How Will You Measure Your Life?

How Will You Measure Your Life?
By Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth & Karen Dillon
HarperCollins, New York, 2012

Clayton Christensen is best known for his groundbreaking book The Innovator’s Dilemma, probably one of the most important business books ever written. First published in April 1997, that book is twenty years old this year and still worth reading. He’s been recognized as the most influential management thinker in the world.

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How Will You Measure Your Life? is a bit of a departure for Christensen.  He and his co-authors, James Allworth and Karen Dillon have used business theories to help you answer three critically important but personal life 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 become an enduring source of happiness?

3. I live a life of integrity – and stay out of jail?” [p. 6]

Christensen noticed that many of his classmates at Harvard Business School didn’t seem to be leading the happy, fulfilling lives they’d all dreamed about while studying together. Twenty-five years after graduation, many were burned out, some were divorced or estranged from their children, and one – Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of Enron – was in jail.

As a professor at Harvard, he began using the last class of his MBA course to explore these questions with his students. This book was inspired by those discussions.

The book is divided into three sections, one for each of the three questions. Each chapter starts off describing a business theory originally designed to address a particular business question or situation, and then applies that theory to some aspect the book’s three questions.

This use of business theories to guide career, relationship and life choices might seem contrived, but it works well. And the authors’ main point is that rather than give you advice or answers, the book instead provides tools with deep explanatory and predictive power to help you make your own decisions and set your own course.

How Will You Measure Your Life? is well-written and won’t take you long to read.

For me, the overarching messages of the book were to be intentional about your life and to think long-term.

Set deliberate, conscious goals for your career and life. How those goals are achieved can vary (there’s guidance in the book about this), and might include taking advantage of unplanned, emergent opportunities.

Invest in your relationships in an on-going way for the long-term, especially your relationships with your spouse/partner and children. You can’t postpone building those relationships until later in life, you have to start now and keep at it.

Finally, keep a watch on what you’re doing, on how you’re spending your time, energy and money. With or without a plan, what you’re actually doing can easily diverge from what you want to be doing.  Course correct if necessary.

I can’t help wondering what I might have done differently if I’d had the opportunity to read this book as young adult. I’m now a middle-aged man and my children are themselves young adults. Would I have been as receptive then to the ideas in the book as I am today? I’m not sure.

I think deciding the purpose of your life – a topic discussed in the Epilogue – at a young age is particularly difficult. Some people are lucky and find their purpose early. Others sort of retroactively discover their purpose by looking back at what they’ve done over time and seeing patterns emerge. Many others never really find one and just drift along through life. I’d put myself in the second category.

Still it would have been good to have read this book back then even if I didn’t follow the guidelines it offered. Perhaps it would have planted some seeds in my mind for the long term.

I’m glad I’ve read it now though. I recommend it. It’s a good one to start off the New Year; worthwhile and really quite inspiring.

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