#FabReads – How Will You Measure Your Life – Clay Christensen

In his 2012 book, How Will You measure Your Life, Clay M Christensen attempts to analyse three key life pursuits from the perspective of the theories he teaches to his MBA students at Harvard Business School, looking to extract ideas which when applied to life will ensure that the outcomes we get are aligned with the outcomes we say we want. The three areas he concentrates on are Career, Relationships and the very aptly captioned ‘Staying Out of Prison’. A few highlights:


Christensen describes the way to finding happiness as:

In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.

The process of finding these rewarding opportunities, the theory suggests, involves continuously evaluating the outcomes from a deliberate  strategy against one from an emergent  strategy. [Deliberate strategies are designed to achieve anticipated outcomes. Emergent strategies on the other hand evolve from having to optimise around opportunities and threats we can’t (or haven’t) anticipated. More information here]

Three key components to achieving this goals are identified as:

  1. Identify Your Priorities: Money often is the default metric, but it can be misleading. Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation sheds some more light on the difference between hygiene factors and motivational factors.
  2. Find the balance between deliberate and emergent strategies: The key issue is finding the balance between calculation and serendipity form the looks of it.  Honda’s entry into the US motorbike market is highlighted as a classic example of how an emergent strategy can trump a deliberate one. Finding the balance though can be difficult, hence the use of a discovery based planning process to assess the relative chance of success of a deliberate strategy versus an emergent one.
  3. Execute the strategy: The distinction between merely paying lip service to a strategy and actually implementing one is made time and time again. And it is in how we allocate our resources that our true strategy is shown. Strategy is not what you say it is, it is how you allocate your resources – time, money and energy – through your hundreds of everyday decisions. Our lives are modelled as businesses – family, career, relationships etc – each requiring an investment of our resources. This is complicated by the time frames over which pay offs occur, and we are often tempted to focus on initiatives which deliver value rather over the long term.
Key Quotes:

If the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person



The premise here is that the greatest and longest lasting sources of happiness or sadness in our lives will come from our relationships and connections. The business theory applied here is Bhide‘s good capital and bad capital framework which simply stated is that in the initial phase of building investors should be patient for growth and impatient for profit, i.e. find a small to medium scale strategy that works, and only then begin to address the up-scaling issues.

Key points:

  1. Time scales are of importance: There is a risk in trying to sequence life. By the time we need a harvest, we may not have one!
  2. The job-to-be-done theory: The causal mechanism of every purchase of a good or service is that we have a job that needs doing, and the service fills the role. The big question for our relationships then should be what ‘job’ are we being hired for in each of our relationships. On a relational level, the key to happiness is counterintuitive; the path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. And in sacrificing for something worthwhile, you deeply strengthen your commitment to it.
  3. Building Capability: Three components to capability – resources, processes and priorities. 
    • Resources are the what of value creation, ie the raw materials that we turn into value
    • Processes are the how, ie how we turn resources into value
    • Priorities are the why, ie our decision matrices, culture etc.


Money Quote (For finding a spouse):

The path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to.

Staying out of jail – the ethics question

A great summary of the marginal thinking trap’s over at the HBR.

Money Quote:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts

– CS lewis

Finally, On Purpose

Three components of purpose.

  • A likeness (the target destination, anticipated personality traits hoping to be built),
  • A commitment
  • Metrics for measuring progress towards attaining the likeness

His talk at TEDxBoston on YouTube, and a great precis at the Harvard Business Review website.


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