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Clayton Christensen’s Legacy

 By Shlomo Maital

Clayton Christensen

   Harvard School of Business Professor Clayton Christensen passed away last week. He died of cancer.

   Christensen’s main legacy – what he is widely known for – is the concept of disruptive innovation – innovative ideas that totally change the nature of an industry or market. This, of course, is precisely what startups do, and it took Christensen to show us a road map for effective disruption.

   But I will remember Christensen, who was a deeply religious Christian, for his 2010 article, “How will you measure your life?”.[1] 

   Why? Because so few young people even bother to ask that question, and Christensen threw a spotlight on the question, while his students still had time to shape their career paths in its light.

   “On the last day of class”, Christensen wrote in the article, “I ask my students to…find cogent answers to three questions.

* First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?

* Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?

* Third, how can I be sure I will stay out of jail?”

     In short, career, family, ethics.   I would change the order. I would put the ‘relationships’ or ‘family’ question first. A career of disruption, in startups, necessarily takes a heavy toll on family life, and young people must be aware of this from the start, if they choose this path. When my friend David “Dadi” Perlmutter (former #2 in Intel worldwide) spoke to entrepreneurship students at Technion, he shared 10 lessons with them – and the first was about family.

   And going to jail? It is not a facetious or cynical question, Christensen insists. Two members of his Harvard class went to jail.

     For CEO’s who radiate arrogance, Christensen counsels, “Remember the importance of humility”. And for radical bottom-liners, “Choose the right yardstick”. Also: “Create a culture” – no, not corporate culture. Family culture. “Children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.” This is wonderful advice!

     And – most important – Allocate your resources. “Your decision about allocating your personal time, energy and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy”.

   I wish I had read that decades earlier. After taking early retirement, I simply stopped going to meetings or committees. A vast waste of time. I should have done that years ago.

[1] Harvard Business Review, July – August 2010.

Can You Lend Me a Hand?

About a Creative Piano Duet

By Shlomo Maital  


This is a very small story about helping people, caring people, a piano and a two-handed duet.

In our synagogue, X. (name withheld) is a superb concert pianist, with a neurological illness that makes playing piano difficult, and confines him to a wheelchair.   S. is a competent skilled piano player, who meets with X. regularly to discuss music and to play piano.  X has problems with his left hand. It doesn’t work very well, and makes playing Chopin tough for him.

   So – give up playing?

   No.   X. plays the right hand of the lovely Chopin prelude and S. plays the left hand. She tells me this is what she used to do regularly, in teaching her students to play difficult pieces.  S. has lent a hand to X. Literally.   Wish we would all do the same for our friends and neighbors, and strangers.


   Someone very close to me also has a neurological disease (Parkinson’s). She’s a brilliant and talented artist, but can no longer hold paint brushes in her hands.

   Give up painting?

     People with courage do not give up. They lend themselves a hand (with, as the Beatles say, a little help from their friends and family).

     She paints with sponges. And the results are astonishing. (See above).

       The lesson here is clear. Work with what you have. If you have one good hand, play with that. If you have no real grip, find a substitute for paint brushes.   Keep doing what you love, as long as you can.  Let others lend you a hand. Lend yourself a hand.

       And just keep truckin’.

Births in China: Social U-Turns are Hard!

By Shlomo Maital

     Social U-turns (radical changes in policy involving social behavior) are immensely difficult.    Consider China’s one-child policy, now doubled to “two children are OK”. It’s not working too well.

       China’s one-child policy aimed at lowering the growth rate of its rapidly growing population.   The policy set a firm legal limit on the number of births parents could have, and was introduced in 1979. In the mid-1980’s it was changed to let rural parents have a second child if the first was a girl. The policy lasted three decades and was abandoned at the end of 2015.

   A New York Times report by Sui-Lee Wee and Steven Lee Myers, from Beijing, now notes that China’s birth rate has fallen to the lowest rate in six decades, despite the rule change permitting two children. In 2019 only 14.6 million babies were born in China, in a population of 1.4 billion. That is a 1% birth rate – not sufficient to supply the labor China’s economy needs.

     Why has China’s birth rate not increased since 2015? Here is the best explanation. “We are all only children,” said a young Chinese dental assistant, “and to be honest, a little selfish. How can I raise a child when I’m still a child myself? And take care of him and feed him at midnight?”

     I have a strong suggestion for China’s leaders. Contact Dan Ariely at Duke U. and his group of researchers, along with Richard Thaler, George Lowenstein, Robert Shiller, and other leading US behavioral economics experts. Ask them to design a few small-sample experiments. The Chinese people are very very pragmatic. They do what is in their interest.   How can having two children be shown to be in the interest of hard-working Chinese middle-class educated couples? I’m pretty sure the behaviorists will have some answers.

       Notice how hard a social U-turn is, even in China, where authorities rule with a strong hand. If you believe America is going to change radically, even if Trump loses in November, please think again. Social change has strong momentum and by the laws of physics, Momentum equals mass times velocity. There is a large mass of Americans who think like Trump, and even if you slow their velocity the momentum is still immense.

How to Change:

Will Power vs. Habit

 By Shlomo Maital


  Do you want to change? Do you want to lose weight? Exercise? Sleep more? Be more social? Be a better spouse?   All of the above?

       Then, you need to watch this heavyweight title fight. In the right corner, weighing in at 300 pounds: Will Power, the champion. In the left corner, weighing in at 138 pounds, the challenger, Habit.   Wait! Wait a minute! This is unbelievable. The fight hasn’t started yet and…and… Will Power is throwing in the towel. Habit wins. Habit is the undisputed Change Your Behavior champion.

Ok, agreed. That’s kind of hokey. But true.

B.J. Fogg is a Stanford University faculty member and runs a behavioral design lab. His new book is Tiny Habits: Small Changes that Change Everything. And his proven core principle is very simple:   Will power in general is not enough, despite what we may think. If you want to change what you do and how you behave, it’s not enough simply to …will it! There is a better way.

   Change your habits!

     But how?

   Here is one proven method, used by 40,000 of Fogg’s subjects. Small changes.

   Sunscreen? Crucial to prevent skin cancer? But – do we forget often, or simply can’t be bothered?

   Put on one single tiny drop. Just one. Do it every time. It takes just a second.

   Why? That drop doesn’t make any difference.

   No – but it creates a sunscreen habit – going out in the sun, put on sunscreen. One drop. Later, two. Then – slather it. And the habit will persist. Fogg proves it.

   Flossing your teeth? You forget, or are in a hurry?   Floss one tooth. Just one. Do it every time. Takes a second. Do it regularly. Eventually, expand it…and you have a habit that will not be broken.

     Fogg’s idea here is based on proven psychology, and widespread testing. It works. If you want to change your behavior and are really serious about it, design a habit. Start it small. And grow it. And persist.

         Use Fogg’s simple formula: B=MAP.   In Fogg’s own words: : “Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment.”   Don’t forget the Prompt. The thing that triggers an action.

       In other words: Motivation – I want to exercise more regularly. Ability – I have committed to walking to my bus connection, rather than riding. And Prompt – I am putting on my Brooks running shoes rather than dress shoes in the morning.

       Give it a try. And remember Fogg’s advice: Simplicity, simplicity!   The simpler your change habit design, the better!  Don’t beat yourself up if you break your diet.  It’s not a lack of will power. It’s bad design. 

     As Fogg suggests:  When the waiter brings you the basket of delicious hot bread rolls, make it automatic to say, ‘no bread please’.  Temptation, get thee away!   If you get in the habit, lots of calories can be saved…  


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
January 2020