When Clayton Christensen and I first appeared at an event together to discuss a book that he and I had coauthored, I wasn’t surprised to see a crowd gathering to talk to him after we spoke. The opportunity to share an observation or ask a question of Clay, one of the world’s truly original thinkers, was special. But I had to laugh at how often that moment turned into a request for a selfie with him. Clay had clearly become a rock star of management thinking. He was patient with every photo request, grateful that a new generation was interested in his ideas, and truly eager to learn how those ideas were being used and advanced.
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I was honored to be asked by the editors of MIT Sloan Management Review to guest-edit the spring 2020 issue on the future of innovation. Having spent the past decade working closely with Clay, I’d had the chance to explore a wide range of relevant topics with him, including how the coming of AI, the rapid speed of innovation, and easy access to capital will affect how companies compete in the years ahead — all topics we explore here. I started working with the team at MIT SMR before Clay’s death in January 2020, so I was able to sit down with him for what would be his last interview. Clay had continually refined his own theories over the years, but he was still wrestling with many questions, as you’ll see in our Q&A. He was pleased to learn how the academics and practitioners featured in this special issue were thinking about some of the biggest innovation challenges looming for companies.
Clay was more interested in getting to the right answer than in being right. And for him, getting to the right answer started with asking the right questions. For instance: What does the ascendance of a new generation of straight-to-consumer disrupters tell us about how innovation is evolving? What are the sources of disruption that every company must monitor? Is disruption always the right strategy — or not? And why have companies