Book Review: Clayton Christensen How will you measure your life?
July 13, 2012 by Bernard Leong
In a short and concise book, Clayton Christensen (famous for his theory on disruptive innovations) reflected on the lessons learnt in his career from business to academia and how the same lessons from company culture, motivation factors in hiring people and business ethics learnt can be translated to family life. Written together with two co-authors, James Allworth & Karen Dillon, the book introduced how our careers whether as an entrepreneur or corporate leader can provide us a mirror in how we view our family life.
In a very different set of lenses, Clayton Christensen’s “How will you measure your life?” runs on a similar theme with Reid Hoffman’s book “The Start-up of You”. What marks the difference is that the latter focuses more on the how-tos and provides a perspective more relevant for people who are beginning their careers. If the book is to be recommended, it is ideal for entrepreneurs who have started their families with kids or currently studying in a business school (likely a MBA or EMBA) and contemplating their next career moves or starting their own business. We often hear about the lack of work-life balance for entrepreneurs all over the world. That’s why this book might provide a guide to those who might have focused so much on their careers and neglected their family in the process. It also put a lid to the ethical dimensions in one’s career and he made an interesting mention that Jeffrey Skilling, the infamous CEO who brought down Enron, was his classmate from business school. It’s in the same thinking that he tried to explain why some people can end up losing their moral compass in the process and bring down the companies with them.
In the whole book, Christensen utilized interesting business theories from various management thinkers and adapts to two perspectives: business and family. With that line of thinking, he’s able to draw lessons that management of the family is no different from management of a business. As a matter of fact, both requires time and effort to build, maintain and sustain them. In short, I derived three interesting lessons from reading the book and one of them actually supported my thesis about hiring for start-ups that contradicted conventional thinking that is prevalent in Asia as a whole.
- Do not give in to credentials in hiring but rather look at what the company really needs: One of the interesting theories he used was based on Morgan McCall’s book “High Flyers” and explained why many managers including start-up founders make hiring mistakes. While most hiring managers are only correlating the individual’s experience with the companies that they have worked in i.e. finding the right person with the companies they are associated with, a better model is to search for process capabilities, i.e. look for people who have developed abilities through the experience of failures, facing new challenges and dealing with a lot of situations. The author explained with a personal anecdote on how they recruited the wrong person by picking the one with credentials instead of the person who know the processes but just as capable when he was running CPS Technologies.
- Culture starts from the family to the company: Christensen discussed the culture of innovation and creativity within Pixar and defined using Edgar Schein’s model: 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.” He made a strong point to why a lot of entrepreneurs or corporate leaders used the excuse to spend less time with family but make more money, and find themselves later that their own families suffer as a result. He also made suggestions as to how to help the children within the family develop their processes in learning and not outsourcing that to the teachers. That is accompanied with a tale about outsourcing and he made a good transition on how that goes with family as well.
- The danger of marginal thinking: The author brought up two interesting case studies of NetFlix and Blockbuster, where the latter was in a dominant position and had complete control of killing the former as a disrupting business and yet chose to do nothing till it went bankrupt. We have seen a lot of large companies that are unable to stay innovative and relevant to change, and most of the time, the executives who made these decisions are working on marginal thinking with the hypothesis that the present products of the business are adequate to generate profits. The same can be said for people in his view, giving in to the “just this once” in facing moral dilemmas to do something wrong in their careers. Once they gave into the “just this once” which is a form of marginal thinking, they ended up in a deeper hole until they reach the point at which they cannot come out.
What I enjoyed about the book is the sense of perspective that he has placed on how one should balance their career and family and integrate work with happiness. In the end, all of us will go back to the same question that Christensen sought to address, “How will you measure your life?” Christensen has provided his perspective, how about the rest of us then?
An interview with Clayton Christensen via Forbes (below):
Author’s Note: The article is written before 30 June 2012. The opinions expressed in this article are his personal thoughts and do not represent or reflect the views of the company he is currently working for.
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About The Author
Bernard Leong - Co-Founder
Dr Bernard Leong is currently in Vistaprint as a technology manager, where he manages an engineering team and builds new products for emerging markets. His former entrepreneurial stints include CTO and co-founder of Chalkboard where he has architected the platform for location based advertising across web and mobile, and also an early stage investor in Thymos Capital with Lunch Actually, Padlet and iHipo. His accolades include the Young Professional of the Year Award for the Singapore Computer Society 2010 and Outstanding Young Alumni for National University of Singapore 2007. His expertise includes technology and social media. Currently, Bernard also serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with INSEAD Business School and taught courses in entrepreneurship in NTU.Read other posts by Bernard Leong