How Clay Christensen’s thinking has influenced John Henry

Fall2012_185wHarvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has an important article in The Boston Globe today on the disruptive changes coming to higher education, arguing that the fading away of MOOCs (massive online open courses) will amount to nothing more than a temporary reprieve for the old way of doing things.

Ultimately, Christensen and his co-author Michelle Weise argue, college and university administrators will have to deal with “disruptive innovations” coming from the outside as they find that their high and increasing costs are unsustainable.

But what I find at least as interesting as Christensen’s views on education is connecting the dots between him and the Globe. Consider:

  • In the fall of 2012, Christensen and two co-authors — David Skok and James Allworth — wrote the cover story for Nieman Reports, “Breaking News,” on the challenges facing the news business in a time of disruptive innovation.
  • Last October, John Henry, shortly after completing his purchase of the Globe, wrote a piece for his new paper outlining his vision — and citing Christensen’s oft-repeated mantra that business leaders should think in terms of “jobs to be done.”
  • A month later, Christensen’s co-author Skok, the former head of a Canadian news site called Global News, was hired as the digital adviser to Globe editor Brian McGrory. (And here is an article by Skok that accompanied the main Nieman Reports essay.)
  • In an exchange of emails with Boston magazine earlier this year, Henry expressed admiration for Christensen and Skok, adding, “I’m not sure it is necessarily up to the disrupted to be disruptive as a strategy, but virtually everything these days is subject to disruption.”

Given that context, Christensen’s appearance in today’s Globe would appear to be a side effect of the “jobs to be done” thinking that has already permeated John Henry’s news organization.