[OPINION] Disrupting disruption

I “met” Clayton Christensen – widely credited with making “disruption” a buzzword – a year ago, when a post of his popped up on my LinkedIn. When I read more about him, I learned that Andy Grove credited Christensen’s first book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma, with Intel’s turnaround, that Reed Hastings read it when strategizing Netflix, and that among Steve Jobs' favorite books, it was the only business tome.

But Christensen said that after 25 years of teaching at Harvard Business School, among his top 5 takeaways were these somewhat surprising 3:

1) “Management isn’t simply about P&L statements, meeting quarterly growth and profitability targets, and creating brand awareness. Those are byproducts of good management. Management is about waking up every day and helping people become better people so they can do better work and live better lives,” he wrote.

2) Managers tend to spend time and money on what makes money now, because the results are more certain and quick. They don’t invest in innovation, and therefore their business often becomes the victim of disruption. That’s the gist of his innovation-disruption theory. But, he said, many managers do the same in life, spending their time and energy at work, where the results are quickly measurable and rewarded, instead of on their children, where results take 20 years. Bad investment, because we’ve all heard or read that eventually, family is the biggest source of happiness or sadness.

3) And, “God does not hire accountants.” (No offense to accountants.) By that he meant that in this life, we aggregate all our income and all our expenses, calculate a bottomline, and add up our bottomlines. We measure ourselves by how much we have accumulated, how many people report to us. That’s because our small brains need to lump many elements – and people – into a few numbers. So those numbers have to have many digits. But he said God doesn’t need to aggregate, doesn’t need a bottomline, doesn’t need to reduce us to numbers. He can comprehend every instance and, when we meet God, he will talk with us about particular instances in our lives, and particular people whom we helped “do better work or live better lives.” Or not.

Apparently, on the last day of every semester, Christensen would ask his class to think not about business but about life. He would ask them to ask themselves how they will measure their life. (Measurement of outcomes being, of course, a key management activity.) How Will You Measure Your Life was in fact the title of his eighth book, which was published in 2012 after getting diagnosed with lymphoma and then suffering a stroke two years before. If the students didn’t reach the above conclusions on their own, he would guide them to it.

I was inspired enough to watch a lot of YouTube videos of him and buy his 10th book, The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty, because “innovation” is a mantra in the business sector – mostly to do with technology, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIRe) – and I was intrigued by how it could be applied to our other maxim: inclusive growth, i.e., fighting poverty. (READ: #ThinkPH: Twitter's Rishi Jaitly on disruption – Spot it and scale it)

Paradox was, in fact, the occasion for that LinkedIn post. Almost exactly a year later, he passed away, just last month.

For a moment it is interesting that a guru to actual and aspiring billionaires wraps up his career by thinking, writing, and talking about doing good, not well, and helping the poor. But it is not surprising given how wedded he was to his faith.

He happened to be Mormon, and this week I heard him in the words of another Mormon, Mitt Romney, who said before he voted in the U.S. impeachment trial: “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.” Two short, simple sentences that moved me because of 12 seconds of silence that followed, as Romney contained the emotion triggered by professing his faith.

I have the privilege of working with and for men and women who have achieved a lot in business and even government. They hardly talk about past successes or their next deal. When one of them did refer to the past, it was in terms of failure, because the people seem to be rejecting the work he and others did for the country. When they get personal, there are warm references about their families, but mostly they talk about making and bringing in investments, creating and protecting jobs, improving education, supporting democracy. (READ: #ThinkPH: In a world dominated by machines, what are humans to do?)

I’ve now watched so many Christensen videos that I know how the stroke affected his speech but didn’t diminish his ability to communicate. And while he will be remembered for what he wrote and said about innovation and disruption, it is what he said (in print and in the thoughtful voice LSS’ing in my brain) about doing helping people, and spending time with our families, that will count in the end. – Rappler.com

Coco Alcuaz is executive director of Makati Business Club.