As I think of keystone species — any species who has a disproportionately large impact on its community — I think of Clayton Christensen. He is a keystone species in New England, religion at large and the international business world.
Just as important, if not more so, Clay has been a keystone species in the lives of many individuals across the globe. He has been their utterly sincere and Christlike friend.
Usually we think of keystone species as they pertain to the natural world. You don’t have to be a biologist to know that all living things are connected somehow, and that we depend on each other. In every individual ecosystem there is, at its core, a plant or an animal that is crucial for the survival of that ecosystem. When they are gone, the system usually collapses.
Clay Christensen has done what plants and animals cannot do. Yes, he is gone, regrettably, and many grieve his passing deeply. We have the confidence, however, that the system he leaves behind will not collapse. In fact, it will most likely thrive.
He has left a legacy — a template for others to follow — to ensure the survival of healthier individuals, healthier interpersonal relationships, healthier faith systems and healthier businesses. All of this translates into a healthier world. I’d wear a WWCCD bracelet if there were such a thing.
Did you know that sea otters play a major role in keeping kelp forests alive underwater? This makes them a keystone species. How does this work? Well, sea otters feast on sea urchins, who in turn love kelp. If the sea otters didn’t munch on the sea urchins, the sea urchin population would explode. The sea urchins would eat too many kelp anchors (which keep the kelp attached to the sea floor), and the kelp forests would float away and die out. This would be catastrophic; large numbers of fish and shellfish depend on kelp forests for food and shelter. Kelp also protects coastlines from damaging waves. So, a healthy number of sea otters is crucial for a healthy ocean.
Rarely, do we come across one human keystone species in our lifetime. When we do, we recognize their shining, positive presence in the world. We feel it keenly. Clay has visibly stabilized and brought more order to our lives. What Bach is to music, and what Monet is to art, Clayton Christensen is to a life well-lived. He has taught us that life is all about the people. It doesn’t matter where we go, but that our interactions with the people we meet make each experience memorable.
Combine every one of those memorable experiences together and that equals one great life. Destinations are fun, but it’s the people that are the meaningful substance of life and bring us joy. Hopefully we can give some joy back in the process.
Go with God, Clayton, and may your family find peace and comfort in the coming years.
Gwendolyn Taylor Soper, a former resident of Belmont, Mass., writes commentaries about basic human rights, art and travel. She was a soprano with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus. She lives in Orem.