How will you measure your life? – Clayton Christensen

I quit my job to begin 2017 as a VIP. I was given this book as a parting gift and to respect the gesture I thought I should read it. I’m usually quite skeptical of business people and what they say. Especially, people who have smiles like this.


That’s the book’s author Clayton Christensen. Doesn’t it look like a Shutterstock image that comes up when you search for “happy people at work”? You can almost hear him say phrases like “finding meaning in life”, “balancing work and life”, “making the best of your careers”, “living a deep, fulfilling life” etc. I’m not sure why but I’m more drawn to guys like the one below. You see this guy below is called Edgar. His father abandoned him when he was 10, his mother died one year later, his wife died of tuberculosis and he himself was found dead on the streets at the age of 40. I’d love to see Christensen and Edgar discuss “fulfilling life” in heaven.


Anyway, getting to the point, I read through the ten chapters of this book. How will you measure your life? Christensen has some theories and he elaborates on how to apply those theories to businesses and personal life. This book kills two birds with one stone. If you were told that there was a single book that can solve your professional as well as your personal problems, wouldn’t you throw your credit card on the billing counter and kneel down sobbing, “Gimme that book! Please!”?

These self-help books operate with a very simple strategy. They tell you stuff that’s quite obvious. So obvious that you can’t deny them. You’d be a fool if you deny them. And then, they pile up loads of anecdotes, examples and case studies to further elucidate those basic points. For example, let me list out what this book says in each of the 10 chapters.

  1. When someone comes to you with a problem, don’t hand out a ready-made solution. Give a theory and how it’s applied to a particular case. Then, let the person decide how to apply it to his problem.
  2. To find satisfaction at work (or in personal life), there are some basic necessities (like working conditions, pay etc) and motivation (the feeling that your job has a purpose)
  3. Start your business with a strategy but if doesn’t work out, then be ready to change it.
  4. If you claim something is priority, ensure that you allocate resources for it.
  5. Spend time with your family and it will pay off in the long run.
  6. Always ask what problem is a product solving and focus on solving that problem really well.
  7. Don’t outsource your core capabilities. You won’t be future-proof.
  8. Focus on gathering experiences rather than tangible achievements. The experience you get from a failure is of greater value than a certificate of accomplishment or a pay raise.
  9. Clearly define what your company (or family) culture is and think of ways to nurture it. Otherwise a culture will form automatically, which you may not like and it’ll be difficult to change later.
  10. Don’t think of short term gains and fail to see the bigger picture. Once you decide that you stand for something, stick to your values. Don’t compromise saying “just this once”.
  11. Figure out what’s your life purpose. Define it clearly, preferably while you’re in college.

Now, will you refute any of these points? No sane person will deny these points. Are these points obvious? Of course! Are these points always applicable? Maybe… Well, that’s where the trick is. You can definitely think up scenarios in which these points wouldn’t apply. But, you see, those scenarios wouldn’t be in the book. Also, Christensen’s argument is that he isn’t teaching you what to do or what to think. He’s teaching you how to think. He’s not teaching you something you should learn. He’s teaching you how to learn. He’s giving you a framework for you to go ahead and think about your purpose in life. It’s like a filmmaker writing a book not on how to make movies, but on how to think about how your movies should be made #Inception

The other trick that these books do is to invent new phrases to represent simple ideas. I’d like to call it “atomic branding”. (There! Now, I’ve coined a term too!) The tactic is to give a catchy name to an idea in your book. So that way, when someone who reads your book, tries to share the ideas with others, he’ll use that phrase. Since the phrase is unique to your book, it becomes free marketing! This book is littered with such phrases like “good capital bad capital”, “motivators and hygiene factors”, “likeness, commitment & metrics”, “deliberate and emergent strategies”. If you read through the book, you’ll realise these are just fancy names for the simple points I wrote above.

However, this does not mean that I didn’t learn anything from this book. It was an interesting read. It reinforced some of the beliefs I already have. It verbalised some of the inner convictions I’ve already had. Also, the anecdotes were funny, especially because you get to laugh at how stupid people have been. And how many billions of dollars have been lost due to some unbelievably stupid decisions.

Such books strengthen my conviction to read Thirukkural in-depth. Technically, Thirukkural is all of these self-help books rolled into one, minus the case studies. Also, Thiruvalluvar isn’t smiling and the image isn’t from Shutterstock.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: