- On August 27, 2013
How Will You Measure Your Life? –A Book Review
By Clayton Christensen, 2012 (with James Allworth & Karen Dillon)
I’m a self-improvement junkie and a huge fan of The Innovator’s Dilemma, so I was primed to find out what Clay Christensen had to say about putting measures to your life. Given the Harvard Business School background of the three authors, I expected a somewhat cumbersome ROI analysis, which my qualitative mind would skip right over. Instead I found it very readable. The authors use the business theories they honed at HBS to explain a methodology for evaluating our lives. I left with a conceptual framework that has actually changed the choices I make every day.
The three questions asked:
How can I be sure that…
- I will be successful and happy in my career?
- My relationships (with spouse, family, friends) become an enduring source of happiness?
- I live a life of integrity?
…are ones Clay says he uses with his HBS students. If that is the case, and they actually carry these lessons forward into their life instead of hitting the “Delete” button after the class is passed, then I’m glad to know at least some of our up and coming business leaders have a grounded approach to what really matters and not focused solely on whatever grows profits and revenue streams.
The four take-aways that I am integrating into my personal decision framework?
1. The theory of “marginal returns” as it applies to living a life of integrity. The story of Blockbuster and Netflix illustrates how business theories are applied to illustrate a life measurement. Blockbuster—at the time the industry leader in video rentals—opted for the lower ‘marginal cost’ decision of adjusting what they already do rather than the full-cost investment required to go after the new customer/supply model of Netflix. By choosing ‘marginal cost’ Blockbuster eventually lost its entire market share and Netflix survives and becomes the industry leader.
Extrapolating the ‘marginal cost’ theory to our life revolves around the issue of integrity. Doing “just this little thing just this once” can put our values on the slippery slope of downfall. Each ‘marginal’ decision gets easier and easier. That is how we get supposedly good people–“oh, he was such a nice man, always with a kind smile. I had no idea…”—doing horrific unethical things, like Ponzi schemes and Enron. Clay’s advice: it’s easier to live a life of 100% integrity, than of 98%.
2. “What job did you hire that milkshake for?” My favorite idea! Yes, milkshakes are yummy–but what role is it filling in your life right now? Satisfying hunger…filling up time on a long commute…a show of kindness to the kids? What’s important to the people around you? What “job” do they need you for? What do you need to do to be hired for the “job” that needs to be done?
We make assumptions about what our spouses, family, or friends need—all with the very best intentions. But it is OUR perception of what we want to give them based on what WE THINK they need. And that may be very different from the “job” they really need us to do. It’s a very personal decision. Don’t assume you know what they need. Ask them—“what job are you hiring me for now?”
3. “Discovery-Driven Planning.” I find I float through a lot of decisions in my life, hoping for the best, but not really knowing what I want to happen or when I know it was the right decision or not. Discovery Driven Planning is an approach to deal with this uncertainty–What assumptions have to be proven true for this to be the right course of action?
When I was in the military, addressing the assumptions and possible outcomes was a question we often asked when determining feasibility of operations. However I have seen it applied far too infrequently in business settings and had not even considering using it as a measure for evaluating my own personal decisions. I have recently applied this question to decisions around taking a new job and hiring a new consultant. I feel a greater sense of confidence knowing there is some mindful structure around the risk and uncertainty of the decisions I make every day.
4. “Identifying Your Purpose in Life.” Finally, the closing chapter had the most significant impact, causing me to revisit and re-articulate what I am here to do in this world. It provides a framework for my own decision-making, from the smallest choice, like taking time to call my Mom, to the larger strategic plans of serving future clients. If I’m going to become that person I want to be, then I have to make choices that support that. Seeing my “purpose” list front and center on my desk is an active reminder to live how I want to become.