For those who are unfamiliar with him, he was the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. The technology industry we have today is built on the framework of technology disruption and innovation that Christensen devised.
Another book he is known for was How would you measure your life? In which, he shares valuable lessons and tips on finding happiness, success and meaning at work, at home, and in life generally.
I have learnt a lot about technology and life from Clayton Christensen. In this post, I would be sharing his lessons on How would you measure your life?
I hope that these lessons would resonate with you as much as they did for me
1. Be mindful about spending your time – Make sure you invest on the priorities that matter to you
Clayton Christensen shared that in life, we have many goals and priorities – having a rewarding relationship with our spouse, raising great children, succeeding in our career and having a healthy mind and body.
Yet, we also have limited resources such as personal time, energy, talent and wealth. These are what we use to invest in our goals.
Many ambitious people make the mistake of not being mindful of allocating their time. They end up unconsciously allocating time, energy and effort to work.
The danger for high-achieving people is that they tend to unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This often means favoring career at the expense of family, even though there is much more to life than your career…
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 Christensen
How do we ensure we can spend our resources and time on what truly matters to us? The answer is to be mindful about how we allocate our time.
Failure to do so results in spending time on what grabs us first, offers the best short term rewards. I am sure we all experience this regularly where we end up scrolling mindlessly through our news feed instead of perhaps spending time on something which matters more to us.
Here is how I am applying this lesson to my life. I have a weekly schedule review with myself.
During which, I look at my own calendar and ask myself: How much am I allocating for my family and friends? How much time am I spending on learning and growing myself? How much am I spending on health and wellbeing?
If things are not aligned with my priorities, I change them accordingly. This weekly practice ensures that these things which are important to me are not neglected.
2. Focus on learning what leads you to your eventual goal, not what is the most prestigious
Besides planning the allocation of our time, we also have to be mindful of what we learn and experiences which we pick up.
In Clayton Christensen’s view, going through the right courses in the schools of experience can help people in achieving their goals. To illustrate this, he shared the example of Nolan Archibald who was the youngest-ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company—Black & Decker.
When speaking with Christensen’s students, here is what he shared:
“What he described was not all of the steps on his résumé, but rather why he took them. Though he didn’t use this language, he built his career by registering for specific courses in the schools of experience.
Archibald had a clear goal in mind when he graduated from college—he wanted to become CEO of a successful company. But instead of setting out on what most people thought would be the “right,” prestigious stepping-stone jobs to get there, he asked himself: “What are all the experiences and problems that I have to learn about and master so that what comes out at the other end is somebody who is ready and capable of becoming a successful CEO?”
That meant Archibald was prepared to make some unconventional moves in the early years of his career—moves his peers at business school might not have understood on the surface. Instead of taking jobs or assignments because they looked like a fast-track to the C-suite, he chose his options very deliberately for the experience they would provide.
“I wouldn’t ever make the decision based upon how much it paid or the prestige,” he told my students “Instead, it was always: is it going to give me the experiences I need to wrestle with?”
His first job after business school was not a glamorous consulting position. Instead, he worked in Northern Quebec, operating an asbestos mine. He thought that particular experience, of managing and leading people in difficult conditions, would be important to have mastered on his route to the C-suite. It was the first of many such decisions he made. The strategy worked. It wasn’t long before he became CEO of Beatrice Foods. And then, at age forty-two, he achieved an even loftier goal: he was appointed CEO of Black & Decker. He stayed in that position for twenty-four years.”
Here is how I am applying this lesson to my life.
Each year, I get $7500 to spend on education. Similarly, I have followed Clayton Christensen advice on how to decide what to learn.
First, I decide where do I want to be in the next few years? Then I look at my gaps. From there, I take the courses accordingly to align myself accordingly.
For instance, my aim is to continue to do business development for Saas companies. However, one key skill I am lacking in is business Chinese which prevents me from taking up roles which cover markets like China and Taiwan. These markets are important and lucrative for many businessses. Thus, I am taking Business Chinese course to close this gap.
3. Do Not Over Invest In Work, And Under Invest In Relationships
Clayton Christensen shared an important lesson that many of us know in our hearts: “Work can bring you a sense of fulfillment—but it pales in comparison to the enduring happiness you can find in the intimate relationships that you cultivate with your family and close friends.”
While many of us know this, we fail to realize that like any important investment, these relationships need consistent attention and care.
If you don’t nurture and develop those relationships, they won’t be there to support you if you find yourself traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life, or as one of the most important sources of happiness in your life.
Quoting him, “The relationships you have with family and close friends are going to be the most important sources of happiness in your life. But you have to be careful. When it seems like everything at home is going well, you will be lulled into believing that you can put your investments in these relationships on the back burner. That would be an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it often is too late to repair them.”
He cautions high achievers to look out for this.
Many people I know can probably relate to parents who spent too much time on work and neglected their marriages, children and own parents as well in the process.
“In my experience, high-achievers focus a great deal on becoming the person they want to be at work—and far too little on the person they want to be at home. Investing our time and energy in raising wonderful children or deepening our love with our spouse often doesn’t return clear evidence of success for many years. What this leads us to is over-investing in our careers, and under-investing in our families—starving one of the most important parts of our life of the resources it needs to flourish.”Clayton Christensen
4. Finding out what you love is a process
As Millennials, many of us do not just see a job as a platform to earn money. We believe in purpose, meaning and hope for a job that we can shine in and feel instrinsically motivated at.
To find out job may best suit us, many of us turn to self-reflection. However, thinking alone can rarely help us.
As Clayton Christensen explains, “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.”
On top of that, when looking for jobs, we should also focus on looking for those with Motivation factors. This include challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. These are the factors that will bring about motivation and happiness.
I found this to be true in my case. Many of my peers asked how I have managed to figure out what I want and specialize so early in my career. Part of it is due to luck. However, the other was due to effort such as taking on internships since I was 18 years old in all kinds of sectors; getting as much international exposure as I could; attending industry events regularly and just staying on top of economic and work trends generally.
Check out some more advice I have shared in my interview with Glints here:
5. Avoiding challenges does not mean happiness or success
Finally, there are many who feel that happiness and success can come from shielding oneself or their children from challenges.
This is untrue and may even lead to unhappiness.
Clayton Christensen illustrates this through an example: For instance, during dinner time, a child would announce a big report or project due the next day but he hasn’t started on it. Some parents would stay up late to help him hoping that it can get him a good grade or even do it for him.
While that decision to bail him out can lead to a good grade in the project, or save him from having to stay up late, it can lead to negative long term consequences.
The child will learn that when he messes up, his parents will always be there to ssolve the hard problems for him. He wont have to figure it out on his own.
He does not learn how to solve complex issues on his own and to take responsibility for his own life and his own mistakes. Why learn when daddy and mummy can save him with their resources and money?
“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 Christensen
Furthermore, the child also loses a valuable opportunity to build resilience
“Our default instincts are so often just to support our children in a difficult moment. But if our children don’t face difficult challenges, and sometimes fail along the way, they will not build the resilience they will need throughout their lives. People who hit their first significant career roadblock after years of nonstop achievement often fall apart”Clayton Christensen
Like Clayton Christensen, I am thankful that my parents taught me to take responsibility for my own mistakes from a young age.
Since young, my dad told me that if I could not go into NTU, NUS or SMU, he won’t be able to afford it. I would have to take a loan or scholarship if I needed to go abroad.
Realizing that I only had one option, compelled me to do well in my studies. I knew there was no backup plan. If I failed, I would have to bear the burden of a student loan to learn the horrible consequences of not studying hard enough .
I am thankful for Clayton Christensen for writing this book and appreciate how much wisdom he has shared with us.
As he shared previously, he concluded that the metric by which God will assess his life isn’t dollars, but the individual people whose lives he has touched. In his words:
“Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”
By sharing his lessons with all, I certainly hope that I have contributed in some small way to his life purpose and legacy.
If you like this post, you would probably also enjoy my summary of Neither Civil Nor Servant by Philip Yeo.