Harvard professor educates and inspires UVU

Photo credit: Tiffany Frandsen

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Seth Gutzwiller | Staff Writer |@sethgutz_seth
Photo credit: Tiffany Frandsen


Dr. Clayton Christensen, Professor of Business Administration to the Harvard Business School, spoke to Utah Valley University students and faculty on Thursday, Nov 20 in the Ragan Theater about disruptive innovation and how to predict in advance whether or not customers will buy products.

Christensen enlightened the audience by explaining how it’s possible for smaller companies to enter a market where there are already large, more-established companies present. When new companies provide the same product that is accessible to a larger audience it is called disruptive innovation.

“Building a university is complicated. The open market couldn’t pull this off,” said Christensen.

He applied this principle to online classes versus in-person classes. Online classes fulfill the same requirements, without the necessity of attending class. That is one way that universities are getting the same job done, which is helping students obtain a diploma. The Dartmouth University student newspaper, The Dartmouth, found that students were willing to pay the same price of tuition and receive the same degree, if they didn’t have to go to class.


“We as educators decide what our students need to know. We teach them what we think they need to know, and then they graduate and we give them a degree,” said Christensen.

One way that expensive graduate schools are experiencing the effects of disruptive innovation is through in-house certifications. Many companies provide certifications for trained employees that are just as valuable as a master’s degree in their specific businesses.

“There is so much research being done by so many faculty members and so many universities that we have way too much knowledge that we could ever teach,” said Christensen. “I believe that in the future what’s going to happen is the universities just won’t have enough room to continue to do research.”

Christensen compared the things people need to do daily to jobs.

“What causes us to buy a product or service is stuff happens to us every day. Jobs arise in our lives that need to get done. Sometimes these are little jobs that arise and sometimes they are big jobs that arise,” said Christensen. “When a job arises in our lives, we have to find something that we can hire and pull it into our lives to get the job done.”

He elaborated further by saying that if that a product does the job well, next time that same job arises, a customer will be more likely to hire that same product to get the job done. Many times, marketers are taught that it is important to know the customers and all of their demographics. Christensen believes that it is even more important to know what jobs those customers face on a daily basis. By knowing what jobs the customers face, companies then know how to improve that product to get the job done even better.


Christensen helped the audience better understand this principle by using an example about milkshakes from McDonald’s. He and his colleague observed that a large majority of milkshakes were being purchased early in the morning on weekdays. They soon found out that the job that the milkshakes were getting done was keeping customers connected with the world on their long commute. Now that McDonald’s became aware of the job that their milkshakes were fulfilling, they were able to change the product to better fulfill that job.

During the entire presentation, Daniel Fairbanks, Dean of the College of Science & Health at UVU, sculpted a life-like sculpture of  Christensen’ s head out of clay which will be given to Christensen as a gift.

Christensen is one of the most influential business thinkers in the world and is an award-winning author of nine books and hundreds of articles. He currently lives in Belmont, Massachusetts.




The @UVUReview live-tweeted the lecture.









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