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WGU Commencement Address from Clayton M. Christensen
WGU Commencement Address from Clayton M. Christensen
Western Governors University
<p>On Saturday, July 15, 2017, the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the Founder of the Christensen Institute, Clayton M. Christensen delivered the WGU Summer 2017 Commencement Address. This commencement was held at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Scott Pulsipher: I'm pleased to introduce Clayton M. Christensen. Our commencement speaker today Professor Christensen is Kim B. Clark professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and founder of the Christensen Institute. Often regarded as one of the world's top experts and on innovation and growth, Christensen introduced the theory of disruptive innovation. He has long been supported of WGU and the University's learning model. Please welcome Clayton Christensen.</p> <p>[Applause]</p> <p>Clayton Christensen: I'm honored to be with you today. As I have tried to prepare my remarks I realized that you and I have a lot in common. I was raised in Rose Park on the right side of the tracks in Salt Lake City. I went to West High School and graduated from there. At age 38 with four kids I lost my job. And I was at a point in my life where I just needed to support my family better than we had before. And so I went back to school hoping that it would lead me to a new career as a teacher. You have had a lot of responsibility in caring for your family as you serve -- as you study here. And I have a family that I needed to care for as well. But, oh, my gosh, I am so grateful that I went to school again to get a better job and to be able to support my family in a better way. And so we do have a lot in common.</p> <p>I'd like to talk with you a bit today about smallness and bigness in mankind. In my profession my job is to identify questions and puzzles and paradoxes that have net yet been resolved. And my job has been to resolve them as best I can. One of the questions that I posed at the beginning was I wonder why success is so hard to sustain. So if you look across the sweep of business history most companies, which at one point were widely regarded as unassailable successful. A decade or two later you find them in the middle of the pack and often at the bottom of the he. So the puzzle was, what makes it success so hard to sustain at the level of corporations as well as individuals?</p> <p>And I came to a strange conclusion and that is what causes successful companies or people to fail is they have a small view of mankind, not a big view. And they look at the entities that are big and successful and try to emulate them. In the end, however, it's really the people that start with small problems that grow, that become successful.</p> <p>So, for example, a number of years ago a company called New Core made a plant, you see it on the west hand side of the road as you go north near Tree Mountain. And they had a new technology for making steel. They could bring scrap, melt it and reform it into shapes. And the only product that they could make in the beginning was rebar that is used to build or inside of cement when you're building structures.</p> <p>There was another company in Utah called U.S. Steel, they had a huge plant in Geneva and the people at U.S. Steel looked down at New Core and their new technology and all they could do was make rebar, which is at the low end, and it made no sense to them. And so they ignored it. But New Core instead began making small products and simple ideas and then they made it better and better and better. And as they got ever more capable, the reaction of U.S. Steel was still not to look at them down market, but rather to try to see if they could make even bigger steel for even bigger people and ultimately New Core has been wildly successful by looking at the bottom of the market as a platform to grow.</p> <p>Some of you know a company called Toyota. When I was in high school and college Toyota was invading north America, but they invaded had north America, not with Lexusses, but with a rusty subcompact called a Corona. What they did is they made a car so affordable and successful that the low end of humanity, people we call college students, could own a car. And while Toyota was starting at the bottom of the market, General Motors forwarded a different view of success. That is we had to make bigger cars for bigger people. They looked at Toyota coming from below and it made no sense to pay attention to them. Toyota went from a Corona to a Corolla Tercel, Camry, Avalon, 4-runners, Sequoia, and then the Lexus, yet General Motors and Ford framing goodness of success couldn't see it coming until its all over.</p> <p>This is what I mean by the smallness of mankind, the view that we will only be success if we are better than them. And a much better way to view mankind is I might be better than them at one point, but what's different is they want to improve to get better. And taking that view, they might be good, but we want to grow and we want to be better makes a different view of mankind.</p> <p>That brings a very different view of mankind that a bigness of mankind and the premise is very different. We might look at a person who seems to be better than I am, they know more than we do, but that wasn't always so when we were born we were all the same. And other people might have learned earlier than we, but if they learn it, we can learn it too, And we need to view our success not as a static view, but rather a dynamic view. If I can't do something, it doesn't condemn me to being mediocre in the rest of my life, rather it just gives me an opportunity to learn.</p> <p>At age 38 I learned how to be do research and to be a teacher. You guys at the same age have learned how to be accountants and nurses and engineers and business people and I congratulate you. If you keep thinking about the view of mankind that it's a dynamic view, that you can spend the rest of your life doing better and better, you will give -- you will bless mankind in many ways.</p> <p>Another element of the bigness of mankind that I think is important is that learning is not as static event, but rather learning is something we hot to do for the rest of our lives and it isn't even tailing just focusing on us to learn and be skilled, but rather it requires that we teach each other and help each other as they try to learn because as we teach, we learn and I think an important element of the business model here is that we help each other to be better.</p> <p>Another thing that's important for me as I look at the bigness of mankind is that this is God's view of mankind as well. God did not envision that some of us would be bolted to the floor of mankind, unable to succeed while others have flexibility and upward mobility. That's not God's view of mankind at all. His view is in the bigness of mankind that what we can become what he is and he's given that potential to every one of us. That's why it's so important that we keep learning. He envisions that each of us can know what he knows.</p> <p>Now as you can see with this color I live in traditional higher education at a university called Harvard. I'm grateful that I work there. It's a good school. But we have a smallness view of mankind. The minute you get the ACC or the GRE, it determines whether you can come and join us or you can't. We keep score. We figure out what is the average GRE for the students who go to Stanford and Yale and all of these other lesser known schools. And we have to keep score because if we have bigger scores, we're better than them and in order to succeed we have to be better than others. But that's not what bigness is about in any way. We need to help everybody keep learning for the rest of their lives so that we all can become the people thank God wants us to become.</p> <p>And all of the University's that I know of who have taken success come to the view of the smallness of mankind there is one big exception and that is western governors. Everything I feel with you is based upon the bigness of mankind. Everything that I feel is that it's dynamic. It's not static. People can learn for the rest of their lives. Many of you like I can choose to take a different career and halfway through and bring happiness to our families. And so I give my honest congratulations and gratitude to so many of the people here who have sacrificed so much to create this marvel lust university. Now, if you wouldn't mind I'd like to close by telling you how I learned about the bigness of mankind.</p> <p>One day a number of years ago I was driving to school and about 6:00 a.m. all of a sudden I had a feeling in my mind and in my heart that something important is going to happen to me clay Christensen and there was no specificity about what that was, but it was a very clear feeling that I was going to be given a responsibility in the not too distant future. And so as I continued to drive to work, I wondered what might that be. And then a couple of weeks later there was an announcement that somebody in my field was going to leave their employment and I put two and two together and realized they are going to give that to me. And so I started to prepare myself and figured out what else I would want to put into place and who I would ask to work with me. And then when the time came to announce who the person was they chose another person and not me. And I wondered why in the world would they have done that to me. Because I looked at my resume versus his, there was no question that I was better. And it put me on a -- I just couldn't figure out what had gone wrong with me. And then after about two Missouris of trying to figure it out, I had an important insight and that is thank God doesn't hire any accountants in heaven. And what I mean by that is you and I because we have finite minds we have to aggregate in order to understanding what's going on.</p> <p>So in companies that I'm affiliated with we send out invoices and we receive invoices, many times every day. And we can't keep track of all of the individual data in each of these invoices and so thank goodness we have accountants and they can add up all of those numbers and give us a single number that allows us to say we're doing better or we're doing worse. Because we have limited minds, we need numbers and we have to aggregate things in order to give a sense of what's going on.</p> <p>We have a sense because we aggregate that the world is organized in a hierarchical way so that people who aspire, they are responsible for bigger numbers are more important in an organization than people who are responsible for smaller numbers. But then I realize thank God has an infinite mind and because of his capability he didn't -- god doesn't have to aggregate people and turn those into numbers in order though understand completely what's going on in this world because he has an infinite mind he doesn't need to count us as numbers. Then I realized, oh, my gosh, so if that means thank God only looks at people and not numbers, when I die, and I have my interview with him, he's not going to say to me oh, my goodness, the important professor Clayton Christiansen from the Harvard Business School, God's not going to say that. Instead what he's going to say to me is all right, Clay, do you remember I put you in this situation.</p> <p>Can we just talk about what you did to help those people that you were with to become better people. And then if you remember I put you in this situation and let's talk about the people there that you helped to become better people. And then if you remember I gave you 5 wonderful children. Let's talk about what you did to help them become better people. And I realized thank God will measure my life by the individual people who I helped to become better people. That's the way he will measure my life. And when I realized that, I realized that I need every day to find opportunities to help people that I work with and study with to become better people because that is the way God will measure my life.</p> <p>And I want to congratulate you first to the faculty because you have such great opportunity to help the people that you work with to be better people. And you students who have worked to help the people that you work with to become better people. You have chosen magnificent professions. And I thank you. God bless you. I pray thank God will be with you as you try to become bigger and bigger and better and better people. Thank you. [Applause]</p>
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