Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen died on January 23, 2020, and he left a remarkable legacy. He was a monumental figure in both the business and academic worlds, as well as in the Latter-day Saint community. He was the father of five children and author of at least eleven books. But to those who knew him, Clay wasn’t just a thought leader or a world-renowned professor or an influential Church member — he was a mentor, confidant, and friend unlike any other.
In this episode, we spoke with Efosa Ojomo, Kyle Welch, and Barbara Morgan Gardner to share thoughts and memories of Clay.
Efosa first met Clay during his time as an MBA student at Harvard. Along with Karen Dillon, Fos was the co-author of Clay’s final published book, The Prosperity Paradox.
Next, we talked to Kyle Welch, a Professor in the business school at George Washington University. Kyle became close with Clay well during his time at Harvard as a doctoral student from 2009 to 2014.
Our final interview is with Barbara Morgan Gardner, a Professor at Brigham Young University, and author of the book The Priesthood Power of Women. She got to know Clay when she did post-doctoral work at Harvard and as she served as an Institute Director in Boston.
Aubrey Chaves: Hi, and welcome to this special episode of the Faith Matters podcast. This is Aubrey Chaves. Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen died on January 23, 2020 and he left a remarkable legacy. He was a monumental figure in both the business and academic worlds as well as in the Latter-day Saint community. He was the father of five children and the author of at least 11 books, but to those who knew him, Clay wasn’t just a thought leader or a world-renowned professor or an influential church member. He was a mentor, confidant, and friend unlike any other.
In this episode, we speak with Efosa Ojomo, Kyle Welch, and Barbara Morgan Gardner. I’ll introduce Kyle and Barbara in a little bit, but we’ll start here with Efosa. Fos happens to be a close friend of ours who first met Clay during his time as an MBA student at Harvard. Along with Karen Dillon, Fos was the coauthor of Clay’s final published book, The Prosperity Paradox.
Efosa Ojomo: I signed up for Clay’s second year course when I was a student at Harvard Business School, and he’s got the most popular second-year course. It’s taught by five or six other professors, and I got really lucky that I ended up in Clay’s section. As you can imagine, his section is the one everybody wants to end up in, so I got really lucky. I don’t even think I appreciated how lucky I was at the time. I just thought, “Oh wow, I ended up with Clay. Okay. Cool.”
Tim Chaves: I didn’t get [crosstalk 00:01:29].
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Efosa Ojomo: Okay, [crosstalk 00:01:30]. I didn’t know how that simple thing was going to change, literally change the trajectory of my life. So I get into this section, and we’re learning. And as we’re learning about different innovation theories and how they impact business, the name of the course is called Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, and Clay is teaching us all these business innovation theories and telling us, “Look, when you come up to a decision, don’t just say, ‘I feel like I should invest in this company, or I feel like I should buy this.’ Ask yourself, are there theories out there I can use to make a much better decision that’s a bit more divorced from how I feel about it, my opinion?” So he always told us, “Guys, I don’t want your opinion in this course, I want you to tell me what the theory thinks.” So it’s just a very unique, beautiful way of thinking, and training my brain.
As I was listening in the class, I kept thinking, “Man, how relevant is this for Africa, for emerging markets, for places that really need growth through business?” I think for me that was sort of the first, “This is really special. Clay and his ideas are really special.” That was my first interaction with Clay as a phenom, not necessarily Clay as a person. Then I went up to him after class one day and I said, “Look, I think this is important for, I guess what you would call the developing world, places that don’t really have prosperity,” and I saw him just light up. He does something where, when he’s excited about something, he does like a fist pump, sort of like that. I saw that, and he got excited, and through the course of the semester I realized that was an opportunity to work with him.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Efosa Ojomo: To cut a long story short, I applied for that job, and I was lucky to get it. But I also got to tell you the story of how I even found out I got it, and the interview process as well.
Aubrey Chaves: Got it.
Efosa Ojomo: That was my first introduction to Clay.
Aubrey Chaves: I want to hear about, will you tell the story about being interviewed, in sort of an interview?
Efosa Ojomo: Yeah, sort of. That year, and you guys can relate to this, you remember HDS, second semester second year, if you hadn’t found a job yet you were sort of a little stressed.
Aubrey Chaves: So was your wife.
Efosa Ojomo: Yeah, exactly. The whole family, because you were like, “I know how much this experience cost me in terms of money and just getting my family from where they were to where … And I don’t have a job? What am I going to tell people, I went to Harvard business school? I’m the loser, Harvard business school could never be the loser.” Anyway, I’m over there thinking “Okay, crap. Fos, you need a job.” What I was working on fell through and I was desperate, so I wanted this job with Clay, not just because I thought he was special, but because I needed a job.
Then the more I learned in the class, I was like crap, I really want this job. I don’t even want any other job, I want to work with Clay. Then I found out about this research position. I applied for it. I thought, I’ve got decent odds. There’s two spots, and most people at that time have gotten jobs, and how many people want to stick around and do research with some professor? So I thought my odds were great. Then I find out the year I applied, like 40 people applied.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Efosa Ojomo: And I’m starting doing the math. You guys can do the math, two over 40 is not exciting. Then on top of that, I realized the guy who did the research position the previous year, who graduated in 2014, we graduated 2015, was going to stick around for another year. So now it’s really one spot. So one spot for 40 applications, I just started playing. “God, this is a miracle, you need to show up.”
So it was time for my interview, I made it to the interview round, and I put a binder together, a folder with all the theories, and I was there to explain to Clay, “This is how I could do it in Africa, and create growth, and this …” I walk into his office and we greet each other, and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “Hey Efosa, would you like to come write this book with me?”
Just imagine. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you where … Imagine you get ready to have an argument with somebody, and to defend your case, and the person says, “Wow, Tim, Aubrey, I agree with you.” And all of a sudden you’re like, “Huh?” That’s what happened. I was like, “Huh. Okay. Well first of all, yeah, but what about all the …”
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Efosa Ojomo: And we just had a conversation. We laughed, we talked about the theories, the relevance, talked about life, and he just got to know me, and he said, “Look, we’ll take care of you.” I didn’t even appreciate or understand what that did to me until recently, when I was thinking about it after he died, and I said, Clay had a way of giving you confidence you didn’t even know you had.
Kyle Welch: Wow.
Efosa Ojomo: I was an engineer in college. I didn’t write a lot, I didn’t read a lot, and here he was, this master, this great icon of innovation, asking me to write a book with him, and he didn’t know if I could string a sentence together. The message that sends is amazing. But I think that’s not where Clay stopped. He knew, if we were going to be successful, he would have to be patient with me. Because the chances that I was a great writer were really slim, largely because there are not many great writers out there, so they were really slim. So he just knew, “Okay, for me to coauthor a book with a postdoc I’m going to have to be patient,” but that was built into him. He was just so patient.
I didn’t realize that, again, until around the time the book came about, about a year ago. I look at early drafts of the book and I’m like, “How did I not get fired?” Because I’m telling you guys, they were so bad. They were so bad, I can’t even say they were not good. They were bad. And Clay would read those drafts and he would say, “Man, you’re a really good writer. Again, he was seeing something in me that I couldn’t see, and he would give me counsel, he would give me feedback.
One analogy I used when the book came out and people were asking, “How does it even work collaborating with Clay? How much do you write, how much does he write?” I said, “Guys, I think you’re asking the wrong question. Think of it like this. You have a GPS receiver in your car. And when you have a GPS receiver, maybe in your phone or whatever, the GPS receiver in the car looks like it’s doing all the work, that’s what’s giving you the turn-by-turn, that’s what’s telling you, “Turn left 200 feet,” whatever. But what happens when you don’t have reception? What happens when there’s no connection to the satellite? The GPS receiver is useless. Clay was my satellite. I was the GPS receiver. And all it took was for me to constantly engage with him. Yeah, I wrote words, but the words were built with the personality of Clay. His thinking, getting the thoughts in his mind, and learning. That also has now helped me develop as a writer, as a thinker. I’ve lost a mentor, a friend, a colleague, and my satellite. He was special.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I know one of Clay’s hallmarks, at least from my perspective, is that obviously he was a great thinker, a great business person, but also a person of deep faith. And I know you’re a person of deep faith, Fos.
Efosa Ojomo: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: With a different, outside of our particular LDS tradition. I’m curious, because I have that shared tradition with Clay, I’m curious what it looks like between you and him, or between him, if you saw him interact in other ways with other people, how he shared that faith and what that looked like to you.
Efosa Ojomo: Yeah, I don’t even care what faith people are part of, you can learn a lot from Clay and how he … In a way, because again, I’ve been thinking about Clay a lot recently, and Clay transcended religion. I don’t mean to be sacrilegious when I say that, but what I mean is, if the biggest thing you know about me is that I am a Christian, and I go to church, and I pray before my meals and things like that, then I’ve sort of missed the point. But if the biggest thing you know about me are attributes, like love, patience, care, compassion, faith, long suffering … I mean how many times did he come in and was in pain, and worked through the day. If those are the things you know about me, then in a sense, when I talk about why I’ve been able to get to those things, you don’t care, you don’t mind, you listen. You lean in and listen. Because it’s no longer about my religion, per se, it’s about these other attributes.
That’s a huge thing Clay taught me. He just taught me that, “Look Fos, I understand in today’s world using the word ‘God’ and ‘faith’ are like big taboos, but you have to ask yourself, what is truth, what matters, how are you living your life?” That’s why I think he was able to so freely just talk to people. And he would say things as a matter of fact. I would listen to him give a talk, and he would say, “God doesn’t create data.” He wouldn’t say, “I know some of you here might believe in God and some of you not.” No, he would just say it as a matter of fact. “God doesn’t create data, we create data, and data’s only about the past,” and he would explain something. But the way he would interweave his faith into what he did was seamless and beautiful, and it was never unnerving. It was never like, “Ooh, he just said that word again, the G word!”
I don’t know how to do that. I want to learn how to do that. I want to learn how to do that. But as I’ve been reflecting on Clay I think I realized, maybe learning how to do that, talk about faith in a way that is just seamless …
Aubrey Chaves: Natural, yeah.
Efosa Ojomo: It’s less about learning how to talk about it, and it’s more about living it out, so that it just becomes a part of you. Because that was Clay. He wasn’t talking about something that was removed from him, he was just talking about his life. When he thinks about his life, there’s no Professor Clay, HVS Clay, writer-author Clay, oh now religion, LDS, Clay. He was just Clay.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. That was so profound. I loved that.
Tim Chaves: It occurs to me as you were saying that, that’s the definition of integrity, right. It’s wholeness. It’s a single entity. It doesn’t separate who he is into different cases. [inaudible 00:15:55]
Aubrey Chaves: Are there any stories that come to mind that you want to share before we wrap up? Any interactions or stories he told you, or anything else?
Efosa Ojomo: Yeah, one … There are so many. In my mind now I’m thinking about … I’ll say one in particular that’s very personal. When I started working for Clay, this is July of 2015, a few months after I graduated, I started going through a really rough patch, personally, in my life. My marriage ended up falling, and I remember how it just really affected me. I was really struggling with it. Whenever Clay would see me, he would ask me how I’m doing. Not how the book is doing, just ask me how am I doing as a person.
Then this one day in particular, he sees me, and he sees I’m struggling. He says, “You know Efosa, this thing that you’re going through is really really hard, but I think my advice to you right now would be,” essentially twofold. “Lean into God, lean into your faith, pursue Him like never before.” And the second was, “Let’s write this book.” At the time I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t like, “Go take time off.” Because he said, “You could wallow in your sadness, this is a terrible thing that’s happened, or you could take all this energy and apply it to something good.”
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Efosa Ojomo: That’s what I did, and I got to tell you man, it was very helpful. It was very hard but it was very helpful. I also think Clay doesn’t just say something and let you go. He coaches you and helps you along the way. So every single time he saw me, he would ask how I was doing. Again, not how the book was doing. Which meant he cared about me as a person. I think that’s a thing with Clay. I feel the same way about members of his family that I’ve interacted with. They care about you as an individual, not necessarily your contribution. That’s a story I’ll always remember, because it was counterintuitive in a typical Clay fashion, but it led to such goodness.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. That’s beautiful.
Tim Chaves: I have a question for you Fos. What’s the biggest difference between pre-Clay Fos and post-Clay Fos?
Efosa Ojomo: Man. Pre-Clay Fos and post … Well there are the tangible differences. Google my name, and I’ve got a TED talk with over a million views, I’ve got a book. There are those tangible differences. But I would say the biggest is, as a follower of Christ, you already have an example in Jesus. You have someone who lived perfectly. I think sometimes we can relate to that, Jesus’ sufferings and so on, but other times he’s so distant, it’s like where is he? Like I can see you, I could see my colleagues, where is he? But then, on occasion you meet a person like Clay, who embodies some of these attributes with, not perfection, but I would say as close to perfection as I guess you can find here. And then that infuses a certain sense of hope in you, that you know what, if Clay could do it, I can do it.
For me, some of the things we’ve learned from Clay, like you said Tim, the integrity, as a whole person, are things that I strive for so much more today than I did before Clay. One practical way that shows up is, Clay talked about how he always wanted to be home for dinner. Didn’t want to work on the weekends, things like that. The idea of those things were very impossible to me, impossible. But then you meet Clay, and he lived by those as best he could, and look at all he accomplished.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Efosa Ojomo: Similarly, I’m in the same bucket. I’m like okay, 5:00, 5:30 I’m done with work. Weekends, there’s no work on the weekends. It’s just become part of the norm for me now. The idea that I would do this three years ago, I’m like “No man, I’ve got to work. I go home, I work [inaudible 00:22:03].” Yeah. That’s one simple practical away it shows up, but I think that’s tied to a much bigger quest for perfection, with regards to integrity and love and loyalty and all these things.
Aubrey Chaves: Next we talked with Kyle Welch. Kyle is another great friend of ours, and a professor in the business school at George Washington University. Kyle became close with Clay as well during his time at Harvard as a doctoral student from 2009 to 2014.
Kyle Welch: I was a doctoral student. I started at Harvard business school in 2009, and then I graduated in 2014, and over that course of time I spent about five years there getting to know him, taking his course, and then meeting him, talking about different ideas and research and things like that. I got to know him when I was there as a student, and then also as a state, because I was a state missionary when I was there, I would go to state missionary meetings and things like that. So he is somebody that was great, because he’d have these firesides and different ways to think about stuff.
For me, there’s a very short list of people that have ways that they’ve changed my perspective in so many different ways. You talk about vocationally, you talk about how I see the world and business, and then also how my faith is, just had that impact on me. He had that impact without even trying. I’m always trying to change, I just tried to change both your minds when I got on about what you should be doing with your stuff, right. But it was not like that, it was always like “Hey, let’s talk …” He’d talk about ideas, and all of a sudden your mind would be open to all these other things, and it was amazing.
I guess … Is this just me talking about it, or do you guys-
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, yeah, go.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, yeah. I love what you’re saying about that, because to me it seems like, for something about the way that he lived and the person that he was, gauging this [inaudible 00:24:11] pass, almost, that nobody else had, to talk just purely in the world of business, and he could theorize, and he could analyze, and then he could jump into this totally other faith-based-
Kyle Welch: Oh my gosh. He just had a way of actually … His way of bringing in the gospel to conversations that you would not expect it was amazing, and did it in such a way that actually got people to think in good ways. Right now as an academic, you mention God, you mention anything, you’re a little nervous. And it’s funny, because he kind of leveraged that almost a little bit. Not in an edgy way, but you remember him talking about Zeus version of God, and a God that works within the realism of laws. Obviously he’s hinting towards, people don’t know this, but God is like a super scientist, like Einstein says, that’s essentially the same thing, and it’s in line with LDS theology too. He used that as a framework to talk about managers thinking they’re Zeus and they can just change anything, versus, there’s certain things that they have to deal with. He just did that over and over again, and it was neat to see it in the class. I’ve totally ripped off some of his stuff and use it in my class all the time, because I think it’s great. I think it’s great stuff. Bringing God in the way he does and talking about different things is wonderful.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, that’s awesome. I’ve heard too, and I wish I had had more personal interaction with Clay, but the impression that I got, based on talking to people that did know him a little bit better, was that he had, despite the fact that in the last couple of decades he had made quite a name for himself, and was obviously a very very busy person, he seemed to have an innate ability to focus on those individuals, the people that he interacted with, and give them so much direct attention, and somehow convey the love that he felt for them. Was that your experience as well?
Kyle Welch: Yeah. It’s funny, you interact with these MBA students that come by every two years, and all of them feel like “Man, we were like this.” It’s funny, because I felt that way too, but I also knew he made everybody feel that way. It’s funny, he had a way of making everyone feel that way. And not in a fake way, not in a car salesman way, just when you sat down, he’d talk to you and ask you ideas about stuff, and he’d say “Okay, let me think about things,” and he’d send you very personal things. Fortunately I was there long enough that occasionally they’d say, “We need to know something about students, let’s go to Kyle,” or something like this. I read one of his early editions of the Everyday Missionary book when it was a draft, and I read it in under 24 hours. I just couldn’t put the thing down. Those that have read the book kind of get a sense of how he was with talking about faith and firesides and different things like that, and it’s fantastic. It’s like a new perspective on things.
Kyle Welch: I remember he had his Innovation In Faith … Did you ever hear his Innovation In Faith fireside thing that he did?
Tim Chaves: I don’t think so.
Aubrey Chaves: I don’t think so, yeah.
Kyle Welch: He had this thing where … One of his talks was that he’d talk about church innovations and how they started. He went through almost every single program that we have in the church, and for a long time I tried to figure out a source for all his stuff, and I found it in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism of all places in my mom’s house. Because I’m like, “I’ve got to find out where he was sourcing all this stuff.” Because he was talking about it, and he sounded like he really knew what he was talking about, but I’ve got to find out what the sources were.”
For example, the primary program. Primary program was started in Utah because one of the moms on one of the streets, one of Brigham’s wives or something like this, just decided, “You know what, we’ve got all these kids, they’re asking so crazy, we need to teach them about the gospel and have something focused for them.” So they started the primary program. When it came to the perpetual education front, there was an individual actually doing this, that it ended up being such a successful thing, the church looked at it, and it percolated and percolated up so it became a church-wide program.
His point in saying this is something that, given that you have a Faith Matters blog, his point is doing this is that a lot of times mormons look at that book of rules and say, “If it’s not in the book you shouldn’t do it.” You get a lot of this rigidity around the faith, thinking that just because it hasn’t been done it must be wrong. The reality is that it opens your mind to a whole new set of ideas about approaching the gospel, reaching people, and fellowship. In a way that you should be more creative about.
I remember when I was on a mission, I was always out, I was always following the rules and doing everything like this, and if anything didn’t seem like it was painful, I didn’t do it. Then I remember serving in Palo Alto, and we had these great missionaries there. One of them was a semipro tennis player before he was on his mission. So they’re in Palo Alto, a place that basically despises religion, and he talked to his mission president, and he says, “Do you know what, I think I can probably share the gospel better playing tennis.” I heard it, and with a few years post mission, I heard it and I was like, “Really?” Then I thought, well it’s Palo Alto. If you’re going to bet anywhere, bet here. It’s not like South America where you’re going to miss stuff. So he did that, the missionary with his companion ended up baptizing two families in Palo Alto in a matter of four months. And it was because they took a creative approach to leveraging what talents they had to doing things and picking things up.
I now look at things totally different from the church as far as why things are the way they are. It’s funny, because you get people that complain about things in the gospel, in the church, and when you hear how things originated and how things are, it goes back to the same old thing that you deal with, of just, you’re dealing with humans, so yeah, you might have a state president or a bishop that has a rigid idea of something, but that’s part of the process. You just deal with it and just figure a way around it, because the reality is that the faith gives an opportunity for us to explore and do things totally different.
Tim Chaves: Yeah.
Kyle Welch: His talk on that, unbelievable, and he just went down program after program after program, it was amazing.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow, I love that.
Tim Chaves: I know that Clay liked to teach using stories. That’s the case in his innovation books, but also in faith. Were there any stories that he told that have particularly stuck with you, that have affected your faith or the way you think about [crosstalk 00:30:52]?
Kyle Welch: Yes. And this is how he crosses things over, he does it in a secular way. He does faith in a secular way in the sense that … He talks about his meeting with Andy Grove, and Andy Grove was the CEO of Intel. Andy Grove basically said, “This guy’s going to write great thing about how businesses go out of business, let’s have him out.” And he had him out, and he talks about this all the time, he says, “And Andy said ‘Okay, tell us what we need to do. We’re in ships, you know us, tell us what we need to do.'” He says, “Well let me tell you about the theory.” He says “Nope, tell us what we need to do.” Andy Grove kept on wanting to get it, he says “No, let me tell you the framework, and then let’s talk about it.” He says, “It’ll just take about 15, 20 minutes.” So Andy sat, listened to it for 15 minutes, and then Andy said, “I know what we need to do.” That’s where the celeron processor was born.
From that he said that he used that for talking about faith, in the sense that he said that God requires us to ask questions for our faith to grow. The reason why is because if He just tells us, we don’t learn it. For some reason our brains don’t … He can’t throw books at our brains from the sky and get us to pick it up. Really for us to learn things, we have to have questions, and we have to wrestle with these questions and deal with these questions, and once we have these questions, and we look and find the answer, that’s when we actually get a solution. Andy wanted the answer. And had he come out of the gate and just given them the answer, he wouldn’t have been there.
When it comes to questions and asking questions, Clay had this great way of approaching things. He said “Questions build faith.” His view was that science and religion aren’t two different things. Science and religion are the same thing. You’re looking for truth, and any time one is off center, that means you need to recalibrate your understanding of what’s going on.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Kyle Welch: He had this way of talking about the spirit. He’d say “Look, the spirit can be this divine thing that comes in and, I don’t know what, to your body, or it could be a tipping of serotonin levels in your mind that gives you a new insight to something.” He says, “I don’t care. Why do I care? What I want is that insight. I want that truth that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.” Because the spirit, the real advantage of having the Holy Ghost, is that you would learn things that you wouldn’t know otherwise. Anything you could figure out own, the spirit’s not really necessary, it seems, for that. But when you need something that would be outside of your own knowledge, that’s when the spirit becomes really valuable, and his response was, “I don’t care if it’s serotonin or something else. However it works, that has no bearing on the fact that it works.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. Because detractors [inaudible 00:33:51] spiritual experiences by saying “That’s just hormones, that’s just something going on in your brain,” and he’s saying, “That’s fine. Why would God not work that way?”
Kyle Welch: Right. Maybe that is. It’s one of those things with faith, for me, that it ends up becoming an anchor when you think of things that way. It’s like in John six, where the followers of Christ get met with the question of, he says “Are you not going to follow me too because I said you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood?” I’m sure they looked at each other like, “This is weird, but you’re the only one that has the bread of life. Where else are we going to go?”
Aubrey Chaves: Our final interview is with Barbara Morgan Gardner. Barbara has been on our podcast before. She’s a professor at Brigham Young University and the author of the book The Priesthood Power of Women. She got to know Clay when she did her postdoctoral work at Harvard, and as she served as an institute director in Boston.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: I first met Clayton Christensen … I received a phone call from him, and he found out that I was being assigned to be the institute director out in Boston, and he just called me and said, “This is Clayton Christensen, you probably don’t know me.” And frankly at the time I didn’t. Of course I’d heard his name, but I didn’t know much about him. He said, “If I can be of any help, or if I can support you at all in your decision to come out here,” because I hadn’t decided yet, he said, “I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: So I said, “I would really appreciate that opportunity. If you can help me in making a decision to come to Boston, I would really appreciate it.” So he said, “Let’s make a time available.” He actually made an appointment with me. I met him in his office there at Harvard in the business school, and he probably talked to me for a good two hours, welcomed me to the area, helped me understand the position of the church, the members of the church, the interfaith culture, why he believed that it was important to have the right personality there. No pressure at all, just told me everything he felt that I needed to know with a lot of encouragement.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: That’s how I completely ran into him, by him just reaching out to me and helping me understand better the realities of what was going on in Boston.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. So you accepted, moved to Boston.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: I did. And frankly, much because of his involvement. I could tell that because he had so much to give, and he was so interested in the church and the members, but also in the whole entire community, that I continued to just feel like this is something I needed to be putting myself into. Of course it wasn’t completely him, but his outreach was a big impact, had a big impact on me.
Aubrey Chaves: Looking back on that year, what things come to mind? Like stories, or lessons, or things that, when you think about your interaction with him … What’s influenced you, and what comes to mind?
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Honestly, it’s amazing how much that man has impacted my life, in the year I was there but also in the continued contact he kept with me after I left. But in that year itself, I’ll just give you a few instances that I think are significant. One was, when I was out there trying to decide if I should come, he did say to me, “If I can help with anything, please let me know.” People say that a lot, but the difference with Clayton was, he would call me on about a monthly basis, or he’d see me at church, we were in the same ward, and he would say every time, “Barb, is there something I can help you with? Barb, do you need something? Do you want to come over to my house and discuss anything with you?” Just always very available, very open.
I kept thinking to myself, this man could literally charge thousands and thousands of dollars for the time he’s offering me, and he’s just willingly doing it. So one day I actually took him up on it, and I said, “You know what Clayton, I’m actually trying to figure out some things to impact and have a positive influence on the institute and seminary program here, and I would love to have a chance to talk to you, especially on the topic of those who are struggling with testimonies, or really struggling, the young adults, with the church.” So he invited me over to his house, and it was just he and I, and his wife was just kind of walking around here and there. He sat me down on a couch, and again for another two to three, probably three hours, I recorded the entire conversation, which he said I could. He literally asked me about individuals, he asked me what the situation was, he analyzed the entire scope of things, and then just gave me as much feedback as he could. And of course asked my opinion, but I was just really there to listen.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: I took notes on everything, and he told me about experiences he had had as a member missionary. He told me experiences that he had with young adults. He took it extremely seriously, and then just kept asking me what I thought. One of the things that I thought was fascinating is, he’s a definite thinker, so he would ask me, “What would you think about the way I analyze this, and does this sound accurate to you?” Then he would kind of practice the idea on me, and then just say “How do you think we could implement this in order to help in this area with members of the church?” Or, “How do you think we could use this to help people that are not members of the church to understand our background, or our interfaith [inaudible 00:39:17], and things of that nature?”
It was phenomenal. He acted, and I’ve heard people say this, but this is 100% the case, there were two people in that room, he and I, just the two of us, and his wife would come in, but all I could tell is, in that moment I was the only person that he knew existed, except for the people I was talking about. It was so amazing. And so intelligent, and so fresh, so wise.
Tim Chaves: When you were speaking with him, did you get the business professor sense from him? If I understand it, your background is in education, and obviously he comes from a business background academically; did you feel that he was applying business frameworks as he spoke with you and worked with you in the church, or was it more general, or more religiously oriented?
Barbara Morgan Gardner: He would take business frameworks at times, things that I didn’t understand, but he would say to me, “This is a framework,” or “This is a case study we might want to consider.” Then he would take the case study and he would apply it to a religious slash education perspective. He knew my background too, he knew that I had a Ph.D in instructional psychology. He also knew that I was trusted in the church, and he knew that that was the lingo that I was accustomed to. He was very adept of taking his lingo and making it easy for someone of, frankly, my intellect, but also my background, to understand. So yes, he was very adept, clearly, as a professor of business at Harvard. But I think that’s one of the beauties, is he could take those principles and apply them to any situation.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow. I feel like we’ve heard really similar things from other people, how he would listen and process, and then he could apply the same theories across any context.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Yeah. He would say “This is the theory,” and frankly I don’t remember the theories. He would say “This is a theory.” He would say “In business we teach this.” He said “Let me see if I can help you, help us …” And he wouldn’t say “you” as if he was demeaning. “Let’s just see if we can make this applicable to our current situation.” Meaning the situation I was dealing with, but all of a sudden that became his as well.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: He owned what the discussion was as well. He owned the need and helped fill it. It was, again, no pressure, he was just saying “What would you think if,” or, “This is a possible solution,” or, “Perhaps we can think of it in a completely different way. Maybe this isn’t even a problem. Maybe this is a complete opportunity.”
I’ll give you an example. One of the things that we were looking at, just individuals that were struggling with membership in the church. And he would say “Sometimes we look at the broader picture and we talk about a number of people at a time.” He said, “Why don’t we just talk about one student. Let’s talk about …” Not by name, he would just say “Let’s talk about one individual who is attending Harvard, who may have this kind of background, and see how we can help that one individual. And after we learn about that individual, perhaps we can learn about another individual.” He would say “Let’s try it from a different perspective,” and then he would try a different business model, and we would just keep going through until he could help me come up with something that actually could make a significant impact.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Tim Chaves: That’s amazing.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Yeah.
Tim Chaves: Obviously he is very well known in the broader world for his work on innovation, but in the Latter-day Saint community he might be most well known for his book How Will You Measure Your Life. I’m curious, what were sort of the lasting impacts that he had on you in terms of how you think about those things, like how you measure your own life, or how you orient what you’re working on, or what is most important to you at the end of the day?
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Let me answer that in a couple of different ways. I was also working on postdoctoral work in Harvard while I was back there, and one of our professors, she was a woman who was in charge of helping people become ivy league university presidents. She had us read that book and a paper by Clayton Christensen, and just said, frankly he is a very good solid person, you may not necessarily agree on everything, but then she said, “I highly recommend him, and I highly recommend his principles, because I have found them sound in my own life” I was very impressed when she told us that.
Back to How Will You Measure Your Life as well. There was a time when I was asked to speak at the Memorial Chapel at Harvard, which is a pretty big deal. It was over Easter. I thought, I need to go in there and just see what other people are speaking at Harvard, and kind of get an idea of what they say. I didn’t even know who was speaking. I just walked in one day and it happened to be Clayton Christensen. And he gave the most incredible talk on the brother of Jared, and spoke of brother of Jared, and using his intellect and using his wisdom in being able to receive miracles from God. I remember thinking in that moment, “I cannot believe I am hearing any person at all, let alone Clayton Christensen, giving an entire discourse to a public audience at the Memorial Chapel at Harvard University on the brother of Jared.
What it did for me, besides the fact that it was an incredible discourse, what it did for me is, it opened up the door for me to be able to teach my own faith, and to teach correct principles regarding the gospel, to this audience. So he wasn’t trying to convert anyone, he wasn’t trying to talk Mormonism or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was just trying to teach correct principles, and that happened to be the book that he was using to teach those principles, and it was powerful.
So when I go back to How Do You Measure Your Life, one of the things that he talks about is that you’re being honest with yourself, that you have goals and that you are doing things that are right. When I think about what he was doing in there, he didn’t care what anybody thought, he wasn’t trying to have somebody else measure his life, he wasn’t trying to speak to the crowds, he wasn’t trying to be Applauded by anyone. It was, he had a firm foundation on who he was as an individual, he had specific goals that he was looking to accomplish in his life, and he was going to follow through honestly with what he set forth to do. Which gave me, frankly, the power to be able to do that myself. I’m a strong individual already, but to watch him do it opened up doors that I didn’t even realize that I was perhaps closing, without knowing I was doing it.
His book, that paper is extremely impactful. I’ve seen students at Harvard and BYU, and I’ve been on airplanes and seen people read that, over and over again. I really appreciate his work on that.
Tim Chaves: There’s just something about him that, it seems like I do this, and a lot of people do this, we kind of segment our lives into different areas, and we sort of adopt different vocabularies as we speak to different groups of people. But something about him, his faith was so core to who he was, he was always himself.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Always.
Tim Chaves: No matter who the audience was.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Yeah. It wasn’t like he was speaking to a religious group of those who were not of our faith and trying to tell a different story, and then going to the business school and telling a different story, and then going to church on Sunday and telling a different story. He was the same person on Sunday … I literally have watched him, and I’ve been in his office at home, I’ve been in his front room at home, I’ve been in his office at Harvard business school, I’ve had him in my area … I’ve watched him in different settings, and he is the same person regardless. That doesn’t mean he can’t speak. He’s wise enough to know that, he doesn’t actually have to change his vocabulary, but he can speak to the individual. He seeks to understand them so he can speak with them. He doesn’t speak over them. But at the same time, he’s not in any way fake to one group of people. He’s not hypocritical at all. He is Clayton Christensen regardless of where you find him.
Aubrey Chaves: I feel like the thing that I keep hearing from everyone, and from you, is that he can do that because he’s not coming from this place of pride where he has all the answers and so he trumps anybody in the room. He has this profound curiosity and humility that is so disarming that it seems like he can take that into any context and people receive him lovingly, because he’s coming from such a humble place. I just love that, because we all respect him so much. Everybody has told these stories about how he asks these questions. I think it really requires some vulnerability to just throw out these maybe’s, that he doesn’t really know the answer yet, but he’s willing to just throw something out, and see what you think and weigh it together. I think that’s so interesting, and I just love it.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: And like you said, he’s throwing things out, but I really do believe he believes and has high expectations for everyone he’s talking to. So in the case where we’re sitting together for three hours, and that was one experience, it wasn’t just, we had other experiences, but in that case I remember so clearly that he actually did expect that I was going to come up with something with him. Like somehow together we were doing this, it wasn’t just me watching him. I would just sit there and listen, but he wanted my feedback, he wanted my ideas, he would ask “What do you think about this,” and then he’d say “Okay, what kind of model do you think you could come up with?” I was like “Really?” But then I tried, because he empowers you. You just keep going, because he doesn’t in any way … There’s no demeaning, there’s no looking down, he genuinely wants to know what you think, or wanted to know what you think. I think he probably still does, [inaudible 00:49:34].
Aubrey Chaves: Yes.
Barbara Morgan Gardner: Humility, I’ll give you another humility moment. I thought this was fascinating. I flew quite a bit between Boston and Utah, and he did too, I was on many flights with him. But I remember my first flight with him, I think he was with his wife if I remember right, he was seated in first class, but it didn’t make [inaudible 00:49:55] difference. Frankly he was so tall, I hope he always had a chance to be in first class. He was a tall, big man. I remember him coming back … We chatted in the airport beforehand. I remember him coming back to my seat and saying to me, “Barb, it’s late at night, you’re by yourself. Would it be okay if my wife and I gave you a ride home?” Then I said, “Of course [inaudible 00:50:17], that’s so thoughtful, I have things taken care of.” He’s like, “I know you probably have things taken care of, but please just let me.”
Then, thinking that, “Wow, he really cares about me,” which he did, but I saw him do that to five more people on our airplane. It wasn’t just me, it’s like he couldn’t help himself but to be nice, and notice individuals, and notice individual needs. I don’t know what he offered to the other five people on the airplane, but I know he just sat and walked back and talked to five different people on our flight. Every single person was into the conversation, and clearly every other person seemed like they were best friends with him. That’s what I mean by humility. It wasn’t like he was trying to prove anything. He was just genuinely kind, and genuinely wanted to help, and really seemed to think that we were all in the same plane. We were literally on the same plane, but I mean on the same level. Anyway.
Tim Chaves: That’s amazing.
Aubrey Chaves: That’s great. That’s so great. Is there anything else before we wrap up that you want to add?
Barbara Morgan Gardner: He touched every person, every age, every gender, every cultural background, everything. Nothing mattered, he just cared about individuals and he cared about helping them with their lives. He was a phenomenal example for me. That scratches the surface of many of the things I learned from him. Again, like I said, he even kept contact with me, after I left Boston and continued to reach out, to make sure that everything I was doing was okay, and continue to ask, “Is there anything I could help with”. Even when I was no longer even in his area. Phenomenal. And I’m sure he had so many people he was … I don’t know how he was able to reach so many individuals one at a time, but he did it. He was phenomenal. A life changer for me. If I had a little bit of Clayton Christensen in my life I would consider myself, as he says, a very successful person.