In the business that so many of us are caught up in on a day to day basis, it’s difficult to regularly take a step back and remind ourselves what matters most and why we do everything that we do. Clayton Christensen insightfully discusses this need in his book How Will You Measure Your Life?
Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School professor where he teaches one of the most popular elective classes, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise. Christensen was inspired to write this book as he continually noticed that many of his former classmates and students eventually became unhappy despite their successful careers. He writes “I know for sure that none of these people graduated with a deliberate strategy to get divorced or loose touch with their children, much less to end up in jail. Yet this is the exact strategy too many ended up implementing.” He was further inspired following a strong flow of positive feedback to his article in Harvard Business Review.
His core thesis revolves around the importance of theories and argues that a properly constructed theory can provide guidance in various situations. Christensen invites the reader to lead a purpose driven life and argues that many high-achieving individuals over-invest themselves in their careers, and under-invest in their family, causing regret later in life. The two main questions connected with the title are “Is there something that I can leave the world that is bigger than me? and “How will I measure whether I am achieving that goal?”
Hygiene: Avoiding the Negative
The Herzberg’s motivation hygiene theory sets a foundation and states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job dissatisfaction, and a separate set of factors that cause job satisfaction. These factors are not at the opposite ends of a continuum, but different measures altogether. Hygiene factors including money, status, job security, work conditions, company policies, supervisory practices, etc. and remove job dissatisfaction. When conditions are safe, for example, making them more safe does little, just as when employees are paid enough, paying them more isn’t the key to additional motivation. Again, these remove dissatisfaction but they don’t create satisfaction. Motivators like autonomy over our work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth create satisfaction and have a stronger and stronger effect the more they are implemented, unlike hygiene factors. To find out if these exist, you can ask yourself if your work is meaningful to you and if you are going to develop and learn new things. If additional potential exists here, watch for emergent opportunities that will give you more.
Planning: Seeking the Positive
Planning is essential in life, but life won’t always follow your five-year plan. You need to stay on the lookout for unexpected opportunities and balance deliberate and emergent planning. “Managing this part of the strategy process is often the difference between success and failure for companies. It’s true for our careers too.” Christensen compares this to entrepreneurs who often spend a large amount of the time planning, outlining, and diagramming in the beginning when ironically they know the least. It is therefore nearly impossible to follow such a plan step by step.
Strategy = Time + Money + Energy
Everyone has a set of finite resources: time, money, and energy. Strategy is about what you do, not what you say, and constitutes how you spend those resources on a daily basis. “How you allocate your resources is where the rubber meets the road. Strategy is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about where we spend our resources.” For example, your desired strategy may be to put your family first, but if you’re spending all your time and energy at work, your actual strategy is to put your work first. Everyone has dreams about life and business. Our best defense is to ensure that the day to day is about those dreams, and that the dreams we’ve chosen is what we really want.
Just as companies allocate large amounts of resources to the short-term for immediate profits, so people allocate resources for short-term gains. It’s human nature to allow the day to day to get in the way of the long term. Because work has more immediate and obvious payoffs than family does and tends to shout louder for our attention, it tends to take top priority. If personal relationships aren’t maintained and invested in, problems often arise down the road when it’s too late to repair them. Additionally, work and family investments are not sequential. You cannot focus on work for a few years, then assume you’ll be able to go back and focus on family for a while. You will be too involved in work at that point, and too distant from your family. The trick is to run both in parallel.
A trap we often get caught in is considering what we get out of a relationship while forgetting what is important for the other person. What did your spouse or friends “hire” you for? What do you kids need a parent for? Relationships aren’t meant to be one-sided, and as soon as we look at them that way, that’s when they start falling apart.
Business = Resources + Processes + Priorities
Business can be understood as a combination of three dimensions: resources, processes, and priorities. “These offer an accurate snapshot of a company at any given time because they are mutually exclusive. A part of a business cannot fit into more than one of these categories and are collectively exhaustive. Together, the three categories account for everything inside of a business.” A business can be measured by the resources on the balance sheet, but it can be capable of much more through processes and priorities making them more valuable. This is equally true for personal life. Everyone has similar resources to one another, but different processes and priorities which make them unique. Resources are financial and material, time and energy, knowledge, and relationships. Processes are what people do with those resources to accomplish and create new things for themselves. These processes are somewhat intangible like how people think, how they ask questions, how they solve problems, and how they work with others. Priorities deal with how people make decisions – what things are most important, which are put off, and which are ignored entirely. Oftentimes parents think that the answer to helping their children lies in flooding them with resources, when what they really need are processes. Make sure your kids have responsibility and give them the chance to solve problems by themselves, and they learn when you are ready to learn. Elder Foster’s comments in the most recent General Conference echo these words: “…our children learn when they are ready to learn, not just when we are ready to teach them.” Also, try to take responsibility for your children’s’ learning instead of leaving it all to society and the education system, otherwise they learn these priorities elsewhere.
Learn from Experience
In the learning process, experience is the most effective teacher. Plan to take advantage of challenges such as difficult teachers, sports, and social life and use them as learning tools. Help your kids learn valuable lessons from these and teach them to fail forward. This can be a very active process. For example, consider the lessons you want your children to learn and watch for experiences that have the potential to teach those lessons.
Choose your Culture
A word often thrown around in the corporate world is culture. Teachers and alumnus encourage students to find a career path that fits them, then find a company with the right culture. This concept is just as important in the home. Decide what you want your family’s culture to be and live it. The right kind of culture can be created by the small, daily interactions between family members. As this culture permeates your home, it will always be with children to assist in times of need.
Just Once Can Hurt
The decisions that lead to jail never start with big decisions, but small, imperceptible ones that don’t seem like a big deal at the time. This is similar to the analogy of the frog in a pot of boiling water. If you put the frog in while it is boiling, it will jump right out, but if you but it in while the water is cold and slowly turn up the heat, it won’t notice the temperature changes up to the boiling point. To avoid the first decisions that lead up to jail, never say “just this once.” Decide what kind of person you want to be, and then always live by that.
Find your Purpose
Finding your purpose is vital. All purpose statements need three parts: likeness, commitment, and metrics. Likeness outlines what you want to become and sincerely hope to be, commitment is a deep commitment to the likeness you are trying to be, and metrics are how you measure your approach to that likeness. The likeness is a path that will slowly emerge as opportunities and challenges come by. Purpose is like the rudder while in rough seas and finding it is the most important thing in life.
Clayton Christensen’s other works include The Innovator’s Dilemma in 1997, The Innovator’s Solution in 2003, and Disrupting Class in 2008.