Too often, we measure success in life against the progress we make in our careers. But how can we ensure we’re not straying from our values as humans along the way? Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School professor and world-renowned innovation guru, examines the daily decisions that define our lives and encourages all of us to think about what is truly important.

Follows a brief excerpt from chapter one, of “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen to introduce the book:

Chapter 1: The Difference Between What to Think and How to Think

There are no easy answers to life’s challenges. The quest to find happiness and meaning in life is not new. Humans have been pondering the reason for our existence for thousands of years.

… There are no quick fixes for the fundamental problems of life. But I can offer you tools that I’ll call theories in this book, which will help you make good choices, appropriate to the circumstances of your life.

I learned about the power of this approach in 1997, before I published my first book, The Innovator’s Dilemma I got a call from Andy Grove, then the chairman of Intel. He had heard of one of my early academic papers about disruptive innovation, and asked me to come to Santa Clara to explain my research and tell him and his top team what it implied for Intel. A young professor, I excitedly flew to Silicon Valley and showed up at the appointed time, only to have Andy say, “Look, stuff has happened. We have only ten minutes for you. Tell us what your research means for Intel, so we can get on with things.”

I responded, “Andy, I can’t, because I know very little about Intel. The only thing I can do is to explain the theory first; then we can look at the company through the lens that the theory offers.” I then showed him a diagram of my theory of disruption. I explained that disruption happens when a competitor enters a market with a low-priced product or service that most established industry players view as inferior. But the new competitor uses technology and its business model to continually improve its offering until it is good enough to satisfy what customers need. Ten minutes into my explanation, Andy interrupted impatiently: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”

I said, “Andy, I still can’t. I need to describe how this process worked its way through a very different industry, so you can visualize how it works.” I told the story of the steel-mill industry, in which Nucor and other steel mini-mills disrupted the integrated steel-mill giants. The mini-mills began by attacking at the lowest end of the market—steel reinforcing bar, or rebar—and then step by step moved up toward the high end, to make sheet steel—eventually driving all but one of the traditional steel mills into bankruptcy.

When I finished the mini-mill story, Andy said, “I get it. What it means for Intel is …” and then went on to articulate what would become the company’s strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the lower-priced Celeron processor.

I’ve thought about that exchange a million times since. If I had tried to tell Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, he would have eviscerated my argument. He’s forgotten more than I will ever know about his business.

But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think. He then reached a bold decision about what to do, on his own.

I Don’t Have an Opinion, the Theory Has an Opinion

That meeting with Andy changed the way I answer questions. When people ask me something, I now rarely answer directly. Instead, I run the question through a theory in my own mind, so I know what the theory says is likely to be the result of one course of action, compared to another. I’ll then explain how it applies to their question. To be sure they understand it, I’ll describe to them how the process in the model worked its way through an industry or situation different from their own, to help them visualize how it works. People, typically, then say,

“Okay, I get it.” They’ll then answer their question with more insight than I could possibly have. A good theory doesn’t change its mind: it doesn’t apply only to some companies or people, and not to others. It is a general statement of what causes what, and why.

28 Best Quotes From “How Will You Measure Your Life?”

“It’s actually really important that you succeed at what you’re succeeding at, but that isn’t going to be the measure of your life.” – ― Clayton M. Christensen

“For many of us, as the years go by, we allow our dreams to be peeled away. We pick our jobs for the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. We begin to accept that it’s not realistic to do something we truly love for a living.Too many of us who start down the path of compromise will never make it back. Considering the fact that you’ll likely spend more of your waking hours at your job than in any other part of your life, it’s a compromise that will always eat away at you.But you need not resign yourself to this fate.”― Clayton M. Christensen

”It is important to address hygiene factors such as a safe and comfortable working environment, relationship with managers and colleagues, enough money to look after your family—if you don’t have these things, you’ll experience dissatisfaction with your work. But these alone won’t do anything to make you love your job—they will just stop you from hating it.”
― Clayton M. Christensen

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Intimate, loving, and enduring relationships with our family and close friends will be among the sources of the deepest joy in our lives.”― Clayton M. Christensen

“In your life, there are going to be constant demands for your time and attention. How are you going to decide which of those demands gets resources? The trap many people fall into is to allocate their time to whoever screams loudest, and their talent to whatever offers them the fastest reward. That’s a dangerous way to build a strategy.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

”If we ask the right questions, the answers generally are easy to get.”
― Clayton M. Christensen

“You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that anyone can offer you. The hot water that softens a carrot will harden an egg.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“I had thought the destination was what was important, but it turned out it was the journey.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“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. There’s an old saying: find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“I used to think that if you cared for other people, you need to study sociology or something like it. But….I [have] concluded, if you want to help other people, be a manager. If done well, management is among the most noble of professions. You are in a position where you have eight or ten hours every day from every person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, your employees will go home feeling like Diana felt on her good day: living a life filled with motivators.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Because 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.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Purpose must be deliberately conceived and chosen, and then pursued.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“As I look back on my own life, I recognize that some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me—but rather from what they didn’t do for me.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. —Steve Jobs”― Clayton M. Christensen

“the only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“In fact, how you allocate your own resources can make your life turn out to be exactly as you hope or very different from what you intend.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Indeed, while experiences and information can be good teachers, there are many times in life where we simply cannot afford to learn on the job. You don’t want to have to go through multiple marriages to learn how to be a good spouse. Or wait until your last child has grown to master parenthood. This is why theory can be so valuable: it can explain” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“Resources are what he uses to do it, processes are how he does it, and priorities are why he does it.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“you perfect results. What I can promise you is that you won’t get it right if you don’t commit to keep trying.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“In our lives and in our careers, whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly navigating a path by deciding between our deliberate strategies and the unanticipated alternatives that emerge.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“successful companies don’t succeed because they have the right strategy at the beginning; but rather, because they have money left over after the original strategy fails, so that they can pivot and try another approach. Most of those that fail, in contrast, spend all their money on their original strategy—which is usually wrong.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage—a doer of good, regardless of what assignment I had. These are the metrics that matter in measuring my life.”― Clayton M. Christensen

“Culture is a way of working together toward common goals that have been followed so frequently and so successfully that people don’t even think about trying to do things another way. If a culture has formed, people will autonomously do what they need to do to be successful.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

“As you go through your career, you will begin to find the areas of work you love and in which you will shine; you will, hopefully, find a field where you can maximize the motivators and satisfy the hygiene factors. But it’s rarely a case of sitting in an ivory tower and thinking through the problem until the answer pops into your head. Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities. What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.” ― Clayton M. Christensen

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


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