Welcome to Silicon Valley.

Brendan Quinlan/ May 17, 2013/ 2013

As I sit at a poolside table with some of my classmates getting this blog organized, I can’t help but reflect on how fortunate I am to be in Silicon Valley — and how incredible this opportunity is for all of us. I’m in awe of the opportunities that I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the knowledge I’ve gained — and we’re only four days in.

The course we’re taking is titled Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise. It’s a Harvard Business School course that introduces students to Clayton Christensen’s theories on disruptive innovation, which offer insight into the circumstances in which innovative companies can succeed and fail, and which strategies they should adopt to thrive. The course is being taught largely by Clayton’s son, Matt.

It’s Friday, which means it’s the end of our first week of class. This week has been nothing short of incredible — we were lucky enough to have Clayton Christensen teach two lectures on his theories. We’ve discussed a classic example of disruption in the steel industry — we observed how minimills innovated and targeted the lower segments of larger integrated steel companies’ markets, gradually moving their venture up-market to become more profitable.

Today’s lecture was terrific as well. We examined a somewhat unconventional organizational scheme at Nypro, Inc. that promoted an internal market for innovation between autonomous plants by stimulating competition and communication between business units. We also examined how the introduction of new technology could be best introduced alongside Nypro’s current processes and values.

What struck me today was the idea of how innovation happened at Nypro according to Christensen’s model of resources, processes, and values. My interpretation of Christensen’s theory holds that the job of management is to impute their values upon the organization and their subordinates, and redefine the tasks and performance metrics that the company prioritizes. It’s up to employees to develop and refine processes that can more efficiently respond to the values of the company.

This week, we also had a great opportunity to hear Clayton Christensen speak at Apple alongside Duke alumni who have made great strides in entrepreneurship and innovation. Networking with the alumni afterward was a thrill, as well, and afforded all of us valuable insight into the challenges that entrepreneurs have faced and how they’ve been overcome.

We’re incredibly fortunate to be hosted at Apple University. We’re the first university to have a course hosted on Apple’s campus. We’d like to extend a special thanks to Eddy Cue, Joel Podolny, and everyone else involved at Apple who have been so accommodating.

We’d also like to extend a special thank you to Clayton and Matt Christensen, who have been extremely gracious in allowing us their time and knowledge. Our sincerest gratitude is in order to Kimberly Jenkins, Emma Rasiel, Eric Toone, and everyone else involved at Duke, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and the Research Triangle Park area for putting together such a fantastic program.

I think I speak for all of us in saying we’re thrilled to be the inaugural members of the Duke in Silicon Valley program. We’re looking forward to laying the groundwork for later iterations of future entrepreneurs.

Let’s build something great together.

Michael Marion
Junior, Duke University

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