Graham King

Solvitas perambulum

How will you measure your life? – book notes

society book

How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton M. Christensen is life advice for M.B.A. graduates. It dispenses valuable career, relationship, and ethics advice in business-school language.

High-achieving individuals (he’s a Harvard business-school professor) often over-invest themselves in their career and under-invest themselves in their family, and regret this later in life. This book is his attempt to correct that.

I didn’t agree with all his advice, and some of it reflects his strong Mormon faith. However, this book made me pause to reflect on my life, and re-examine various parts of it. It felt like a valuable exercise.

2. What makes us tick

Two-factor theory, or how to achieve job satisfaction and avoid job dissatisfaction.

  • Hygiene factors (money, status, job security, work conditions, company policies, supervisory practices, etc). Typically external. Absence of these causes job dissatisfaction.
  • Motivators (challenging work, recognition, responsiblity, personal growth). Typically internal. Ask: Is this work meaningful to me? Am I going to develop and learn new things? Presence of these creates job satisfaction.

3. The balance of calculation and serendipity

Emergent and Deliberate strategy. Life won’t follow your five year plan. Stay on lookout for unexpected opportunities. Experiment. Pivot. Adjust.

Test assumptions before jumping. Do a “spike”. What has to prove true for your expectations to pan out?

4. Your strategy is not what you say it is

You have a set of resources: Time, money, energy. Your strategy is how you spend those, on a daily basis. To make sure your real strategy is what you want it to be, watch where you are spending your time, money, and energy – where you allocate your resources.

You intended strategy may be to put your family first, but if you are spending all your time and energy on work, your actual strategy is to put your work first.

5. The ticking clock

Invest in your personal relationships (spouse and children) whilst everything still seems fine, when it doesn’t seem necessary. By the time problems arise it is often too late.

Work has a more immediate and more obvious payoff than family, and family rarely shouts the loudest for your attention, so it is tempting to focus our resources / life-investments on work. That is a big mistake.

You cannot sequence life investments. You cannot “focus on your career” for a few years, and then “take a step back” to focus on your family later. By then you will be too entrenched in your career, and too distant from your family. Run both in parallel.

Plant trees before you need the shade.

6. What job did you hire that milkshake for?

Too often we think about what we get out of a relationship. Instead, think of what is important for the other person.

What job did your spouse (or friends) hire you for? What job do your kids need a parent for?

7. Sailing your kids on Theseus’s ship

Capabilities: What Resources, Processes, and Priorities will your children need in the future?

  • Resources are financial and material, time and energy, knowledge, relationships.
  • Processes are what your child does with the resources he has, to accomplish and create new things for themselves. They are relatively intangible. How they think, how they ask questions, how they solve problems, how they work with others.
  • Priorities determine how a child makes decisions in life – which things go to the top of the list, which are procastinated, and which are ignored.

Many parents flood their children with resources, when what they really need are processes. Allow them to shoulder responsiblity and solve complicated problems for themselves and others. Sometimes the biggest gift is what you don’t do for your child. Children learn when they are ready to learn, not when you are ready to teach (c.f. teachable moment).

Don’t outsource too much of your children’s education. Otherwise they learn priorities from others, not from your family.

8. The schools of experience

Plan your (and your children’s) classes in the school of experience (coping with a difficult teacher, failing at a sport, navigating the social structure of school cliques). Find small opportunities for them to take important “courses” early on. Encourage them to fail forward.

Think about what your want your child to learn and look for experiences that will help them acquire that learning (by doing (processes), rather than being taught (resources)). Work backwards from the learning to craft the experience.

9. The invisible hand inside your family.

Culture. Decide explicitly what you want your familiy’s culture to be, and live it. Culture is the informal but powerful set of guidelines about how your family behaves. The family norms and values.

Culture will become your children’s auto-pilot, enabling them to do the right thing when on their own. Culture is created in all the small everyday interactions within a family.

10. Staying out of jail

Marginal thinking. The road to hell is not marked with signposts – the first step to a big mistake rarely seems like an imporant decision. To avoid taking that small first step, don’t ever give in “just this once”. Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.

Epilogue. Find your purpose

A useful Purpose statement needs three parts:

  • Likeness: What you want to become, what you sincerely hope to be.
  • Commitment: A deep commitment, almost a conversion, to the likeness you are trying to create.
  • Metrics: How you measure your approach to that likeness.

Purpose must be deliberately conceived and chosen, and then pursued. The purpose is deliberate, but the path to the likeness is typically emergent, as opportunities and challenges arise. It can take time to find your purpose.

Purpose is your rudder in the rough seas of life. Finding it is the most important thing you can learn. How will you measure your life?