A couple of months ago, we said goodbye to a teacher who impacted so many. After Clayton Christensen passed away, I was so inspired by all of the incredible stories of lives that he had touched that I spent some time introspecting on how he changed my life. Upon returning from his service in Boston, I received a call from a friend who was working through a serious situation and she said, "We need to codify a set of principles." I started laughing because the last time I had heard those words, Clay was cold calling me:

"DeLonn, how would you use the theories of disruption to codify a set of principles?"

I'll never forget it because I had no clue what "codify” meant! Now, if you're not familiar with the case method, it’s when a professor flips the script and turns the student into the teacher to guide the discussion – and most of us dreaded it. Naturally, Clay was kind enough to restate his question, and I survived, but the experience stuck with me. More than a decade later, I thought I’d take another crack at his question, and it has led me to realize three things…

1) Life is short, but that doesn't mean go faster

Until someone figures out how to disrupt death, we’re all on the clock. It’s human nature to focus on the urgent over the important (and brevity over deep understanding). However, I’m reminded of a story that Clay shared about meeting Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel. Andy was running short on time and asked Clay to hurry up and tell him what Intel should do. Clay didn’t know because he didn’t have the context that Andy did. He did, however, know that if he could help Andy to better understand how to think, rather than what to think, that Andy would know what to do. The extra ten minutes that Clay spent with Andy helped to transform the computer chip market. When I find myself racing to do something – which is more often than I’d like – I think about this story and ask myself, “Is this a better use of time than spending it with my kids?” The answer is usually “no”, and I slow down.

2) Be patient for money, impatient for impact

If we believe that life is short and we can’t take our money with us when we die, then why do we spend so much energy focused on it? In describing his “Good Money / Bad Money” theory, Clay would often talk about being “patient for growth, impatient for profit” because focusing on the wrong measures and receiving money from the wrong sources can be destructive. It certainly seems that there is a lot of “bad money” in circulation today. For example, the United States – the wealthiest nation – has the highest rate of depression, worst-performing healthcare system, and lowest ROI in education. It’s interesting, however, that as we get older – and literally have less time – many of us increasingly give our valuable assets away to improve the lives of others. In fact, Clay spent the last 10 years writing books with others on how disruptive innovation can improve education, healthcare, and our lives. We’re not getting younger so if we truly want to make the world a better place, it might be helpful to be patient for money and impatient for impact.

3) The softest skills can lead to the hardest benefits

I’m not shy about sharing that I’ve found the Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) theory to be the most valuable business framework I’ve learned. I’ve used it multiple times to understand a Job that ultimately led teams to create a product or service that, in many cases, created a new category. In one example, we succeeded in capturing a high market share by launching a new product that did the exact opposite thing as an existing product – that’s how poorly we had understood the customer! In each situation, we uncovered the Jobs To Be Done by listening instead of selling. JTBD is all about perspective, which happens to be the root of empathy and, in my book, the most valuable skill. While it’s impossible to have “100% empathy,” it is possible to increase our perspective each day. The best way that I’ve learned to do that is to listen to folks who don’t think like me – not just to hear them, but to really listen. After all, expanding our capacity for empathy will not just help us be better business people, it will help us to be better people.

Disruption theory doesn't apply to everything, so take these “codified" principles with as many spoonfuls of salt as necessary. It does, however, explain how smart and well-intentioned people make the “right” decisions that then lead to catastrophic results (see The Innovator's Dilemma).To survive disruption, leaders often have to make decisions that are so counter-intuitive to human and organizational behavior that many don't realize it until it's too late - so I wanted to take the time to put it in writing.

Now that I’ve had some time to figure out what the heck “codify” means, I’d tell Clay and the rest of the class that disruption theory has helped me to realize three things:

1. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean go faster.

2. Be patient for money, impatient for impact.

3. The softest skills can lead to the hardest benefits.

As I shared the story about being cold called, my friend with the urgent issue broke out in laughter.

Bonus principle: Serious problems sometimes require serious laughter.