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How Will You Measure Your Life by Clay Christensen

The author of ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’, Clayton Christensen was a Business Administration professor at Harvard Business School. Through his research, he developed the ‘Disruptive Innovation’ theory that is often cited by business gurus and thinkers nowadays. In fact, The Economist magazine named him ‘the most influential management thinker of our time’ for his contributions. Clayton Christensen had authored 10 books which include his bestseller, The Innovator’s Dilemma.

The book ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ was coauthored with James Allworth who is the Head of Innovation at Cloudflare, and Karen Dillon who was an editor at the Harvard Business Review. They worked together with Clay Christensen to expand the perspective of management theories for this book, and also to aide him as he was facing health complications at the time.

The Harvard Business Review Article

I first came across ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ as an article published by Harvard Business Review in 2010, as part of a compilation for HBR’s 10 Must Reads series under the title ‘On Managing Yourself’. I was delighted when I discovered that this insightful article had evolved into a full-fledged book. A book about life as written by a business theorist shows that work and life don’t have to be separate entities and we can apply the same personality and approach to matters at work and at home.

The article version of ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ stems from Clay Christensen’s belief that management and innovation theories can help people lead better lives. Through this article, he ponders upon three questions throughout the book, which are:

  1. How can I be happy in my career?
  2. What do I do to be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness?
  3. How can I live my life with integrity?

Having a strategy for your life helps to put you in the right direction. But decisions on where you spend your time, money, talent, and energy ultimately determine your real strategy. Having a strategy that is congruent with your resource allocation ensures your direction. Touching on the ‘disruptive innovation’ theory, disruption happens when something from the bottom of the market moves up. This means a seemingly small everyday decision could ultimately be the reason for our life failure.

The Author’s Inspiration

It was Clayton Christensen’s aspiration that every HBS MBA graduate should know that management is the most rewarding satisfying as it gives the opportunity to build people up. However, it occurred to Clay Christensen that many successful professionals do not live a happy life. Basing on the fundamental that nobody gets into life with the aim of becoming unhappy – as would any company that won’t go into business with the aim of becoming unsuccessful, Clay Christensen related his theories in sustaining company success with living a happy life in this book.

This book touched on management and innovation theories such as disruptive innovation, total vs marginal cost, and causality vs correlation.

Disruptive Innovation
A process by which a product or a service initially takes root at the bottom of the market – typically by being less expensive and more accessible – and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.

Total vs Marginal Cost
Marginal costs are costs associated with producing an additional unit of output. It is calculated as the change in total production costs divided by the change in the number of units produced.

Causality vs Correlation
Causality applies to cases where action A causes outcome B. Whereas correlation is a relationship. Action A relates to Action B but is not the cause of Action B.

Structure of This Book

The sections of this book align accordingly to the three important questions posed earlier. By differentiating its chapters into how you would like to answer the questions, the authors pave the path for us to emerge with an idea to strategise our lives. Clayton Christensen speaks of his life experience relating to the path he chose besides briefly discussing some business case studies he encountered in his research that could relate to how we ‘see’ life.

It is interesting to see how a business theorist lays down organisational strategies and their outcomes, only to see how closely they mimic real life.

How This Book Can Help

If you find yourself contemplating on your happiness or if you’re amid a successful career, this is a book that grounds what you’re experiencing and shows you the path to create and sustain happiness in your career and personal life. This book helps you understand that as humans, we have finite minds that cause us to measure things and aggregate. And to understand what we aggregate, we then create hierarchies that inadvertently shows what’s at the top and what’s at the bottom. Proof of achievement is always at the top. And that is why in our pursuit of achievement, we sometimes give energy to things that give the most immediate evidence of achievement.

This book may also help put into context some of our experiences, which can be healing. By asking ourselves the right questions to set a clear purpose in our lives, we can measure of lives in metrics that are most meaningful and impactful.


So what do you think of this book? I had the honour of leading a discussion on this book, hosted by ODNM Malaysia. In the closing of our discussion, we agreed with ‘How Will You Measure Your Life?’ by Clayton Christensen that our most intimate relationships are our greatest source of joy, the most contented moment in our careers is when we help others and that having a clear purpose in life is important.

Let me know in the Comment section below if you would like to join our next book discussion. Or you could simply reply to my email if you subscribe to The Baini Mustafa Weekly Email. Subscribers of my weekly email receive content and updates that I don’t share anywhere else. If you would like to receive those, you may subscribe here.

This wraps off for the first #fiftybooksayear from me, there will be more for 2021 so stay tuned. Until then, focus on your work and don’t be afraid of temporary setbacks. Remember, your ideas are only as good as your execution!

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