One of Clayton Christensen Books on How Will You Measure Your Life?
It’s December 2016, and as we face the coming New Year – 2017 – many of us reflect upon the past year. Some even ponder on their entire life so far. It is this time of the year that I revisit a book I read way back in 2013 that I feel is absolutely useful for reflection. It is one of Clayton Christensen Books titled ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’
The book truly transcends time as it helps us look back at our lives, and consider ways to be better. It is not a complete solution. But what is anyway? In 2013, I did this book review as part of my Master Degree program. And here I would like to share my thoughts on the book with you. So without further adieu, let’s begin starting with a bit of info about the authors, especially Clayton Christensen.
The main author of this book, Clayton Christensen, is the same genius who wrote ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’ (a New York Times bestseller). He coined the term ‘disruptive innovation’, which many of you may have heard the term by now. His many accolades and achievements included:
- Kim B. Clark Professor at Harvard Business School
- The author of seven books
- A five-time recipient of the McKinsey Award for Harvard Business Review’s best article
- And the co-founder of four companies, including the innovation consulting firm Innosight
- In 2011 he was named the world’s most influential business thinker in a biennial ranking conducted by Thinkers50.
His co-authors were no lightweights on their own. James Allworth was a Baker Scholar and used to work for Booz & Company and Apple while Karen Dillon was the editor of Harvard Business Review. Together, they wrote ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’ with the aim of providing guidelines using management theories taught at Christensen’s MBA course, apply them to the individual to increase the chances of success in various aspects of one’s life: career, spouse, family, friends, etc.
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The idea for this book came from a powerful speech by Clayton Christensen that he gave to the graduating class of 2010 at Harvard Business School. The students had started their studies when the economy of the world was strong and potential for ambitions and careers were almost unlimited.
By graduation, that very same world had come crashing down; financial crisis in Europe that has still yet to be resolved, bank frauds, etc. The students looked to their professor for guidance on how his principles and thinking could be applied to their careers, and (at the same time) find meaning, success and happiness in life.
Together with his co-authors – James Allworth and Karen Dillon – Christensen set out to present management theories that he taught in the Harvard Business School’s MBA program, that were based on years of research. They had applied those theories to businesses to find out the causes of problems and opportunities, what actions to take in order to address the problems, increasing the chances of success for the business. The trio then applied those same theories to the individual, answering pertinent questions such as:
- How can I be sure that I will be successful and happy in my career?
- How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become enduring sources of happiness?
- and even this surprise question – How can I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail?
Why This Book?
This book was chosen because there has been a growing demand for work-life balance by employees. In particular, there has been growing interest, discussion and debate about work-life balance for the workforce. McShane and Von Glinow (authors of Organizational Behavior: Emerging Knowledge and Practice for the Real World) defined work-life balance as “The degree to which a person minimizes conflict between work and non-work demands.”
Summary of Book
The book began with a cautionary tale based on Christensen’s personal experience. Over the years, he had watched many of his Harvard Business School classmates failed in various aspects of their lives. Some have brilliant careers but have unhappy marriages, divorced, and/or were alienated from their children. Some eventually failed in their careers.
Two of his classmates from the Rhodes Scholar program ended up in jail; one was Jeff Skilling of the famed Enron scandal. The book continued with ten chapters filled with management and business theories, guidelines and examples to illustrate the theories and guidelines.
In the prologue, Christensen revealed how the management theories used by managers “to predict what problems and opportunities are likely to occur in the future” for a company and also “to predict what actions the managers will need to take to address them” could be applied to individuals. He explained further that:
Using robust theory to predict what will happen has a much greater chance of success. The theories in this book are based on a deep understanding of human endeavor – what causes what to happen, and why. They’ve been rigorously examined and used in organizations all over the globe, and can help all of us with decisions that we make every day in our lives, too. (Clayton Christensen, 2012)
The theories were then used to answer three questions:
“How can I be sure that:
- I will be successful and happy in my career?
- My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?
- I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail?”
The first theory that answered the questions was for one to have a deliberate strategy. Next, was the advice to allocate one’s resources wisely to each ‘business’ (e.g. career, spouse, children, friends, activities, etc.) of this strategy. With limited resources, an individual has the same problem as a corporation – how much of each resource to allocate to each of these pursuits? The choices made will determine if one’s life turned out exactly as one had planned.
While implementing one’s strategy, opportunities might appear and this could result in emergent strategies. Sometimes this was good. Sometimes it could yield a bad outcome. One way of averting such an outcome would be to not allocate one’s resources “to whoever screams loudest” and “to whatever offers the fastest reward” for that is “a dangerous way to build a strategy”.
Another way was to apply the “two-factor theory” by Frederick Herzberg, which “distinguishes between two different types of factors: hygiene factors and motivation factors”. When both hygiene factors and motivators were present, one would most probably have a deliberate strategy that led to one’s success.
The book continued with further discussion, theories and guidance on how to find happiness in one’s life, particularly one’s relationships and career. One of theories that is worthy of highlighting was the theory of ‘Jobs To Be Done’. To understand what a customer wanted, this theory stated that it was essential to understand what job was it that the customer needed done.
A simple analogy would be the job of furnishing one’s apartment, which could be fulfilled by IKEA that provided all furnishing needs including delivery and installation. Christensen asserted that “If you work to understand what job you are being hired to do, both professionally and in your personal life, the payoff will be enormous.”
Another powerful management tool, of worthwhile mention was one that applied to both enterprises and families – culture. Christensen quoted Schein who defined culture as “a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will automatically do what they need to do to be successful.”
The authors proposed that just as culture should be formed within an enterprise in order to be successful, culture should also be infused into a family early on in life in order to be an enduring source of happiness.
The authors addressed the third question in Chapter Ten – The Trap of Marginal Thinking. It was presented how companies evaluated alternate investments by ignoring sunk and fixed costs, and made their decisions based on marginal costs and marginal revenues. This kind of thinking could lead to the ‘just this once’ mentality. When deciding between right and wrong, such a mentality could have bad results. An example given in the book was Nick Leeson who admitted “how marginal thinking led him down an inconceivable path”
In the epilogue, Christensen quoted Peter F. Drucker: “That business purpose and business missions are so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure”. The authors believed the same for individuals. As a parting gift, they offered a three-part method to create one’s purpose:
- Likeness of whom one wishes to be.
- Deep Commitment to become that likeness.
- One or more metrics to measure one’s progress towards reaching that likeness and measuring one’s life.
Review of Book
Ultimately, is this a book (perhaps cleverly disguised) that advocated work-life balance, and how to attain it? The timing of publishing this book, whether intentional or not, seemed appropriate. Businesses and governments (including the Singapore Government) were promoting work-life balance, which would lead to personal happiness and well-being.
His Royal Highness, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck – previous crowned king of Bhutan, introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness way back in 1972, and not many took it seriously. Today, his “idea that public policy should be more closely tied to well-being – how people feel about their lives – is catching on” (reported Mustafa for TIME, 2005). In December 2015, a Wall Street Journal article by Raymond Zhong had the headlines – “In Bhutan, Gross National Happiness Trumps Gross National Product“.
Since its release, this book has met with much applause. But there were a few who were unconvinced – e.g. Huffington Post’s Teitelman reviewed that while “The Innovator’s Dilemma shifted business thinking about disruptive technological change, I fear the task of changing human nature is beyond even a teacher of his caliber”.
The authors did a good job presenting the management theories, excellent and interesting business examples, and showing the reader how to apply the same management theories to one’s career and personal life. Thus, they fulfilled their objective of answering the three questions (mentioned earlier in the book summary section). However, the term ‘one size fits all’ definitely did not seem to apply here.
For the more educated group, people such as Christensen’s students and peers, this book would resonate on some level, and perhaps be useful, too. The theories were very interesting, and the case studies (business and personal) were easy to relate to, except for Christensen’s personal religious experience. There was a good balance of theories and examples (business and personal).
There was one particular story that stood out – Diana at CPS Technologies that Christensen and a few other MIT professors founded. In that story, Christensen had “a profound lesson”; he recognized that people have personal lives besides work. He saw her “motivated and energized” as she had a successful career while balancing a loving and equally rewarding life with her husband and children. As one journeyed through the book, one could begin to contemplate on one’s life. I should know because that happened to me.
But, as mentioned earlier, this book did not seem to be for the masses. As one could see in the earlier paragraph, the demographic was skewed towards the white collar workers; the executives, the managers, the scholars, etc. But what about people who are in blue collar jobs?
As Teitelman (of Huffington Post) so colorfully put it, “he is a longtime Harvard professor who’s not digging ditches for a living”. To some degree, I cannot help but agree, and wonder how blue collar workers would be able to relate to these theories and examples. More importantly, with hard work and long hours, how would they be able to apply what the authors suggested? Would they have the luxury to do so?
The book also missed addressing demographics such geography and culture. In countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan, the work culture has been such that working till late at night was viewed as a desirable trait. In Japan, white-collar workers worked till late at night, at times even staying up all night to finish projects.
This has led to a phenomenon termed ‘karoshi’, which in Japan meant “death from overwork” literally (as explained in an article by Nishiyama and Johnson, 1997). In 2007, according to a report by iol scitech there was 147 people who died due to karoshi. According to Associated Press (2008), “such deaths have steadily increased since the Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987”.
Despite the few faults, I did appreciate one significant contribution by the authors of this book; that was the ‘finding of one’s purpose in life’. Like many people, I have often thought about this, about my purpose in life. As we crossed over from 2016 to 2017, and the Chinese New Lunar Year of the Fire Rooster approached, I am starting to think about this question again.
Coincidentally, it was addressed in this book. The impact was powerful. Christensen presented steps on how to find one’s purpose in life. The first step was to find a likeness in someone that one wishes to aspire to be. The second was to have a deep commitment to be that likeness. The third was to have a metrics by which one can measure if one is progressing towards that likeness.
The reason I found this to be a significant contribution was because all throughout the my life, I have read and heard from various sources about finding one’s purpose in life. But those suggestions never came with steps on how to find that purpose.
At the same time, I do acknowledge that the steps Christensen and co-authors offered may not be the Holy Grail, and (in the worst case scenario) may not even work. But, having read the entire book, having been immersed in their teachings and absorbed it, I am inclined to give it the old college try.
Organizational Behavior Insights and/or Implications
At a glance, this book looked deceptively like a self-help book. But it was much more than that. The book addressed and offered guidance to the individual, who would be the ultimate unit that was important for the success of a business. It was often said that when the employees of a corporation were happy and successful, the corporation too became successful.
Hence, this book took on a new level of significance for managers and leaders, both aspiring and current. As such, I would definitely recommend this book to be read by anyone in a management role, in fact all individuals, including leaders of nations.
For example, the King of Bhutan (previously mentioned) might consider reading this book, and if felt inclined to, he might commission courses and workshops for his people based on this book. After all, he was advocating the measurement of a nation’s success by her people’s happiness and success. This book, although not the only choice, could offer much guidance, structure and framework.
Many books on Organizational Behavior (and Work) were about management theories for the managers and businesses. Their goal was to achieve productivity and business success. But few, perhaps none, actually dove into the root cause of the problems or issues; and worked on the individual. This book offered a bridge: it applied management theories for the individual’s happiness and success.
When the staff is happy at work and personal life, their work performance improves. When employees are happy, they tend to give their best at work. Sometimes, they may give more to the company, which increases output, and in turn increases productivity. This can to better performance for the organization as a whole, which in turn leads to business success.
According to McShane and Von Glinow (authors of Organizational Behavior: Emerging Knowledge and Practice for the Real World), studies have shown that organizations that applied Organizational Behavior practices such as work-life balance “have three times the level of financial success that companies have where these practices are absent”. Other studies also showed that “companies that earn ‘the best place to work’ awards have significantly higher financial and long-term stock market performance”.
Ever since I learned about Hambrick’s model for strategy, I have held the suspicion that the same model for business strategy could be applied and used for and by an individual. Now, someone like Professor Clayton Christensen has noticed something similar with the management theories he taught.
This book has confirmed my theory that the management theories, the business theories, the lessons learned from businesses’ experiences not only could help businesses be successful, but could also teach us much about how to approach our personal lives, how to measure it, and how to do our best to be happy and successful.
The management theories presented in the book has added to the knowledge gained over the years including the Master of Science program that I had taken upon. Together, I can now take all that has been learned, practice at my workplace; build businesses towards success, and also my personal success.
How Will You Measure Your Life? is written by Clayton Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon, and published by Harper Collins Publishers, 2012.
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I would like to wish everyone a Very Happy New Year and may 2017 be the year where all that you wish for comes to you and your loved ones in the best possible ways.
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