Book Review: “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen

Reading this book is like studying for an MBA that’s applied to your personal life – two for the price of one. The author covers a few of the business management theories and attempted to reapply to the personal life. I think he did a very good job and I learned quite a few things. Many of the high-flying executives or corporate ladder climbers seem to be good at their professional lives but did poorly when it came to their personal life. The author intends to bridge the gap, leveraging the management/business theories that the executives are already familiar with. The first section covers finding happiness in your career. The second section covers finding happiness in your personal life. The third section is about integrity. A good book makes you ponder and reflect. This is it; it’s well structured and worth a read. I highly recommend this book. A quick summary is as follows:

Section I: Finding Happiness in Your Career
1. Just because you have feather: This chapter establishes the need for theories. Just because the birds have feather doesn’t mean it’s the reason why they can fly. We need to understand the theory behind it. The chapters that follow connect the theories to the life principles, instead of following the behaviors of the past. Strategy is what you want to achieve and how you’ll get there. In the business world, strategy is the result of: what the priorities are, how the opportunities are responded and how the resources are allocated.

2. What made us tick: “When we find ourselves stuck in unhappy lives, it is often the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what really motivates us. Incentives are NOT the same as motivation. True motivation is getting people to do something because they want to do it. Two types of factors: hygiene factors (status, compensation, job security, condition) and motivation factors (challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth). People are not happy when they chase after the hygiene factors instead of motivation factors. You need to ask yourself a different set of questions: Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to develop? Am I going to learn new things? Will have an opportunity for recognition and achievement?

3. The Balance of Calculation and Serendipity: deliberate vs. emergent strategy. Honda’s dirt-bike. Get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begins to pay off – flips from an emergent to deliberate strategy. Before taking a job, ask yourself what assumptions have to be true for you to be happy.

4. Your strategy is not what you say it is: It’s created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend our time, energy, and money – resource allocation in MBA terms. Short-term vs. long-term investment.

Section II: Finding Happiness in Your Relationships
5. The Ticking Clock: Capital that seeks growth before profits is bad capital, e.g. Motorola’s Iridium. Be impatient for growth and patient for profit. Once a profitable and viable way forward has been discovered – success now depends on scaling out this model, e.g. Honda’s pursuit of “Dirt Bike” (Super Cub) business rather than original targeted motorcycle market. As applied to personal life, parents engaged in face-to-face conversation (“language dancing”) with their young children will allow them to foster better verbal/vocabulary/reading skills later in their lives. Building a fulfilling relationship is ticking from the start and needs to be nurtured continuously from the start.

6. What Job Did You Hire That Milkshake For? Products often fail because focus is placed on what companies want to tell rather than what those customers really need,e.g. Ikea serves to get the furnishing done in a new place, milkshake’s job to keep away hunger and boredom for the commuters, 12-minute games to have short sharing time with children at the end of days. Empathy, a deep understanding of what problems customers are trying to solve. Changing your perspectives to deepen your relationships. Understand your role in a relationship from the perspective “what job does my spouse most need me to do?”

7. Sailing Your Kids on Theseus’s Ship: Company’s capability consists of 3 factors: resources, processes, and priorities. Dell made a mistake of outsourcing its design/manufacturing capabilities to Asus and ended up creating a new competitors. Two considerations: 1) take a dynamic view of suppliers’ capabilities – they will and strive to change. 2) Figure out what capabilities you will need to succeed in the future – they must stay in house. We can apply the same capability model (resources – financial and materials he/she’s been given, processes – the way he/she thinks, asks questions, solve problems, work with others, priorities) to help gauge what our children will need to be able do. The greatest gifts we can give to our children may be what we didn’t do for them. Children will learn when they’re ready to learn. They need to be deeply challenged and don’t outsource them to others to help them.

8. The School of Experience: The “right stuff” is about how they honed the experiences dealing with setbacks or extreme stress in high-stakes situations, e.g. Pandesic’s management’s failure, Nolan Archibald’s deliberate career path for better experience to be a CEO. As parents, we need to subject our children to the “school of experience” and allow them to cope and fail when the stakes are still small.

9. The Invisible Hand Inside Your Family: Build the family culture like a company culture. It becomes the informal but powerful set of guidelines about how your family behaves. It’s not about controlling bad behavior; it’s about celebrating the good.

Section III: Staying Out of Jail
10. Just This Once…
The trap of marginal thinking – Blockbuster’s losing the war to Netflix and Nucor’s decision against building mini mills because marginal costs almost always lower than the full costs. When applied to making a right and wrong decision – living a life of integrity, the marginal cost of “just this once” always seems negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher, e.g. Enron, Nick Leeson, the 26-year-old trader who brought down Barings in 1995. Good advise: “The only way to avoid the consequences of uncomfortable moral concessions in your life is to never start making them in the first place.

Have a purpose: 3 parts: 1) likeness, what is built when they reach each critical milestone in their journey. 2) deep commitment, 3) one or a few metrics, to calibrate their work, keeping them moving together in a coherent way. #3 is the essence of this book.
How you measure your life