New York Daily News Cover: Mitch McConnell as Chicken Kiev!

Dear Commons Community,

Today, the U.S. Senate will vote on whether it will allow witnesses in the Donald Trump impeachment trial.  In all likelihood, the Republicans in the Senate will follow Mitch McConnell and vote not to allow witnesses.  The New York Daily News earlier this week pictured McConnell as “Chicken Kiev” on its front page (see above) – an appropriate depiction.


Unlikely that Witnesses Will Be Called in Trump’s Impeachment Trial!

Dear Commons Community,

As President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial comes to a showdown today, it is unlikely that there are the votes needed to call witnesses.

Republican senators argue that calling John Bolton or any other witnesses would be a waste of time — because their vote won’t change. That argument is an accidental admission of the essential truth of this trial: Republicans are prepared to acquit Trump no matter what. 

“There is no need for more evidence to prove that the president asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter,” Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.) said last night in a statement. Alexander said the charges against the president – that he inappropriately pressured Ukraine to investigate the Bidens – had been “proved” by the House managers, and that the president had acted improperly.

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” Alexander said, adding that the president’s actions were the kind that “undermines the principle of equal justice under the law.” 

“But,” he added, “the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said he was “very, very skeptical” that there would be a witness who would change his mind “about how I ought to vote on the final question.”

“For the sake of argument, one could assume everything attributable to John Bolton is accurate and still the House case would fall well below the standards to remove a president from office,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement Wednesday. 

“Unless there’s a witness that’s going to change the outcome, I can’t imagine why we’d want to stretch this out for weeks and months,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said earlier this week.

This is a far different stance than Graham and others took as recently as a few months ago, when they suggested that there was simply a lack of evidence to support the charges against the president.

“If you could show me that Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing,” Graham told Axios in October. 

Trump and allies such as Graham have continuously tried to narrow the scope of the impeachment investigation and direct attention solely to the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Although the call alone includes Trump bringing up groundless conspiracy theories and asking Zelensky to investigate a political rival, recent months have provided additional evidence and testimony that Trump directed a quid pro quo campaign to pressure Ukraine into launching a probe of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.  

Republicans have been eager to ignore and suppress that evidence, especially when it comes to Bolton. Trump’s lawyers in the impeachment trial have argued that Bolton’s book draft is inadmissible and the White House has warned him against publishing it. 

Senators are expected to debate and vote on whether to call witnesses today, with Democrats needing four Republicans to side with them in order for it to pass. However, it is not clear that all of the Senate Democrats will vote in favor of calling witnesses.

If witnesses are allowed, it could extend the impeachment proceedings and start a fight over who should be required to testify. 



Why Johns Hopkins Stopped Legacy Admissions?

Dear Commons Community,

A number of selective colleges have begun to reconsider their legacy admissions policies in light of affirmative action challenges in court and more recently, the Varsity Blues scandals that exposed how admissions were being rigged for wealthier applicants.  Johns Hopkins University has been phasing out legacy admissions over the past ten years. The shift seems to have had an effect. In 2019 the incoming freshman class at Hopkins comprised only 3.5-percent legacies, down from 12.5 percent in 2009. In that same period, the proportion of students eligible for Pell Grants — an indication of financial need — went up from 9 percent to 19.1 percent.  The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels and Vice Provost for Admissions David Phillips for their perspectives on the policy change.  Here is an excerpt.

How did you pinpoint legacy admissions as a barrier to social mobility?

Daniels. I came to the United States about 15 years ago. I spent the bulk of my career at the University of Toronto, where I was a student, a faculty member, and then ultimately the dean of the law school for about a decade. What’s really a striking feature of Canadian universities, and indeed I think it’s true for many European universities as well, is that they do not have formal programs that provide systemic advantage to legacy applicants.

It was striking to see the extent to which this is a much more deeply ingrained feature of American higher education. The fact that other Ivy-plus peers, like MIT and Caltech, had long operated successfully without those programs gave me a sense that there was scope for choice here. And so that’s what led to the gradual shift in the character of our admissions program at Hopkins.

Did you talk about this with MIT and Caltech?

Daniels. Sure did.

When did the shift happen?

Daniels. In 2009, when I started at Hopkins, legacies were about 12.5 percent of the undergraduate population. In 2014 — that was the first class Dave Phillips was responsible for admitting to Hopkins — legacies constituted about 5 percent of the entering class.

There was some gradual reduction before then. We went from 12.5 percent to about 8 percent or so in the years prior to Dave. But we really ramped up the commitment with Dave’s ascension to head of our admissions program. And of course now we’re at 3.5 percent of the class is legacy, and we’ve fully extinguished any legacy benefit in our admissions program.

What was the process like for getting this approved? Did you have to go through any hoops to get your board and alumni behind the change?

Daniels. We kept the leadership of the Board of Trustees, and the full board, apprised of this change. And did it without much fanfare. But we did it very gradually and with some sense of caution because we weren’t clear as to what the impact would be on the admissions program and our alumni relations more generally. As we saw that we could make this change, we started to communicate it more broadly, and over time we changed the character of our communications on our website.

Phillips. When we initially changed the policy, we left some flexibility in place to consider legacy status in rare circumstances during early admission, and only in cases where an applicant met Johns Hopkins’s high academic standards. However, as time went on, we found we were not using that flexibility, and we updated the language of our policy to reflect our actual practices, which was no consideration of legacy at all.

So you would ask students if they were legacy students in that part of the process but just not consider it?

Daniels. Even today we are still asking the question of legacy status, but largely to gauge the impact of this shift in the program. Look, it’s desirable for us to have intergenerational ties to our alumni. We want to do that without having to put our thumb on the scales. So we continue to ask the question to see what kinds of trends we have in alumni applications.

So far, what are some of the effects of this change, good or bad?

Phillips. What that affords us to do is have the flexibility to greatly change the composition of our incoming class. It’s much more diverse, much more high achieving than it had been previously. We’ve had significant increases in the proportion of first-generation students in our class, female engineers; the racial composition has changed.

Daniels. Here it’s important to say that the curtailment and ultimately the elimination of legacy preferences was not solely responsible for all the changes that have been happening over the last decade at Hopkins in respect to the character of the first-year class. But the termination of the program gives more space for the achievement of those other goals. So there’s the use of financial aid, the augmentation of financial-aid funds, how you are marketing to students — all these other things are happening simultaneously with the change in this program.

Have you gotten any pushback from alumni or members of the board?

Phillips. There’s been some, of course, but there’s been just as many alums who have been very supportive of the move and feel prouder to be part of a university moving in this direction.

Was there a decline in alumni donations?

Daniels. No. Even if one accounts for the very significant largess of Michael Bloomberg, we’ve seen a steadily increasing level of participation and quantum of donation by our alumni.

“We anticipated that some of our alums would be disappointed. But we were quite frankly surprised and elated by the number who said we get it.”

Why keep it quiet for years rather than announce it in a press release?

Daniels. Because this hadn’t been done in the last couple of decades by a private institution that we were aware of, at least within our peer group.

It’s not unlike what we did with the shift we made with our need-blind admissions process. We spent a number of years admitting our class on a need-blind basis but did not broadcast it.

And so too here, until we were confident that the program would work, that it would be supportive of the university’s mission and that we were confident that our key stakeholders would understand and applaud the change. We felt that until we hit that moment, it was important to be circumspect.

But beginning about a year or two ago, we started to talk, at least within the Hopkins community, about the change. Our sense was that this had enriched the university and it was a change that we were proud of.

Were there things logistically that had to happen in order for Johns Hopkins to make this change?

Phillips. Mostly just around framing for the staff and office about what to be focused on in the evaluation process. What matters and what doesn’t and what we value.

Were there unforeseen consequences?

Daniels. We anticipated that some of our alums would be disappointed. But we were quite frankly surprised and elated by the number who said we get it, we understand the hard-wiring of advantage in so many other aspects of American life to students applying from homes of privilege. And that we were putting our thumbs on the scales as a university to reinforce that sense of advantage was something that moved people.

Those voices of support have been very powerful and encouraging.

Congratulations to Johns Hopkins for recognizing its responsibility for social mobility.



More on Clayton Christensen: Tech Loses a Prophet!

Dear Commons Community,

Kara Swisher has an op-ed in today’s New York Times entitled, Tech Loses a Prophet.  Just When It Needs One, that examines the importance of Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation on the technology industry. 

Good piece!


New York Times


January 30, 2020

It’s nothing but noise, all the time. We get hammered every second from an incessant sousaphone of tweets and from the righteous rage machine that screams at us in this digitized 24/7/365 communications world that we have built.

What you might not know is that we have long had a name for what started this all: “disruptive innovation.” The concept was pioneered by Clay Christensen, a high-profile and well-regarded Harvard professor of management who died of cancer last week at 67. Professor Christensen’s remarkable legacy grew out of a seminal book he published in 1997, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

The book covered esoteric industries like the disk drives market and excavating to analyze and illustrate the power of disruptive technologies. His ideas exploded through the then-nascent internet scene and throughout Silicon Valley. I recall reading an early copy and thinking that it was a manifesto that the tech world would embrace — and that Professor Christensen was tech’s prophet.

The Intel founder and chief executive Andy Grove was a fan. So was the Apple legend Steve Jobs. Both men were doubtlessly attracted to the idea that start-ups made up of outsiders could find ways to create new markets and new value — and disrupt and overwhelm established companies.

In the face of disruption, older companies could do almost nothing. It wasn’t that they couldn’t see the new threats of start-ups, but that they were stuck on serving their current businesses, and they failed to change their products and services out of fear of cutting into profits.

Professor Christensen’s formula was elegant: “First, disruptive products are simpler and cheaper; they generally promise lower margins, not greater profits. Second, disruptive technologies typically are first commercialized in emerging or insignificant markets. And third, leading firms’ most profitable customers generally don’t want, and indeed initially can’t use, products based on disruptive technologies.”

It was that simple. Professor Christensen’s book came out a year before Google was founded, seven years before Facebook, eight years before YouTube and 11 years before Uber. Each of these companies, knowingly or unknowingly, would follow his map.

While Professor Christensen would go on to write a sequel and many more books on adjacent topics ripe for disruption, like education (“Disrupting Class” in 2008) and health care (“Innovator’s Prescription” in 2009), it was his initial idea that was devastatingly insightful.

I use the term devastate because, though no fault of Professor Christensen’s, disruptive innovation took a turn for the worse in tech. Silicon Valley failed to marry disruption with a concept of corporate responsibility, and growth at all costs became its motto. The more measured approach that Professor Christensen taught was ignored.

Thus, in tech, the idea was more like “destructive innovation,” which to me was distilled in Facebook’s famous sign that was once plastered all over the walls at its headquarters: “Move Fast and Break Things.”

I have always wondered why the company chose those words. I have no problem with “move fast,” which Professor Christensen would not have quibbled with, since being nimble was a core competency that he touted. It was the word “break” that stuck in my head like a bad migraine.

Why use a violent and thoughtless word like “break” and not one more hopeful, like “change” or “transform” or “invent”? And, if “break” was to be the choice, what would happen after the breaking? Would there be fixing? Could there be any fixing after the breaking? “Break” sounded painful. And, back to today’s subject, Professor Christensen never talked about that.

In fact, Professor Christensen’s approach was quite the opposite. He learned in 2010 that he had lymphoma, then he had a stroke. Within two years, he published the book that I like best, titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” It is at turns spiritual and sometimes self-helpy, taking Professor Christensen’s management thinking and applying it to how to live a life.

This book should be newly relevant, as tech is casting about for its next act; we’ve been talking about the negative impact of tech’s disruptive innovations for a while now. Techies measure everything — and so Professor Christensen’s bracing prescriptions are perhaps perfect as the tech industry seeks redemption.

For example, he wrote:

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.”

And: “In fact, how you allocate your own resources can make your life turn out to be exactly as you hope or very different from what you intend.”

And, most of all: “Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.”

Perhaps the tech industry does not deserve the kind and good advice that Professor Christensen imparted, but it should take it anyway. That way, while he rests in peace, it could give us some, too.

Elizabeth Drew: Why Having Hunter Biden Testify Would Be Bad for Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

Elizabeth Drew, a political journalist and author of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times urging Democrats to accept a deal to have John Bolton testify in the Trump impeachment trial in exchange for Hunter Biden testifying.  She makes a case that this will help the Democrats (not necessarily resulting in the Senate voting to impeach – not likely) in terms of public perception and the upcoming presidential election, assuming Joe Biden is the Democratic candidate.  Here are her key points.

“If there are to be witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Trump — at this moment an unknown — John Bolton and Hunter Biden would almost certainly be among those called to testify. Some people on Capitol Hill describe it as a one-for-one trade.

This idea has been widely dismissed by both sides. Democrats say Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, is irrelevant to the issues in the articles of impeachment. The president and Republicans assert that Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser who was fired by Mr. Trump — Mr. Bolton says he quit — is simply promoting a forthcoming book and has nothing meaningful to say.

To my own surprise, I now think that such an arrangement might well be highly valuable — for the country.

For some time, I was against the Democrats’ offering any Biden as a witness in Mr. Trump’s trial, on principle. Just because the Republicans want to batter Hunter Biden is no reason to submit either him or his father as fodder to hostile Republicans. But principle can be turned on its head; calling Hunter Biden could backfire on the Republicans big time.

In a television interview last October Joe Biden’s sole surviving and troubled son came across as a straightforward, unassuming guy: He conceded that he most likely wouldn’t have been asked to join the lucrative board of one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, Burisma, or been offered other opportunities, but for his last name.

A multitude of investigations of his arrangement with Burisma have turned up no wrongdoing on Hunter’s part — other than inviting the appearance of a conflict of interest, since at the time his father was in charge of Ukraine policy for Barack Obama. Having him appear as a witness could expose the fatuity of the Republicans’ efforts to smear him and his father. In fact, a number of Republicans actually don’t want to call the younger Biden. They’re worried about the circus atmosphere that might present — and they’d rather have the issue linger as a useful weapon. Acceding to Hunter as a witness would call the Republicans’ bluff.

Having Joe Biden’s son testify would illuminate the Bidens’ irrelevance to the issue of whether the president held up congressionally appropriated military assistance for Ukraine until the Ukrainian president announced — not necessarily conducted, just announced — a government investigation into the Bidens’ role. An appearance by Hunter before Senate questioners now could also go some distance toward removing him as an issue in the general election, should his father be the Democratic nominee. In fact, Hunter could be the star witness as to why a president’s (or vice president’s) offspring should stay out of any business that might have something to do with their parents’ job.

Moreover Joe Biden is at his most moving when he talks about his family and what it has been through: The Republicans could be handing him a lovely opportunity to make a knockout campaign speech.

And several advantages would accrue to the Democrats if Mr. Bolton were to testify. First, this would undermine the White House’s and Republicans’ plan to terminate the trial with a vote to acquit Mr. Trump by the end of this week. Second, Mr. Bolton could smash the White House’s and Republicans’ argument that there is no direct evidence that Mr. Trump himself directly linked military aid to Ukraine to a request that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, announce an investigation of the Bidens. (Mr. Bolton reportedly said as much in an unpublished manuscript of his forthcoming book, causing the White House to threaten to block its publication.)

Third, the longer the trial drags on the greater opportunity there is for more damaging information to arrive on the Democrats’ doorstep. Even if gathering the two-thirds Senate vote to remove Trump from office remains beyond reach, a secondary goal of the Democrats is to make Trump’s acquittal as unglorious as possible. The more an acquittal hinges on preposterous limits on disclosure of information and on preventing witness testimony, the less valid it will seem.”

I think Ms. Drew has good advice for the Democrats.



Tom Friedman Asks: Is Trump Benjamin Netanyahu’s Chump?

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to the press on the West Wing Colonnade prior to meetings at the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Friedman in his New York Times column this morning analyzes the substance and timing of President Trump’s and Benjamin Netanyahu’s new plan for “peace” in Israel.  Entitled, “Is Trump Bibi’s Chump?”, Friedman” goes on to consider whether this plan is “two states for two peoples or is it about one diversion for two dirty leaders?”  He exhorts the president to demand a commitment so he doesn’t get played.  Here is an excerpt:

“Given the timing of the release on Tuesday of President Trump’s Middle East peace plan, I have to begin by asking: Is this plan about two states for two peoples or is it about one diversion for two dirty leaders?

It sure feels like the latter. After all, both President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are, in effect, facing job-threatening charges — Trump for obstruction of justice and abuse of power and Bibi, who was literally indicted on Tuesday, for fraud, bribery and breach of trust. They both had a huge need to change the subject and shore up their common base of right-wing Jews and evangelicals.

If I were Jared Kushner and had worked for three years on a peace plan — and was serious about it getting a fair and full hearing from all sides — there is no way I would have released it right now. This smells.

But then my long-held view has always been that the Middle East puts a smile on your face only if a change for the better starts with them. Camp David started with Israelis and Egyptians, and America was brought in only later. Oslo was started by Israelis and Palestinians, and America joined only later. Tunisia, the only Arab Spring country to make its way to democracy, is the one Arab country that America had virtually nothing to do with. For a peace initiative to be serious and sustainable, it should always start with them.

And yet, I also know that when America puts something this detailed on the table, it cannot be ignored, at least in the near term. Netanyahu already announced that with Trump’s blessings Israel will quickly move to apply its law (tantamount to annexation) to the West Bank’s Jordan Valley and all Jewish settlements in the occupied territory. It will be interesting to see how the European Union, which funds much of the Palestinian governing infrastructure in the West Bank, responds once it’s studied the plan, not to mention the reaction of everyday Palestinians and Arabs. (I don’t expect much. This conflict seems to have passed its fix-by date.)

Friedman’s bottom line is:

“Without Trump getting Netanyahu to definitively end his claims to all of the West Bank, and without Palestinian leaders able to reunite their disparate political factions in Gaza and the West Bank into a single body that can theoretically say “yes” to a fair outcome for their people, while also recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Trump’s Deal of the Century will join a century-old library of failed Middle East peace plans.”

Friedman has this right.  The announcement of this plan is all about deflecting Trump’s and Netanyahu’s precarious political positions.



75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in German occupied Poland. The Germans had already fled, leaving behind the bodies of prisoners who had been shot and thousands of sick and starving survivors.  Soviet troops who led the liberation found gas chambers and crematoria that the Germans had blown up before fleeing in an attempt to hide evidence of their mass killings.

But the genocide was too massive to hide. Today, the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau endures as the leading symbol of the terror of the Holocaust. Its iconic status is such that every year it registers a record number of visitors — 2.3 million last year alone.

Yesterday — 75 years after its liberation — hundreds of survivors from across the world traveled to Auschwitz for official anniversary commemorations. In advance of that, Associated Press photographer Markus Schreiber visited the site. Using a panoramic film camera, he documented the remains of the camp in a series of black and white photos.

Auschwitz today is many things at once: an emblem of evil, a site of historical remembrance and a vast cemetery. It is a place where Jews make pilgrimages to pay tribute to ancestors whose ashes and bones remain part of the earth.


University of Maine Moves Ahead on Plan for System-Wide Accreditation in Anticipation of Looming Enrollment Decline!

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University of Maine at Orono

Dear Commons Community,

Maine has long faced the kinds of demographic headwinds that loom for many other states. Now higher-education leaders in this state think they may have found a way to ease its passage into a system with fewer students.

The Board of Trustees of the University of Maine voted unanimously yesterday to authorize the system to pursue a unified accreditation, a process that has run afoul of campus leaders and accreditors in at least one other state.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The system administration will submit a proposal to the New England Commission of Higher Education, known as Neche, to consider accrediting all seven four-year public campuses in the state as one accredited body, in what appears to be the first such arrangement in academe.

The Maine system has been considering such a move for years as a response to dwindling enrollment and constrained resources. If the unified accreditation is approved by Neche and by the U.S. Education Department, system officials hope they will be able to better build and offer programs across multiple campuses, and to combine administrative positions and services to save money.

A single accreditation for a public system could also set a precedent for other states with an ebbing flow of high-school graduates applying to overbuilt systems, and could provide a road map of how to pursue such a maneuver.

Maine may suffer more than any other state from the demographic forces squeezing college enrollment. Largely rural and sparsely peopled, Maine has one of the oldest populations in the nation and ranks low in both fertility and immigrant arrivals. The number of high-school graduates in the state is projected to fall by about 14 percent by 2032.

While the flagship campus, at Orono, and the University of Southern Maine, in trendy Portland, have increased their enrollments over the past five years, fall undergraduate enrollment on the Farmington and Augusta campuses have dropped almost 7 percent since 2015. And enrollment at the Machias campus, on the far northeastern coast, has dropped more than 16 percent.

Some sort of reckoning was inevitable. Campuses struggled to maintain departments with fewer majors. New programs, like cybersecurity, that would require faculty members and resources from across the system, met with obstacles over issues like registration, financial aid, and credit transfer. System administrators have looked for ways to cut costs by combining services and positions but feared running afoul of accreditors who expected each campus to sustain itself.

The question became, says James B. Thelen, general counsel and chief of staff for the system, “Can we really sustain all of that with all of them continuing to meet, by themselves, individually, on their own, all the accreditation standards?”

Maine’s approach will likely be seriously considered by other state systems.


USDOE Secretary Betsy DeVos compares being pro-choice to supporting slavery!

Image result for betsy devos"

Dear Commons Community,

Last Wednesday, USDOE Secretary Betsy DeVos compared the abortion rights debate to the battle to abolish slavery.  Speaking at a Colorado Christian University event in Washington, D.C., Politico reported that she discussed the Trump administration’s stance on abortion and said she was reminded of President Lincoln, who “contended with the ‘pro-choice’ arguments of his day,” she reportedly said, in reference to slavery.

“They suggested that a state’s choice to be a slave or to be free had no moral question in it,” she continued. “President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that [there are] a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil”

Under the Trump administration, abortion rights have been threatened. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced his plan this week to enact some of the strictest abortion laws in the U.S., which includes banning women from undergoing an abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

In 2019, similar bills were introduced in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio. Known as heartbeat bills, these proposed laws suggested banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Missouri introduced an eight-week ban, and Arkansas and Utah introduced 18-week bans.

On Friday, Trump adddressed the March for Life — a pro-life rally originally organized in response to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. It is the first time a sitting president addressed the annual event.

To compare abortion to slavery is horrific enough and to compare Trump in anyway to Abraham Lincoln is a political sacrilege.


Clayton Christensen, Author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Dead!

Image result for clayton m christensen"

Dear Commons Community,

Clayton Christensen, the author of the best-selling The Innovator’s Dilemma, died of leukemia on Thursday at the age of 67.  For those of us who write and teach about technology and its effects on organizations, Christensen’s work was required reading.  The Economist called Professor Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma one of the six most important business books ever written.

I have never met him but we exchanged emails backed in 2007 when he was writing, Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.  To build his projection for the future of online learning in K-12 education, he and his co-authors used data that Jeff Seaman and I had collected and reported on.  Christensen’s contributions to technology, innovation, and organizational development will not be matched by anyone anytime soon.

His obituary as published in the New York Times is below.

May he rest in peace.



Clayton Christensen, Guru of ‘Disruptive Innovation,’ Dies at 67

He broke ground with his assertion that the factors that helped the best companies succeed were also the reasons some of those same companies failed.

By Glenn Rifkin

January 25, 2020

Clayton M. Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School whose groundbreaking 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” outlined his theories about the impact of what he called “disruptive innovation” on leading companies and catapulted him to superstar status as a management guru, died on Thursday at a hospital in Boston. He was 67.

The cause was complications of leukemia, Nitin Nohria, the dean of the school, said in a statement.

“The Innovator’s Dilemma,” which The Economist called one of the six most important business books ever written, was published during the technology boom of the late 1990s. It trumpeted Professor Christensen’s assertion that the factors that helped the best companies succeed — listening responsively to customers, investing aggressively in technology products that satisfied customers’ next-generation needs — were the exact same reasons some of these companies failed.

These corporate giants were so focused on doing the very things that had been taught for generations at the nation’s top business schools, he wrote, that they were blindsided by small, fast-moving, innovative companies that were able to enter markets nimbly with disruptive products and services and grab large chunks of market share. By laying out a blueprint for how executives could identify and respond to these disruptive forces, Professor Christensen, himself an entrepreneur and former management consultant, struck a chord with high-tech corporate leaders.

Andy Grove, then the chief executive of Intel, said at an industry conference about a year after “The Innovator’s Dilemma” was published that it was the most important book he had read in 10 years. That praise helped make the book a best seller (it had sold more than a half-million copies by 2007), and Professor Christensen a marquee name in the business world.

A Rhodes scholar who studied econometrics at Oxford University and graduated from Harvard Business School, Professor Christensen joined the Harvard Business School’s faculty in 1992. A former basketball star (he stood 6-foot-8) as well as an affable academic, he focused as much on a life well lived as he did on his management theories.

A deeply religious man and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he incorporated his musings on religion into his academic work, especially as he learned he had lymphoma in 2010. Soon after that, he had a stroke, which forced him to relearn the English language, but he remained an active faculty member, mentoring students and developing popular curriculum offerings.

“Through his research and teaching,” Professor Nohria wrote, “he fundamentally shaped the practice of business and influenced generations of students and scholars.”

Rebecca Henderson, a fellow Harvard Business School professor, called Professor Christensen “a shining example of the way in which it’s possible to be an academic but have a real impact on practice.”

“That’s something we all aspire to,” she added, “but it’s hard to do. Clay succeeded in spades.”

Clayton Magleby Christensen was born in Salt Lake City on April 6, 1952, the second of eight children. His father, Robert, managed the grocery department of a department store, and his mother, Verda Mae (Fuller) Christensen, wrote scripts for radio and television before starting a family. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1975, and while there he took a two-year break for a Mormon mission to South Korea, where he became fluent in Korean.

In 1976 he married Christine Quinn, whom he had met as a freshman at Brigham Young. She survives him, as do their children, Matthew, Michael, Spencer, Ann and Catherine Christensen; and nine grandchildren.

After graduating with an M.B.A. from Harvard in 1979, Professor Christensen joined Boston Consulting Group. He and a group of M.I.T. professors later founded Ceramics Process Systems Corporation, which he ran as chief executive for much of the 1980s.

He made the career switch into academia in 1992 when he joined the Harvard Business School faculty, and for many years he taught a course called “Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise.” He focused his theories on a wide range of industries, from education to health care.

“One of the things that gave my dad’s research such power was its credibility and practicality — having been a leader and executive himself, he knew what would be meaningful and relevant in the real world,” his oldest son, Matthew, said in a statement. “He knew that because of culture and inertia, sometimes the right thing to do was counterintuitive, perhaps even hard.”

When he first learned he had cancer, he decided to write about how he reconsidered his impact on the business world. In 2012 he published “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” a book, written with two co-authors, that was based on an article of the same name that had appeared in Harvard Business Review. In it, he recast his management theories as a formula for measuring how best to live one’s life.

On the last day of his management class every semester, he wrote, he asked his students to “turn those theoretical lenses on themselves” and answer three questions: “First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?”

He noted that several former classmates, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, had spent time in prison. “These were good guys — but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction,” he wrote.

Ultimately, the realization that his ideas had generated enormous revenue for companies that used his research left him dissatisfied. “I know I’ve had substantial impact,” he wrote. “But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is on me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

“Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved,” he continued; “worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”