In early January 2003 I embarked on a year-long academic research project at Queensland University Of Technology where I was studying and teaching. The work culminated in a 50,000 word thesis centred around applying Clayton Christensen’s theories on disruptive innovation to the Australian music industry. I was fascinated in trying to understand the competitive responses of key players in the Australian music industry as they battled a disruptive innovation – digital music distribution. At the time, the entire industry – from major record labels to retailers such as HMV – was in a state of chaos meaning it presented a fascinating ‘live’ research case study.
As part of the literature review, I had come across Clayton Christensen’s academic work and books in a comprehensive strategy and innovation theory review alongside management luminaries in Michael Porter. His work didn’t feature too widely in peer-reviewed journals as his seminal work (The Innovator’s Dilemma) had only recently been published (late 90s). However I distinctly remember that I was immediately captivated by how insightful and unique his work was in such a complicated area i.e. understanding why established companies often fail when confronted with emerging technologies. I felt that this represented a step-change from the traditional (i.e. manufacturing-driven) strategic management literature, but also drew relationships (and challenges) with research from various fields, including management, economics, finance, strategy, leadership, innovation, & organisational behaviour. As I sought to better understand what was happening, why, and the implications in the rapidly evolving music industry, I felt that his frameworks, models and case studies of other industries were highly relatable to analysing the challenge I faced.
Clayton was the reason why I subsequently pursued career paths loosely aligned with his work. I became a technology lecturer teaching university students in the early 2000s on the new field of e-Commerce law. I became a technology lawyer advising governments on emerging online gambling regulatory models. I became a technology management consultant helping global telcos with strategy, transformation, & operating models. I launched a start-up to gain the ‘innovators’ perspective on launching & scaling disruptive technologies (NB the start-up was too early and later failed, and as such was far from being disruptive). I even launched my own version of Clayton’s Innosight consulting firm called ROCKET + COMMERCE which helps CXOs to navigate and take advantage of new and emerging technologies (e.g. Digital, Internet Of Things, Digital, SaaS etc).
I had planned to make contact with Clayton and share my thesis in 2003/04, but I didn’t. I had planned to experience his teachings in Boston, but I never applied. I had once planned to convince Innosight to hire me, but I never pursued them. Upon hearing about Clayton’s recent passing, I immediately thought about these potential ‘missed’ opportunities to meet, engage, and express gratitude to someone who has had so much influence from afar. Whilst I now won’t ever have that opportunity, perhaps there are other ways. A crazy idea might be to build upon his work, like I aimed to do back in 2003. To do that properly may mean a radical career U-turn back to my academic roots. An easy idea would be to express gratitude to those who have helped me along the life journey so far, even if just a little. I don’t think I have thoughtfully done this, so right now would be a good time to start. To help provide additional inspiration, I’ve just ordered Clayton’s book from some years ago – How Will You Measure Your Life? (I didn’t realise he had written it). I’m sure it will have great ideas. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it also has a profound impact like his earlier works did on how I might spend the next 10-20 years. Watch this space (NB: I’ll provide a direct update to this post in 5 years on Jan 26 2025. Promise).