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For week ended June 06, 1999 Posted 19 Jun 1999

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Boy Scout's theory on why giants fall has CEOs talking

Summarized by Eric Bunker

Boy Scout's theory on why giants fall has CEOs talking
USA Today 1Jun99 L5
By Kevin Maney

In the business world today, it is quite common for well established and formerly successful business to be seriously blind-sided by upstart companies, who at first unnoticed, erode profit margins and steal away customer base. For example, why minicomputer makers couldn't shift to PCs, why Sears almost got toppled by Wal-Mart and why Microsoft should be terrified by Java. The common consensus was that the older companies were bloated with bureaucratic inefficiencies and poor management decisions. However, Clayton Christensen, in his 1997 book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," disagrees.

The book is becoming so popular in business management circles that it is getting passed among CEOs like a Victoria's Secret catalog in a boys' locker room. This summer, whole conferences will revolve around the author and his book. Business educator, motivator, and speaker, George Gilder calls Bro. Christensen "the most important business thinker in the world today."

Why all the fuss over one book and its author?

It is just that the author in"Innovator's Dilemma" has finally explained the dynamics of why these business blind-sides occur. Many academics and business writers assume business stumbles are always due to bad management. However, Bro. Christensen assumed managers are usually very smart, and has piled up hard evidence showing why the smartest ones can so badly miss major shifts. After all, it is not about stupid, slothful managers. Instead, the book shows why well run, hard-working established companies still get whacked by what he calls "disruptive technologies."

In his book Bro. Christensen describes the business physics of something many CEOís suspected was there to start with. The result is both a salve and a crystal ball.

"For managers who are struggling, it helps them understand why they're making the decisions they make," Christensen says. On the crystal ball side, understanding disruptive technologies can help managers see the missiles coming in.

Clayton Christensen is a kind, gracious, and modest man, but is turning into a major-league wonk, one of the biggest stars in business technology. His professional research seems to flow from the kind of person he is. Bro. Christensen is self-effacing and assumes the best in everyone; so, he approached his research from the unusual position of graciousness.

Bro. Christensen is a 6-foot-8 devout Church member who grew up in Salt Lake City and went to Brigham Young University, where he played basketball. He has five kids ages 6 to 20. Now 47, he has served as a Boy Scout leader since 1975. He once ran his own company, Ceramics Process Systems, served as an assistant to two Transportation secretaries (Drew Lewis and Elizabeth Dole) and is now a Harvard Business School professor.

His current book is very good at diagnostics, but has no solutions. CEO's and Managers are desperately hunting for solutions to save their companies. So to meet this need, Bro. Christensen is starting a new research project to find workable solutions.

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