Remembering the Muse of Big Ideas
- February 3, 2020
- Posted by: Robert Rose
- Category: Business Transformation
Who shapes your ideas?
In Greek Mythology, nine muses gave artists and philosophers inspiration for their creations. There were muses for comedy, tragedy, sacred poetry, lyric poetry, dance, music, astronomy, and history.
And then there was Calliope, the muse of epic poetry and the protector of heroic poems and rhetoric. According to legend, Homer turned to Calliope for the inspiration to write the Iliad and Odyssey.
I like to think of Calliope as the muse of big ideas. This week, the poets and philosophers of business art and science lost their Calliope: Clayton Christensen. The Harvard Business School professor was best known for his 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. But his ideas on innovation, business strategy, and life in the modern world span much than business strategy.
My introduction to him came at a time when I was going through a bit of disruptive change. My transformation from artist (screenwriter and musician) to marketing professional had me immersed in the teachings of the Harvard Business School. In 1995, I read an article called Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. One sentence stopped me in my tracks: “Companies listened to their customers, gave them the product performances they were looking for, and, in the end, were hurt by the very technologies their customers had led them to ignore.”
Put simply, our job isn’t to meet the needs of the market, but to make markets where none exist.
This observation marked the beginning of a journey I’m still on. When I was CMO of a small, startup software company, I reveled in articles like Meeting the Challenge of Disruptive Change, and Marketing Malpractice: The Cause and the Cure. The latter introduced me to an entirely new muse – Theodore Levitt – and the jobs-to-be-done framework.
In 2010, as I struggled with my transition from CMO to entrepreneur, my Calliope was there with his perfectly timed challenge How Will You Measure Your Life? In that article and subsequent book, Christensen concludes that “Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well.”
And with that, I finally understood my role as a consultant. It isn’t to help companies succeed. No. It’s to help people learn, grow, evolve, and contribute to the success of a team.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Clay Christensen. And I never sent him the letter I had written to explain what he’s meant to my career over the last 20 years. I won’t make that mistake again – I’ll devote time to thanking the many others who have inspired me on my journey.
Christensen, a member of the Latter-Day Saints community, was a spiritual man. His latest book, The Prosperity Paradox, which focuses on how innovation can help developing nations, has me inspired.
So do his ideas on the changing nature of learning and teaching. In a 2013 interview, Christensen said that as technology disrupted education (and the delivery of content moved online) the important “job to be done” of the teacher is to inspire students to change, and to “make sure that the spiritual part of students’ lives is being attended to.” The interviewer asked why he thought that was important, and Christensen replied, “It’s the only thing online learning can’t emulate.”
It’s another big, Calliope idea I’ll take with me as I continue my journey. I hope when my life is measured, it will be by the standard set by Clayton, and at the level of inspiration he had on me.
It’s your story. Tell it well.