Clayton Christensen in the “old boiler factory” that served as our ward chapel. I had been called as ward mission leader and he was serving as a stake high councilor over missionary work.
Clay had already become a hero of mine. I once attended his wildly popular BSSE course at Harvard Business School (always the most oversubscribed course by far at the school). I sat in awe in that classroom as I watched a true master teacher lead a discussion with brilliance, wit and, of course, artful storytelling. But what struck me most was how genuine he was. He had a quality of humility, kindness and sincerity that made every person feel that what they said and who they were really mattered.
When I think of the Savior, what most draws me to Him, what most fills my heart with love and admiration for Him, is the genuine respect He had for every individual– from the Centurion to the leper. Jesus was authentic. He was who He was in every moment. And he gladly shared His truth with everyone. Clay was the same way. He would bear testimony of Christ and of the Book of Mormon in any setting, because that’s who he was.
On that winter morning, as we sat knee-to-knee in the old boiler factory, he looked me in the eyes with that warm smile and twinkle in his eye. He wanted to know everything about me and how he could support me in my new calling. He wasn’t rushed. He wasn’t thinking about the many more important things he could be doing or more important people he could be meeting with. He was there, completely present, to do his best to show love and support to me. I’m not sure in all my life I have met someone quite so genuine, quite so authentic.
HL Rogers–2004 graduate of Harvard Law School
When I arrived in Boston to start law school, I was a young husband and had become a first-time father just 3 weeks before. Aside from my church mission to Brazil, I had never lived outside of Colorado and Utah. I felt overwhelmed and under-qualified.
After my first week at school, I was asked to attend a small church training meeting with Clayton. He sat on the edge of his seat in a small room in front of about five young students. He looked at each of us intently and smiled broadly. He told us that we probably felt a bit out of our depths and were likely focused on the work and dedication we’d need to succeed in our rigorous programs.
He paused, smiled again, and then told us the best thing we could do with our time was to focus on others. He said he knew we were all overachievers and hard workers. That we worked hard at learning, growing, and improving ourselves. He congratulated us for these characteristics but then told us they weren’t that important. He knew we’d strive to succeed. But he challenged us to rearrange our priorities and focus more of our time and attention on the people around us. Focus on our families: our spouses and children. Look for students who appeared overwhelmed and worried and reach out to them. Dedicate time to serve in our church congregations, instead of allowing our studies to force us to neglect these important responsibilities.
He paused again and reached out his huge hands in an all encompassing gesture. Remember, he said, the Lord does not aggregate above the level of the individual. In all you do, focus on each person individually. Know who they are, learn about their lives, grow to love each person around you. The Lord certainly does, you should too.
The next three years of school, the early years of my career at a demanding law firm, and the other career opportunities that have arisen have all been time-consuming and difficult. But often when I was buried in a project, in a case, or in trial prep, I would hear Clayton’s voice in the back of my head telling me to step out of myself and serve someone else. After all, I’d hear him say, “the Lord does not aggregate above the level of the individual. Go serve someone. Your other problems will then simply dissipate.