How will you measure your life?

measure lifeI picked up this book because I’m on an innovation roll and Clay Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation theory.

I didn’t expect quite so much moralising, but in a sense it is Christensen’s faith that has led him to challenge his students about life’s purpose and propose that there is much to be learned in the business theory they have just spent years studying.

I actually like his approach of ‘I can’t tell you the answers but if you understand the theories you will be better armed to work it out yourself’. (along with a little dig at various self help books, many of which I’ve indulged in)  And since I am not a business student, but I am a fan of theories and frameworks, I was pleased to pick up a few more for my toolkit.

Here are the lessons from the book. maybe some of them should have stayed as business theories – you be the judge:

Career happiness grounded in the science of motivation suggests we place minimum priority on sanitary measures such as salary & status and instead expect to be fulfilled by meaningfulness, personal development & learning, achievement and recognition and responsibility.

Pathways cannot be fully planned. A deliberate strategy is good but needs to be open to serendipity and emergent opportunities. In other words, the classic business pivot happens when the emergent strategy overtakes the original plan and becomes the new plan. But beware flawed thinking and planning fallacies, “what has to be true for this to work” can be a very important question to ask.

Strategy is empty if it doesn’t align with where your resources are spent. Don’t kid yourself, actually look at the time, money and effort and make sure it fits your values and ambitions.

Relationships are arguably the main source of lifetime happiness but the investments cannot wait until you are ready, rather they are like trees – you need to start nurturing the saplings many years before you need them. Good Capital and Bad Capital theory explains that in the early stages of a business investors need to be patient for growth and impatient for profitability but when the model is proven they need to be impatient for growth and patient for profitability.

The theory around uncovering the utility of products ‘what did you hire that milkshake to do?’ can be applied to uncovering your own utility in a relationship – service the need of your spouse and loved ones.

The critique of outsourcing explains the dangers when you fail to develop capabilities because you’ve given that opportunity to your supply chain instead. This section was applied to kids skills and given the recent article that explained successful people were all made to do chores as kids, there must be some case for it. Develop your kids’ capabilities by giving them opportunities to achieve things for themselves is the main message here.

The school of experience, the importance (for business) of recruiting those who’ve learned at a similar coal face – and the lesson for us to give our children opportunities to fail and learn in many spheres of life.

Culture as the invisible hand that helps an organisation rely on decisions by everyone contributing in the right way – and in the family context, setting guidance for our kids to help them to grow up with the values that we aspire to.

From the outset, Christensen’s vision for a good life was:

  • a fulfilling career,
  • great relationships
  • full of integrity.

Staying out of jail is an interesting third measure, justified by the story that he studied with Kenneth Lay of Enron. Some people may not seem bad but life can hit a slippery slope and Christensen feels that the Barings Bank trader, Nick Leeson, shows us how easily one exception, a little step wrong, can spiral out of control.

The business theory he invokes is full vs marginal thinking. Incumbent companies tend to add the opportunities their competitors are pursuing to a current cost base and conclude that it is not worthwhile. In fact Christensen argues they need to see the innovation from scratch – new sales teams, new equipment, everything. Only with a clear view of the whole change to the cost base can a business see the value (and hence the cost of not innovating). Marginal thinking will always look unexciting by comparison.

The slippery slope in marginal thinking is that these businesses get swallowed up by their smaller competitors inevitably.

All in all, an interesting and relatively short read.




About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
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