Book Reviews

There is so much written about leadership! In this section, we review selected books and separately highlight the key points made in those books.

“How will you measure your life” by Clayton Christensen.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

“How Will You Measure Your Life?” – Book Review

Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth and Karen Dillon


ISBN 978-0-06-210241-6; INTERNATIONAL EDITION ISBN 978-0-06-220619-0


Clayton M. Christensen, Author

How can I achieve a fulfilling life? It’s surely a question we should all ask of ourselves yet most of us go through life without really addressing it!

Clayton Christensen is a professor at Harvard Business School who was named the world’s most influential business thinker in 2011 by Thinkers50. It’s a reputation well deserved; he has written seven books, including the best seller “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and he is a sought-after speaker. In this cleverly crafted book, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” he has tackled the above question head-on. He uses the principles of business success as a means of highlighting similar principles for personal success; indeed, there are many parallels between the two. In so doing, he helps us to re-think the manner in which we strive for positive outcomes in both arenas.

The book was born out of the discussions Clayton would hold with his students each year on the last day of class at Harvard. During that time, he would ask the students to think about (1) how they could be sure they would be successful and happy in their career, (2) how they could be sure their relationships would be an enduring source of happiness and (3) how they could be sure they would live a life of integrity.

Throughout the book, Clayton illustrates his thoughts with numerous business examples and personal life examples. He is a man of deep faith and this is referenced from time to time as he discusses his personal journey. However, he makes it clear that his journey is his journey and it is up to each of us to formulate our own path.

Clayton suffered a life-threatening form of cancer in 2009 and later a debilitating stroke. He was aided in the writing of the book by James Allworth, one of his former students, and Karen Dillon, editor of the Harvard Business Review. They combined to produce an invaluable framework for helping each of us think more deeply about where we are heading and how we are performing; I found it a most enjoyable and stimulating read.

“How Will You Measure Your Life?” is to some extent a radical departure from the usual business publications we come across and it does touch quite a bit on matters of the heart. But given the call by so many for more work/life balance and a broader sense of success in life, I think it meets a real need in our business community. It’s particularly relevant for leaders and parents, but anyone seeking to achieve a life well lived and to leave a lasting legacy will likely find it of great value. The book is strongly recommended.

How Will You Measure Your Life? - Summary

“How Will You Measure Your Life?” – Summary Points

The book essentially focuses on how we set and maintain effective strategies. In the first instance, Clayton encourages us to think about what really motivates us and to understand the difference between deliberate and emergent strategies. The notion of “deliberate strategies” relates to the directions we set for both business and personal life, while “emergent strategies” has more to do with the adjustments we might choose to make along the way to accommodate unanticipated opportunities or challenges. In both business and life, we need to be particularly careful how we formulate our deliberate strategy – in fact, we may need to make a number of adjustments until we arrive at the point of knowing just what it is we should focus upon.

What are the capabilities we need to be successful? Clayton suggests we think about these in terms of resources, processes and priorities. In business, our resources will be the people, equipment, technologies, cash and information we have, amongst other things. Our processes will include the way products are developed and made, and the methods by which market research, budgeting, employee development and so on are accomplished. The priorities relate to the way we make decisions – for example, what the company should invest in or not invest in. In our family life, we can use the same capability framework to think about what our children might need in terms of resources (e.g. knowledge, talents, material resources), processes (e.g. how he/she thinks, solves problems and works with others) and priorities (how he/she makes decisions in life).

Clayton stresses the need to deliberately and thoughtfully give people the experiences that will enable them to effectively deal with problems on their own; again, that’s a suggestion which applies to both our employees and our children.

One of the principal keys to success is the development and maintenance of an effective culture – in the work environment and in the family. Clayton talks about this as the unique combination of processes and priorities; formed through repetition of good practices. Once formed, culture becomes an invisible guiding hand, a kind of auto-pilot promoting good decision-making. For employees, it means managers do not need to watch over their employees in every situation they face; for our children it means you can be confident they will also make good choices in the various circumstances they face as they travel through life.

There is a caution provided about “marginal thinking”. Organisations and individuals can be fooled into making decisions based on the incremental cost of an action, rather than considering the overall picture. When businesses look at competing with new entrants, for example, marginal cost thinking can lead them to avoid setting up separate low cost businesses to compete – in many cases this has proven to be a fatal mistake. In one’s personal life, marginal thinking can tempt us to compromise our principles and goals one step at a time – again, with disastrous consequences at times.

One of the most important elements described for achieving ultimate success is a compelling sense of purpose. Clayton looks at three elements which he sees are critical for achieving purpose: (1) likeness (i.e. a fairly clear sense of the outcomes we are aiming for), (2) deep commitment (which can be seen by the extent to which we set daily priorities in line with our goals) and (3) metrics (the means of calibrating our progress against goals).