Thank you, Clayton

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). 

RIP Clayton

Contrarian Thinking

I was talking to a prospective partner today and in talking about start-up investing, he brought up the concept of ‘contrarian thinking’ came up. I had come across the concept previously, but couldn’t remember where (I later realised I had read it in Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One). So I was asked if there was something I believed in that no-one else did. The question caught me off guard which is no surprise as subsequent research shows it is a very difficult question, especially in direct conversations (vs a written response in a job application situation).

Whilst I couldn’t come up with a appropriate response, I promised to email across something (hopefully) coherent later. As the risk of being controversial (sorry), below is what I shared:

  • Participation awards for kids/adults who don’t win a race/task are not that helpful! You either win or lose
  • In most cases, people always have choices in most situations e.g. you fail, so what do you do next?
  • Whether you like or loathe him, Trump is very very talented and a game-changer e.g. pre-office wealth, use of Twitter to bypass govt process, connect with base etc
  • In 2010-11, I was what in hindsight is called ‘directionally correct’ with my first start-up, The Social Experiences Club. To make it successful, we had to take a contrarian view to the prevailing thinking. I, along with co-founders, believed that EVERYONE would be using smart phones to discover/search/book local experiences in their city (very few VCs, angels, experts and not enough customers agreed!). In 2015 the business sold as couldn’t scale further and raise Series A. In 2016, Airbnb launched their experiences offer and have sold millions of experiences since…

For those interested in reading more about this style of thinking, I suggest you start here with this video and transcript of Peter Thiel discussing it in detail.