How Will You Measure Your Life? (2012) by: Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, Karen Dillon

My notes from reading the book (Oct 2012)

Chapter 1: Just Because You Have Feathers

The importance of theory

  • I don't have an opinion, the Theory has an opinion
  • A good theory doesn't change its mind. ... It is a general statement of what causes what, and why.

Model of Disruptive Innovation - example with Intel. A competitor enters a market with a low-priced product/service viewed by most as inferior. But the competitor uses technology to constantly improve the product until it is good enough to satisfy customer needs/wants.

Chapter 2: What Makes Us Tick

Incentive Theories

1. Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure (Jensen and Meckling. 1976. Journal of Financial Economics.)

  • principal-agent (or incentives) theory
  • people work in accordance to how you pay them

2. Two Factor, or Motivation Theory (Frederick Herzberg. 1987. Harvard Business Review. One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees) or the motivation - hygiene theory

  • incentives are not the same thing as motivation
  • two types of factors: hygiene (pay, security, working conditions) and motivation (challenging work, recognition, responsibility, personal growth)
  • Removing poor hygiene factors doesn't create satisfaction, simply lack of dissatisfaction.
  • Motivation is based on what is inside of you and inside of your work.

Important Questions to Ask

  1. Is this work meaningful to me?
  2. Is this job going to give me a chance to develop?
  3. Am I going to learn new things?
  4. Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement?
  5. Am I going to be given responsibility?

Chapter 3: The Balance of Calculation and Serendipity

The paper outlining deliberate and emergent strategy: Of Strategies, Deliberate and Emergent (Mintzberg & Waters)

“What has to prove true for this to work?” Discovery Driven Planning (MacMillan & McGrath)

The importance of documenting and testing assumptions. Particularly true for any budgeting and planning process. Example of Disney theme park near Paris.

FactorAssumptionActual Results
Visitors per year11 Million11 Million
Visit length3 days1 day
typical number of park rides4515
Financial resultsprofit expected$1 Billion loss in 1st 2 years

Lesson learned?

  1. Document your assumptions (all of them)
  2. Test the assumptions, what about the inter-relationships?
  3. Follow-up on results

Chapter 4: Your Strategy Is Not What You Say It Is

How you allocate your resources is what creates real strategy. Watch where your resources flow.

Decisions are a balance between immediate returns and long-term results. Example of Unilever and moving managers that get results every 18 months. In that type of company are there many home runs? No, but there is plenty of innovation that can be realized in ... about a year and a half!

Chapter 5: The Ticking Clock

Time marches on. So always keep the big picture in mind.

Theory of Good Money and Bad Money: Company examples: Iridium and Motorola (Tempe AZ connection in the ASU research park)

Winning strategy is developed and changes. But upfront there is a need for profit (be impatient for profits). Be patient for growth. After you get profits and a winning stragegy is refined, then your objective switches to "impatient for growth" and "patient for profits". There is Good Money and there is Bad Money

Chapter 6: What Job Did You Hire That Milkshake For?

Jobs to be Done Theory: Integrating Around the Job to be Done

  • Company example: Ikea
  • "what job did you hire __________ for?

Chapter 7: Sailing Your Kids on Theseus’s Ship

Never outsource the future. Build skills today for tomorrow.


  • Resources
  • Processes
  • Priorities

Concept for children is to start with simple problems to learn how to learn and how to solve problems. Step by step you can build knowledge of the process which provides skills as a resource.

Chapter 8: Schools of Experience

The Right Stuff - even if you begin with superior skills, honing and developing the skills and handling the stress and setbacks along the way is where the real High Flyers are developed.

Chapter 9: The Invisible Hand Inside Your Family

Theory of Culture: What Is An Organization’s Culture? 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.

Chapter 10: Just This Once

Thinking at the Margin: Decisions in previously successful companies are made to maximize the status quo, perform a marginal analysis, make incremental gains. But disruptive events and innovators create the need to consider a blank slate and wipe out sunk cost assumptions. Example is Blockbuster and NetFlix in the 1990's. 15 years later the previously successful company doesn't exist.

Just this once is the ethics lesson of the chapter. Marginal thinking doesn't work here either. Decide what you stand for. And then stand for it all the time.


3 Parts of purpose:

  1. Likeness - similar to a sketch that an artist is aiming for. The vision of where you want to go.
  2. Commitment - purpose requires an ongoing conversation about how to get to the purpose and the daily process of prioritizing actions.
  3. Metrics - measurement and calibration of progress on the purpose. The metric that matters most: How will you measure your life?

Purpose doesn't just happen. It must be deliberately conceived, chosen, and pursued. Don't expect a purpose to be delivered to you. You have to engage in discovering and defining what your purpose is, the type of person you will become. Defining purpose is a process, not an event.

Other Resources

  1. Video at the LinkedIn’s inDay Speaker Series in July 2012. LinkIn's Deidre Caldbeck and Professor Clayton Christensen, small group and somewhat informal.
  2. TedX from Boston in July 2012. Short 19 min presentation by Clayton Christensen.
  3. Website for the book

Book Notes


Absolute anonymity breed irresponsibility.
Audit trails and authentication provide a much more civil society

Scott McNealy

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