“Disruption” is one of those awful MBA shibboleths that have infected the blood stream of normal discourse over the last decade. It’s a largely meaningless term employed by the world’s laziest pseudo-intellectuals to condescendingly explain to the victims of destruction-capitalism why their skills and inherent worthiness as a human are now longer respected. It’s basically the shorthand Nuremberg defense for an entire generation of efficiency experts and HR specialists.
The popularity of this concept is largely due to “Clay Christensen,” a man without a soul and whose work was deservedly filleted this summer by Jill Lepore. Now Clay is hitting the interview circuit again, partly as a defense to his idiotic Social-Darwinism with a T1 cable theory, and partly because he has some hilariously dumb ideas about higher education. Let’s visit a few key graphs.
Henry Blodget: You have predicted — which is staggering — that half of universities will go bankrupt in the next 15 years.
Clay Christensen: Yes. Everybody else thinks that it’s absolutely crazy. But I think I’ll be right.
Good for you Clay! Having confidence is important when defending ridiculous assertions.
I have made an observation that relates to this. It is as follows: Many of society’s most important and vexing problems were created by unnamed people in the past who decided unilaterally to combine things that should be separate and to separate things that should be together.
Pretty sure you’re trying to describe imperialism, but if you’re doing that you’ve already screwed up the analogy.
So, for example, there were three antagonistic ethnic groups, and somebody said, “Let’s put them all together in one country, and let’s call it Iraq.”
Muqtadā al-Ṣadr on a stick you’re dumb Clay. The people who “put them all together in one country” were not “unnamed people”. It was the British Empire after WWI, and they weren’t just plopping ethnic groups together for the lolz.
And that created all kinds of problems for mankind, because they actually ought to be separate.
Whoa deep Clay. Remind me how you want to reform higher education, especially after you just delivered a ham-fisted historical analysis that a stoned college freshman would be embarrassed to turn in for credit.
And whoever decided that we should teach literature and history as separate topics? You could teach them together, and you would get so much more out of both. And in a bigger way, somebody decided that there is education and then there is employment.
That whole “fiction” aspect behind most pieces of literature is potentially problematic for teaching history. For example students might get confused about basic facts, like how Iraq came into existence in the 20th Century.
In the universities, we teach you what we decide you need to know. And the employers find out when they hire people that students didn’t learn what we needed them to learn.
“I see your dumb history professor taught you that unions are good. Well enjoy watching this training video until you unlearn all that nonsense Mr. College Graduate. This is #Target and we believe in #workplace #innovation”.
Online learning offerings, like the University of Phoenix, have relationships with employers and teach what you need to know.
“Student loan debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy and can be garnished directly from your check by the IRS”
So things that we thought were important, like having a degree, get supplanted by achievements because a degree per se doesn’t mean as much.
This is actually true. Provoking Congressman Dana Rohrabacher to drunkenly tweet me was way more spiritually fulfilling than graduating from law school.
HB: So let’s talk about disruption a little. Like so many in business over the past 25 years, I was a huge devotee of “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” I was surprised when I picked up The New Yorker several months ago and read what to me was a very personal attack, not just on the theory, but seemingly on you for having advanced the theory and having it become so popular.
And the author, Jill Lepore, seemed to be saying, “It’s just demonstrably wrong.” What was the story behind that?
Besides her demonstrating why the premise is wrong?
HB: You’ve been vocal for years on Apple having a not particularly desirable business model, because they have a closed system. It has surpassed lots of expectations. Why has the iPhone not failed?
CC: Well, A, they’re smart.
This is a great answer Clay. Top notch #disruption into your own theory.
But Clay isn’t done. He has advice for how to improve your life and succeed in the workplace.
HB: Your most recent book is called “How Will You Measure Your Life?” You’ve talked about a lot of the people at Harvard Business School and elsewhere — just extraordinarily smart, Rhodes scholars, graduating with these incredible pedigrees — and how down the road they are embarrassed to come to reunions because their personal lives are in shambles. They’re divorced. They’re alienated from their children. And one of the things you pointed out is often we have this tough time with work-life balance. How do you excel and compete in an incredibly competitive world and also find time to make sure you take care of your family.
Tenure and royalties from selling shmucks a glorified self-help book?
CC: Well, the first lesson or insight for that is you’ve got to understand why that’s happening. In our individual lives if we have a drive to achieve, and we have an extra ounce of energy or 30 minutes of time, we’ll spend our time and energy on whatever activity yields us the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. Our careers provide immediate evidence of achievement.
Every day you can put your hands on your hips and look at something that you accomplished. But in raising family, on a day-to-day basis, the relationships with our spouses and relationships with our children don’t provide any immediate achievement. It takes 20 years to raise a child. It’s a very long investment.
“Son, you are a massive disappointment as an investment and have continually failed to produce the sort of emotional revenue that we originally intended. I’m trading you as part of a securities deal to a boarding school now in exchange for a country club membership”. #FamilyDisruption
The neo-gilded age that we currently live in has a few wonderfully defining characteristics. My personal favorite is the non-sequitur platitude sandwich where the speaker desperately avoids acknowledging their own structural privilege.
HB: And was it important to your overall career success, given that you transferred out of management consulting, which can be an incredibly all-consuming job, legendary work hours and so forth, into business academia, where you have much more control over your time?
GREAT QUESTION HENRY.
CC: I think that’s the wrong category scheme.
Those words make no sense when strung together in that fashion, Clay.
There’s a type of person, and you see them in the consulting firms for sure. You see them as investment bankers, private equity players, buyout shops. You see them on the trajectory for tenure at the Harvard Business School, at the Harvard Medical School. All of these people are just driven to achieve.
For fucks sake. “It’s not my job security, or massive amount of capital that gives me the confidence to act like an absolute psychopath when dealing with people in an entirely unregulated market place built on greed…it’s my DRIVE TO ACHIEVE!”
If you see The Innovator’s Dilemma in your bosses bookshelf (presumably next to a trophy for frisbee golf), quit that job immediately because you are working for a crazy person.