Book Summary of ‘How Will You Measure Your Life’​ by Clayton Christensen

Clayton Christensen is an expert in innovation, a professor at Harvard Business School and a former student there.

In the beginning of the book, he recounts how many of the people from his graduating class went on to very successful careers at very large companies, earning for themselves in the process very large incomes.

However, he found that many of those same people didn’t enjoy their work, had very poor relationships with the most important people in their lives and some of them were even in jail.

Personal dissatisfaction, family failures, professional struggles and even jail – not the things you expect of graduates from the most prestigious business school on the planet.

Christensen wanted to make sure that future graduating classes at Harvard didn’t succumb to the same fate, and so he started spending the last few days of his class discussing how to avoid it.

He writes three simple questions on the board to guide the discussion:

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?

And as you might have guessed, these are the things that we’ll cover here today in this summary.

Let’s get started.

What To Think vs. How To Think

Christensen starts off the book by telling a story about a visit he made to Intel and it’s then CEO Andy Grove.

Christensen had just released his first book, The Innovator’s Dilemma and Grove wanted him to come to Intel and explain the theory to his executive team. When he arrived, Grove informed him that he only had 10 minutes because “some stuff had come up.”

“Tell us what your research means for Intel, so we can get on with things.”

Christensen said that he couldn’t do that, because he knew very little about Intel. The only thing he could do, he said, was explain the theory and then help walk the team through the thinking so they could figure out the implications on their own.

Grove reluctantly agreed and they went on to very quickly come up with the strategy for going after the bottom of the market and launched the lower-priced Celeron processor.

The analogy here applies to your own life. Your goal in finding help – whether it’s through books, courses, or any other kind of personal development – shouldn’t be to blindly copy what another person did in a particular circumstance.

Instead, your goal should be to understand the theory that led them to that conclusion or action, so you can see how it applies to your specific set of circumstances.

With that being said, let’s move on to the theories that can help you be successful in your career, have great relationships, and stay out of jail.

Finding Happiness in Your Career

Finding success and happiness in your career isn’t about making the most money or having the most prestigious title. Nor is it about having the next five years of your life nailed down to the minute, or flying by the seat of your pants.

There’s a delicate balance between being deliberate and being open to new opportunities. Let’s explore some of what science knows about the topic.

Motivation and Hygiene Factors

Christensen tells us that it’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation about happiness without an understanding of what makes us tick. As it turns out, most human beings don’t understand the true nature of their motivations – and thus, themselves.

First, let’s dispense with the idea that making a certain amount of money is going to make you happy. This is what Frederick Herzberg (an expert on motivational theory) would call a hygiene factor – something you need to get right, but it isn’t enough to get you to the happiness finish line. It’s necessary but not sufficient.

Other hygiene factors include a safe and comfortable working environment and good working relationships with your colleagues.

To put it bluntly, hygiene factors won’t do anything to make you love your job, they’ll just stop you from hating it.

Second, there are things that will truly and deeply satisfy you. These are the things that Herzberg calls motivators. Things like challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. These are things that are happening inside of you rather than things that are happening to you (like salary and titles).

So, whenever you are contemplating a move in your career, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the work meaningful to me (note: it needs to be meaningful to you – that other people find it meaningful doesn’t matter here)?
  • Will the job give me a chance to develop?
  • Will I learn new things?
  • Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement?
  • Am I going to be given responsibility?

Those are the things that will truly bring you happiness and a feeling of success.

Balancing Calculation and Serendipity

When should you be open to new experiences and when should you stick to a deliberate plan?

There’s a tool in business called “discovery-driven planning” that asks you to list all of the assumptions you’ve made in creating a plan of action, and ensure that they have been properly taken into account. For instance, any sales forecast is going to assume some things about their customer retention and renewal rate.

Before you take a job, you can use this approach by carefully listing out what others are going to need to do or deliver so that you can successfully achieve what you hope to in a role. Are there any factors that aren’t in your control? Are there any items on the list that have a low probability of occurring? These are the things you need to be on the lookout for.

Aligning Your Time, Money and Energy

Once you start to get a clear picture of what success and fulfilment looks like for you, you have to ensure that you put your time, money and energy towards those pursuits.

One of the mistakes that humans often make is to unconsciously allocate resources to the things that yield the most immediate and tangible accomplishments.

As an example, many people prioritise things like a promotion, raise or a bonus over things that require long-term work to see a return, like raising good children.

Be on the lookout for that tendency in your own decision making so that you can balance every part of your life.

Which brings us to the next section…

Finding Happiness in Your Relationships

Christensen tells us – rightfully so – that the relationships we have with family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in our lives.

Putting them on the back burner – no matter how important something seems at the time – is a big mistake. By the time we realise that there are serious problems in a relationship, it’s often too late to repair them.

Here’s how to ensure that it never gets to that point.

Relationships and Time

Here’s the most important principle to remember about your relationships:

Don’t sequence your life investments.

Good relationships need consistent attention and care. There will always be an ebb and flow of how intense that attention can be, but it must always be there, never running on empty.

There are two forces that will work against you here.

First, it’s tempting to invest your time, energy and money into things that give you an immediate payoff. Like that promotion at work, or that next big project that needs your full attention for weeks at a time.

Second, your family and friends will almost always be supportive of you. After all, they are human and fall into the same short-term thinking that you do.

You must guard against this, and put in the time and effort into the things that will help nourish those relationships on a regular basis.

Which brings us to the next section, where we explore what those things should be.

What Did You Hire That Milkshake To Do?

One of Christensen’s more popular theories about innovation is Jobs To Be Done.

As the story goes, a very popular fast food restaurant hired Christensen and his consulting firm to figure out how to sell more milkshakes.

The restaurant had tried to do it on their own, but had failed. They were asking what they thought were good questions – how can we improve our milkshake? Make it chocolatier? Cheaper? Chunkier? etc. Sales and profits remained flat.

But Christensen’s team asked a different question – “what job arises in people’s lives that causes them to come to this restaurant and “hire” a milkshake?”

They found that half of all milkshakes are sold in the morning, the people buying them were almost always alone, it was the only thing they bought and they did it through the drive-through.

As it turns out, those early morning customers had a long and boring commute ahead of them and they wanted something they could hold in one hand, wouldn’t make a mess and would last a long time. Milkshakes ticked all the boxes.

Improving the milkshakes from there was easy – making it last longer and adding some fruit pieces to create the element of surprise every once in a while were they keys.

Jobs To Be Done in Relationships

If you want to find the key to strong and healthy relationships, you need to figure out the jobs that need doing in their lives.

These things will vary from relationship to relationship and the key is to listen to the other person deeply to find out.

In the areas of your life where you can choose your relationships, you’ll want to look for somebody who you want to make happy – somebody you find yourself wanting to sacrifice for.

As Christensen points out, if falling in love is the ultimate understanding of each other’s jobs to be done, then what cements that commitment is the extent to which you each sacrifice themselves to make it happen.

When It Comes to Children

Not all of you reading this will have children, but many of you do or soon will.

We all want to give our kids the best opportunities to succeed in life. It’s up to us as parents to impart the same wisdom that we are learning from Christensen so that they can find success themselves.

In order to accomplish that, we need to equip our children with three specific things:

  • Resources: these are the time, money and energy resources they have at their disposal.
  • Processes: these are what your child does with the resources they have.
  • Priorities: these are the things that your child will focus on and devote their resources and processes to.

Of course, none of this comes naturally to them – they’ll have to put together the right string of experiences in order to get the most out of life.

Children need to learn how to solve difficult problems on their own – just like they’ll have to do when they grow up. Make sure your children are challenged and when the challenges arise, be there as a parent to help them work through them.

You can think of your role as a parent as putting together the “courses” of experience that will help prepare them for the world that will be waiting for them as adults. Figure out what skills they’ll need in the future, and then set up the right experiences and challenges for them.

Here are just a few things that they’ll encounter that will be great teaching moments for you:

  • dealing with a difficult teacher;
  • failing at a sport;
  • learning to navigate cliques at school;

These are experiences that will prepare them for the real world. Your job is not to figure out a way for them to avoid those types of situations, it’s to prepare them for how they should deal with them when they (invariably) come up again in the future.

Staying Out of Jail

We end this summary by looking at what it takes to stay out of jail, or at least to lead a moral and good life.

As Christensen points out, all of us are very confident that we’ll do the right thing when we find ourselves in the big “moments of truth.”

However, life usually doesn’t work that way. These “moments of truth” are usually not “moments” at all, but a long string of everyday decisions that accumulate over time.

The trick to avoiding going down the wrong path is to avoid the “just this one time” approach to decision making.

Following your own personal rules (or principles, or core values, or whatever you want to call them) 100 percent of the time is a lot easier than 98 percent of the time.

Christensen ends the book with a powerful line, which is exactly where we’ll end this summary:

Decide what you stand for and then stand for it all of the time.

Hope you enjoyed this summary. As always leave me a comment if you did.

P.S. I need a business coach (willing to train [at my expense] the right individual with some get up and go / sales/ marketing/ business prowess) to facilitate demand for my coaching business. I will cover all start up costs for the right person. If you, or someone you know, is interested, please click http://business-coaching.com/andy/ for more information

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