Clay Christensen On What Your Business Can Learn From Divorce

Nobody sets out to get divorced, but it happens all the time. The trick to avoiding divorce–or industry disruption–is to pay attention to the jobs that need doing, says Christensen.

Clay Christensen On What Your Business Can Learn From Divorce

To call Clay Christensen an “innovation guru” or “business scholar” might not represent the power of his thought: A better word might be philosopher, for he has a deep understanding of the Way Things Work, including the parallels between professional and personal life.


Our two lives are not so separate; motivation, after all, acts as the engine of both. And as Christensen tells Startup Grind founder Derek Andersen, if we’re not careful, we mess up both with the same miscalculations.

No one plans on getting disrupted–or divorced

Christensen recalls when he graduated from Harvard Business School. All the bright young minds he matriculated with thought they were going to go on to have marriages filled with joy and happiness, and yet many of them went out and got divorced. To put it in business terms, their outcomes did not match their vision.

To Christensen, it’s the same (il)logic that unravels corporations, like when Cisco disrupted Lucent:

There wasn’t (anyone) in Lucent that said, “you know, we should go out and go into bankruptcy and drive the company into the ground.”

So, then, how do you become Apple, which disrupted its iPod business with the iPhone, rather than Nokia, whose candybar phones have found their way into the dustbin of history?

Market applications

As Christensen describes it, disruption theory can help the decisions we make in marriage (and other, less institutional, relationship types). One of his pet theories is jobs to be done: It’s a kind of design thinking in which you seek to understand what your customer is “hiring” your product to do.

In How Will You Measure Your Life, Christensen discusses how a fast food company was able to innovate after it discovered the job that people were “hiring” a milkshake to do–they wanted to have something to sip on throughout their commute. That insight arises from a subtle kind of empathy–taking another’s perspective and acting in correspondence with their needs.


Sounds like good advice for couples, right?

It’s how Christensen operates, he says. Instead of telling his wife Christine all the things that he’s done for her, he tries to take her perspective:

What are the jobs that arise in Christine’s life for which she might hire a husband? And I’m telling you–I would never hire Clayton Christensen–but understanding the jobs that she needs to do really allows me to say, “Gosh, I guess I need to be the kind of person that she would want to have.”

Bottom Line: In business, as in love, you must understand what the other person’s needs are–whether they say it or not.

Watch the original video here.

[Image: Flickr user Pete]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.