How Will You Measure Your Life?
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How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clayton M. Christensen,James Allworth,Karen Dillon

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eBook - ePub

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clayton M. Christensen,James Allworth,Karen Dillon

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About This Book

From the world's leading thinker on innovation and New York Times bestselling author of The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton M. Christensen, comes an unconventional book of inspiration and wisdom for achieving a fulfilling life. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, notably the only business book that Apple's Steve Jobs said "deeply influenced" him, is widely recognized as one of the most significant business books ever published. Now, in the tradition of Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture and Anna Quindlen's A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Christensen's How Will You Measure Your Life is with a book of lucid observations and penetrating insights designed to help any reader—student or teacher, mid-career professional or retiree, parent or child—forge their own paths to fulfillment.

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Year
2012
ISBN
9780062102423

CHAPTER ONE

Just Because You Have Feathers …

There are probably dozens of well-intended people who have advice for how you should live your life, make your career choices, or make yourself happy. Similarly, walk into the self-help section of any bookstore and you’ll be overwhelmed with scores of choices about how you can improve your life. You know, intuitively, that all these books can’t be right. But how can you tell them apart? How do you know what is good advice—and what is bad?
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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.
What is new, however, is how some modern thinkers address the problem. A bevy of so-called experts simply offer the answers. It’s not a surprise that these answers are very appealing to some. They take hard problems—ones that people can go through an entire life without ever resolving—and offer a quick fix.
That is not what I intend with this book. 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. To illustrate, about a year after meeting with Andy Grove, I received a call from William Cohen, then–secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. He told me he’d read The Innovator’s Dilemma. “Could you come to Washington and talk to me and my staff about your research?” he asked. To me, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When Secretary Cohen had said “my staff,” somehow I had imagined second lieutenants and college interns. But when I walked into the secretary’s conference room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were in the front row, followed by the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and then each of the secretaries’ under-, deputy, and assistant secretaries. I was stunned. He said that this was the first time he had convened all of his direct reports in one room.
Secretary Cohen simply asked me to present my research. So using the exact same PowerPoint slides I had used with Andy Grove, I started explaining the theory of disruption. As soon as I had explained how the mini-mills had undermined the traditional steel industry by starting with rebar at the bottom, General Hugh Shelton, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stopped me. “You have no idea why we are interested in this, do you?” he queried. Then he gestured to the mini-mill chart. “You see the sheet steel products at the top of the market?” he asked. “That was the Soviets, and they’re not the enemy anymore.” Then he pointed to the bottom of the market—rebar—and said, “The rebar of our world is local policing actions and terrorism.” Just as the mini-mills had attacked the massive integrated mills at the bottom of the market and then moved up, he worried aloud, “Everything about the way we do our jobs is focused on the high end of the problem—what the USSR used to be.”
Once I understood why I was there, we were able to discuss what the result of fighting terrorism from within the existing departments would be, versus setting up a completely new organization. The Joint Chiefs later decided to go down the route of forming a new entity, the Joint Forces Command, in Norfolk, Virginia. For more than a decade, this command served as a “transformation laboratory” for the United States military to develop and deploy strategies to combat terrorism around the world.
On the surface, competition in the computer chip market and the proliferation of global terrorism could not seem like more different problems to tackle. But they are fundamentally the same problem, just in different contexts. Good theory can help us categorize, explain, and, most important, predict.
People often think that the best way to predict the future is by collecting as much data as possible before making a decision. But this is like driving a car looking only at the rearview mirror—because data is only available about the past.
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 what will happen, even before you experience it.
Consider, for example, the history of mankind’s attempts to fly. Early researchers observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings. Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years. They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers.
Possessing these attributes had a high correlation—a connection between two things—with the ability to fly, but when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings, then jumping off cathedrals and flapping hard … they failed. The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the would-be aviators did not understand the fundamental causal mechanism—what actually causes something to happen—that enabled certain creatures to fly.
The real breakthrough in human flight didn’t come from crafting better wings or using more feathers. It was brought about by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli and his book Hydrodynamica, a study of fluid mechanics. In 1738, he outlined what was to become known as Bernoulli’s principle, a theory that, when applied to flight, explained the concept of lift. We had gone from correlation (wings and feathers) to causality (lift). Modern flight can be traced directly back to the development and adoption of this theory.
But even the breakthrough understanding of the cause of flight still wasn’t enough to make flight perfectly reliable. When an airplane crashed, researchers then had to ask, “What was it about the circumstances of that particular attempt to fly that led to failure? Wind? Fog? The angle of the aircraft?” Researchers could then define what rules pilots needed to follow in order to succeed in each different circumstance. That’s a hallmark of good theory: it dispenses its advice in “if-then” statements.
The Power of Theory in Our Lives
How do fundamental theories relate to finding happiness in life?
The appeal of easy answers—of strapping on wings and feathers—is incredibly alluring. Whether these answers come from writers who are hawking guaranteed steps for making millions, or the four things you have to do to be happy in marriage, we want to believe they will work. But so much of what’s become popular thinking isn’t grounded in anything more than a series of anecdotes. Solving the challenges in your life requires a deep understanding of what causes what to happen. The theories that I will discuss with you will help you do exactly that.
This book uses research done at the Harvard Business School and in some of the world’s other leading universities. It has been rigorously tested in organizations of all sizes around the world.
Just as these theories have explained behavior in a wide range of circumstances, so, too, do they apply across a wide range of questions. With most complex problems it’s rarely as simple as identifying the one and only theory that helps solve the problem. There can be multiple theories that provide insight. For example, though Bernoulli’s thinking was a significant breakthrough, it took other work—such as understanding gravity and resistance—to fully explain flight.
Each chapter of this book highlights a theory as it might apply to a particular challenge. But just as was true in understanding flight, problems in our lives don’t always map neatly to theories on a one-to-one basis. The way I’ve paired the challenges and theories in the subsequent chapters is based on how my students and I have discussed them in class. I invite you, as you journey through the book, to go back to theories in earlier chapters, just as my students do, and explore the problems through the perspective of multiple theories, too.
These theories are powerful tools. I have applied many of them in my own life; others I wish I’d had available to me when I was younger, struggling with a problem. You’ll see that without theory, we’re at sea without a sextant. If we can’t see beyond what’s close by, we’re relying on chance—on the currents of life—to guide us. Good theory helps people steer to good decisions—not just in business, but in life, too.
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You might be tempted to try to make decisions in your life based on what you know has happened in the past or what has happened to other people. You should learn all that you can from the past; from scholars who have studied it, and from people who have gone through problems of the sort that you are likely to face. But this doesn’t solve the fundamental challenge of what information and what advice you should accept, and which you should ignore as you embark into the future. Instead, using robust theory to predict what will happen has a much greater chance of success. The theories in this book are based on a deep understanding of human endeavor—what causes what to happen, and why. They’ve been rigorously examined and used in organizations all over the globe, and can help all of us with decisions that we make every day in our lives, too.

SECTION I

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Finding Happiness in Your Career

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
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Table of contents

  1. Contents
  2. Dedication
  3. Prologue
  4. 1: Just Because You Have Feathers…
  5. Section I: Finding Happiness in Your Career
  6. Section II: Finding Happiness in Your Relationships
  7. Section III: Staying Out of Jail
  8. Epilogue
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. About the Authors
  11. Also by Clayton M. Christensen
  12. Credits
  13. Copyright
  14. About the Publisher