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How Will You Measure Your Life? Hardcover – May 15, 2012
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“[A] highly engaging and intensely revealing work….Spiritual without being preachy, this work is especially relevant for young people embarking on their career, but also useful for anyone who wants to live a more meaningful life in accordance with their values.” — Publishers Weekly
“The book encapsulates Christensen’s best advice to keep high achievers from being disrupted in their own lives....[P]rovocative but reassuring: Peter Drucker meets Mitch Albom.” — Bloomberg Businessweek
“[M]ore genuinely a self-help book than the genre it disparages. Instead of force-feeding readers with orders on how to improve, it aims to give them the tools to set their own course” — Financial Times
“[W]ell researched and thought through material. — Forbes
“…a gripping personal story with lessons from business mixed in.” — Bloomberg BusinessWeek
“…Clayton Christensen’s new book has the business world buzzing.” — Deseret News
“Recommend the book to friends and family who have no connection to the business world. They will thank you for it.” — Harvard Business Review
‘’A Business Student’s New Required Reading’’ — Huffington Post
“[R]evealing and profound.” — Inc. Magazine
“I wish this book was around when I started my carreer. I bought copies for my kids and other young adults I know. $16 is not a lot to spend to get them thinking about their future and how to live responsible, ethical and successful lives.” — Small Business Labs
From the Back Cover
In 2010 world-renowned innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen gave a powerful speech to the Harvard Business School's graduating class. Drawing upon his business research, he offered a series of guidelines for finding meaning and happiness in life. He used examples from his own experiences to explain how high achievers can all too often fall into traps that lead to unhappiness.
The speech was memorable not only because it was deeply revealing but also because it came at a time of intense personal reflection: Christensen had just overcome the same type of cancer that had taken his father's life. As Christensen struggled with the disease, the question "How do you measure your life?" became more urgent and poignant, and he began to share his insights more widely with family, friends, and students.
In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I'll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personalrelationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity—and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world's greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions.
How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, midcareer professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.
- Publisher : Harper Business (May 15, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062102419
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062102416
- Item Weight : 11.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.85 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #10,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on July 22, 2020
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With this as a backdrop, Christensen began to challenge his graduating students with three simple questions to examine, measure, and improve their lives after Harvard:
1. How can I be sure that I will be successful and happy in my career?
2. How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse, my children and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
3. How can I be sure that I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail? (Enron’s Jeff Skilling was in Christensen’s class at Harvard.)
“How Will You Measure Your Life?” emerged from this encounter with students. In it, Christensen asks the critical questions and provides a guide about how to think about life, one based on a deep understanding of human endeavor – what causes what to happen, and why. This he believes will help us with decisions we make every day in our lives – decisions that will help us avoid bad outcomes, unhappiness, and regret.
Christensen uses business case studies throughout the book. He draws from these to provide a philosophy for life that offers real success.
The starting point is a discussion of priorities - finding happiness in your career, finding happiness in your relationships and staying out of jail - so we can avoid the trap of giving-in to the inner voice that screams the loudest. Christensen’s wants to help you wake up every morning thinking how lucky you are to be doing what you’re doing.
“How Will You Measure Your Life/” will help you build a strategy to do exactly that.
On career happiness, Christensen warns that compromising on the wrong career path (for fame, money, power) is a cancer that will metastasize over time. What matters most is making sure our jobs are aligned with what really makes us happy. Motivation is much less about external prodding or incentives and much more about what’s inside of you and whether the work is challenging, provides for personal growth, responsibility, recognition, and sense that you are making a meaningful contribution.
Money is not the root cause of unhappiness but becomes a problem when it supersedes everything else. (One friend of mine commented that when he left Wall Street as a well-known healthcare stock analyst to an executive role in a major healthcare firm that he was surprised to find that people really at this firm were not motivated by income but rather, were focused on reducing mortality and improving lives. The only thing he said that mattered on Wall Street was how much money you made!)
“Before you take that job:
• Carefully list the things that others are going to need to do or deliver in order for you to successfully achieve what you hope to do for yourself.
• What assumptions have to prove true for you to be happy in the choice you are contemplating?
• Are you basing your position on extrinsic or intrinsic motivators?
• Why do you think this is going to be something you enjoy doing?
• Think about the most important assumptions that have to prove true? How can you swiftly and inexpensively test if they are valid. What evidence do you have?”
On personal relationships, Christensen notes from his observations and personal experience that the relationships you have with family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in your life. “You have to be careful. When it seems like everything at home is going well, you will be lulled into believing that you can put your investments in these relationships onto the back burner. That would be an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it is often too late to repair them. The paradox is that the time when it is most important to invest in building strong families and close friendships is when it appears, at the surface, as if it is not necessary.”
He warns that a common mistake made by both men and women is to believe we can invest in life sequentially. I have seen this many times…career is first, marriage is second, and children are relegated to third. The problem is made worse today with so many two income families. While each relationship needs to be routinely nourished and refreshed, we end up putting relationships on the back-burner because we are busy and preoccupied with less important things of life. We end up neglecting the people we care most about in the world. Without focus, we lose out on those rich and deep personal relationships that are the essence of life.
To succeed with relationships, Christensen asks us to think about the job we were “hired” to do – as a spouse, as a parent, as a friend. “The path to happiness (in relationships) is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone who’s happiness is worth devoting yourself to…I have observed that what cements that commitment is the extent to which I sacrifice myself to help her succeed and for her to be happy. Sacrifice deepens our commitment. It applies to all of our relationships.”
Christensen notes that our role as parents is to prepare our children for the future. The tragedy of today’s culture is that we are outsourcing parenting to other relatives, nannies, schools, and extracurricular activities. We have lost sight of the importance of our time - the greatest gift we can give another person. Investing our time in another is a sign of respect and love. It provides a clear signal to others as to what is most important in your life.
Creating a healthy family culture is hard work and requires an investment of self and time. Marriages are the merging of two cultures. Each family should choose a culture that’s right for them. This entails choosing activities to pursue, and outcomes to achieve. With time, family members will be on auto-pilot thinking “this is how we do it.” Culture development cannot be outsourced. It is doing things together – working in the yard, fixing the house, camping, homework, family sporting events, table games, cooking, etc. – to show our children how to love work, how to solve problems, how to prioritize and what really matters. Culture happens whether you want it to or not. The only question is how much you will influence it.
On staying out of jail, Christensen warns against marginal thinking. It applies to choosing right and wrong. We are presented with moral challenges throughout life. When we think about doing something “just this one time” because the marginal cost appears to be negligible, we get suckered in. We don’t see where that path will ultimately take us nor do we appreciate the full cost of the choice. It could be one of many things – misrepresenting expenses or revenues, stuffing a distribution channel, insider trading, a small bribe to gain business, the use of drugs. The landscape is littered with people who never gave a thought to crossing the line “just this once,” thinking they would never get caught.
Doing the right thing 100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time. If we break our own rules just once, we can justify the small choices again. Using marginal cost thinking to justify all the small decisions lead up to a big one. Then, the big one does not seem enormous anymore; it is just another incremental step. The only way to avoid the consequences of uncomfortable moral concessions in your life is to never start making them in the first place. When the first step down that path presents itself, turn around and walk the other way.”
“The danger for high-achieving people is that they will unconsciously allocate the resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. They become accustomed to allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would say matter most. They are investing in lives of hallow unhappiness.”
To avoid the pitfalls of creating hollow unhappiness, it is imperative that we define our purpose. The three parts of purpose are: establishing a direction (career, relationships, and staying out of jail) with milestones to mark our progress; making a deep, unwavering commitment to achieving the milestones; and using metrics to mark progress. The world will not deliver a cogent and rewarding purpose to you.
What is the type of person you want to become?
What is the purpose of your life? Is that important to you?
Is it something you want to leave to chance?
"How Will You Measure Your Life?"
But should I write about my Top-10, Top-50, or Top-100 big leadership mistakes? (Yikes. I have an abundance of examples.) Much too late, I’ve often read a book that would have given me greater clarity—and sooner.
Today’s book would certainly be on the list. Had I read this book in 2013, I would have given much better counsel to younger (and some older) leaders over the last eight years. I would have given less advice and simply said, “Just read this book!”
LOL! On Jan. 15, 2013, a talented leader and lifelong learner/leader, Chasz, emailed me and urged me to read this book.
GOOD NEWS. I immediately ordered the book back in 2013 (as Chasz instructed!).
BAD NEWS. I set this gem aside and didn’t read it until this year during lockdown. Yikes. I wasted eight years! (Sorry, Chasz!)
GOOD NEWS. I still have the two-page email from Chasz—and, yes, he was right. This “New York Times” bestseller is amazing. I can’t stop talking about it. And gratefully, Chasz’s 2013 email included his review!
Note: On Jan. 24, 2020, an obituary in “The Wall Street Journal” reported that Clayton Christensen had died the day before. He had leukemia. They noted that Christensen was “a Harvard Business School professor and management guru…an authority on what he called disruptive technologies who became more widely known for offering his life as a case study.”
So here’s a summary of “How Will You Measure Your Life?” (with notes from Chasz). In the book and in his MBA classes, Christensen asked three big questions:
“How can I be sure that...
1) I will be successful and happy in my career?
2) My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends becomes an enduring source of happiness?
3) I live a life of integrity—and stay out of jail?”
On the last day of class each year, Prof. Christensen discussed these three questions with his Harvard Business School students. Word got around and he was then invited to give the talk to the entire study body at the 2010 graduation ceremonies. Next, Karen Dillon, then editor of “Harvard Business Review,” asked him to write the article, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” for HBR. The book was released in 2012 (and yes, I finally read it in 2020!).
Chasz notes that when Christensen, also a HBS grad, attended his own class reunions—it concerned him that some classmates were experiencing personal and/or work traumas. Some stopped attending reunions out of embarrassment.
I appreciate bullet point book reviews and Chasz didn’t disappoint in his 2013 email to me. He wrote:
• We often find our life’s direction by following an “emergent” path. We make our plans and start out in what we believe is the way to go, but to be successful (like most businesses) we deviate from the plan to the opportunity. Christensen’s career aim was to be the editor of “The Wall Street Journal!” But he ended up as a prof at Harvard Business School. (And perhaps he had greater influence there. See two more books below.)
• Integrity is holding the line on key commitments. Many people who cross the line naively think they will only cross it once, and will step over and come back “just this time.” But then having crossed that line (which was once a monumental decision), further line-crossing seems insignificant—and each subsequent “small” infraction eventually erodes a person’s integrity—compounding into major losses (family, career, etc.).
• Read why Christensen says, “100 Percent of the Time Is Easier Than 98 Percent of the Time.”
• Must-read: Christensen’s insights on why “outsourcing” may undermine your family’s values (and your organization’s values)—and why you must keep certain competencies in-house, even if difficult.
• You must pursue your life purpose by determining what it is you are going to reflect in your character (whose image will be seen in you?), then commit to what it will take for this to happen, and create a means to track how you are doing in becoming more like your desired image.
Chasz suggested that this would be a great CEO book study—especially for young leaders. Interestingly, Christensen himself didn’t sense that his last-day-of-class talks to MBA students were getting much traction—until he announced he had been diagnosed with the same cancer that had taken his father. Then students engaged—and this book is the result.
Christensen quotes C.S. Lewis: “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
In addition to the powerful life lessons (poke-in-rib quotes on mistake-mistaking), every leader and manager will find delightful sidebars and rabbit trails on growing people and businesses in complex environments.
Example: Noting “the problem with principal-agent, or incentives, theory…” (why some managers still think money motivates), Christensen discusses Frederick Herzberg’s work on the psychology of motivation—another topic I wish I had known about years ago. Read “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” in the January 2003 issue of “HBR.” (In the book, Christensen also gives a nice compliment to nonprofit managers.)
Picture this on your business card! Clayton Christensen was twice “Ranked #1 in the Thinkers50,” the global ranking of business leaders. He was inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame in 2019. You’ll appreciate his wisdom throughout the book. He writes, “There are no quick fixes for the fundamental problems of life. But I can offer you tools that I’ll call theories in this book, which will help you make good choices, appropriate to the circumstances of your life.”
Christensen writes that instead of telling Intel’s Andy Grove what to think during a consultation, “I taught him how to think. He then reached a bold decision about what to do, on his own.”
The co-authors add richness to this remarkable book. In the Acknowledgments section (who reads that?) I got teary-eyed reading the warmth expressed between the three authors (pages 207-221). James Allworth writes to Christensen, “Short of my parents, you have done more to change the way I think about the world than anyone.”
After meeting Christensen and learning about his three questions, co-author Karen Dillon recalls, “I stood in the parking lot of HBS a few hours later and knew I didn’t like my answers to those questions. Since then, I have changed almost everything about my life with the goal of refocusing around my family.”
Trust us—you will not stop talking about this book and it will cost you! I just ordered another copy for a younger leader today.
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An essential aspect of his career model is the allocation of our time to a period of research and a period of commitment.
This is important as high achievers tend to set goals and work hard to reach them.
But as in the words of Clayton Christensen, although you may have successfully climbed the ladder, the ladder itself might be facing the wrong wall.
The advantage of his book is that he does not offer "quick fix" solutions but rather a model to which each person can apply to their context.
On that note, this is highly applauded as it goes against the typical "67 steps (commoditised) programs" by known self-help gurus.
The fact that I gave 4 out of 5 stars is for 3+1 reasons:
1. his model is based on an old theory of human motivation that sets a dichotomy between "hygiene factors" and "inner motivation". "Hygiene factors" are things like money, status and job safety, essential matters to avoid the person being unsatisfied in their jobs. But not being unsatisfied is not the same as being satisfied. And so, we have the "inner motivation" factors such as a passion for what we do. This is where such dichotomy is highly questionable, particularly on setting the "status" as a mere "hygiene factor". For an alternative human motivation model, see, for example, the work of Steven Reiss without creating such a dichotomy that can be highly judgemental and condescending.
2. The author also fails to describe the development of the human ego as we age. As much as his model and words of wisdom can be highly insightful, the truth is that we all need to undergo ego maturation and make mistakes in learning. As much as one can tell others to "do this, don't do that", the reality is that people often ignore such advice, in particular, if they are delivered in a tonality of condescending and judgemental.
3. Tech and world change are skewing job quality, and having a "good job" is no longer an option. There are outstanding jobs and meaningless jobs with little in between. Such market skew was overlooked in the book - see, for example, "No fears, No excuses" by Larry Smith. It is somewhat paradoxical that the author does not discuss the impact of "disruptive innovation" on people's careers in more detail.
3+1. this is not necessarily something I felt annoyed with, but reading some reviews from other readers is something worth mentioning here. There is a religious aspect in the book on which the author bases some of his decisions - for example, not showing up to a basketball game due to a conflict with his religious practices. Although the message intends to provide the reader that we need to have a set of solid principles, I believe he could give other examples from his acquaintances, as overall, the book is too self-centric in that matter.
Overall, as the reader is aware of the above points, one can extract true wisdom from the book without being distracted by certain aspects that are more personal to the author and may not truly relate to all of us.
I hope this review is helpful to you,
Christensen was prompted to write this book after seeing many colleagues from his University career go on to achieve 'success' - great jobs in consultancies and big companies, lots of money, big houses etc. - but then ending up totally miserable, suicidal or in jail. In his later role as teacher Christensen wanted to ensure his students didn't go through the same mistakes so he began trying to collate the thought processes that had kept him from the unfortunate road his colleagues had taken. Every year he worked with students to refine the lessons, discuss and expand them, and the result is this book.
It really does make you think. I reiterate that although the lessons involved seem so simple they are so powerful, so rational, so applicable, you won't regret buying this.
The biggest disappointment in this book is when I read that part where he and his wife decided that they would indoctrinate their children into their own religion (though obviously he didn't use the work "indoctrinate"). I must admit that my respect for him diminished at that point. Still, as I said - there's still some useful content in there.