How Will You Measure Your Life: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of How Will I Measure My Life containing key details about the book.

What is How Will I Measure My Life About?

How Will You Measure Your Life? presents a set of personal guidelines that have helped the author find meaning and happiness in his life. The book puts forth a series of questions and models for success that have long been applied in the world of business, but also can be used to find cogent answers to pressing life questions: How can I be sure that I'll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse, my family, and my close friends become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity?

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Who is the Author of How Will I Measure My Life?

Clayton M. Christensen is a bestselling author and the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He is the author of nine books, including several New York Times bestsellers — The Innovator's Dilemma, The Innovator's Solution, Disrupting Class, and and most recently How Will You Measure Your Life?.

James Allworth is a Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation, where he worked with Professor Clayton Christensen. He writes regularly for the Harvard Business Review, and his work has been featured in Bloomberg, Business Insider and Reuters.

Karen Dillon is an author and the former editor of Harvard Business Review magazine and co-author of 3 books with Clayton Christensen: New York Times best-seller "How Will You Measure Your Life?", Wall Street Journal best-seller "Competing Against Luck: the Story of Innovation and Customer Choice"; and "The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty", which was a nominee for Thinkers50 Breakthrough Idea.

What are the main summary points of How Will You Measure Your Life?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • High achievers will often put more effort into their jobs than their personal lives because it’s easier for them to see the immediate rewards in their job. They prioritize immediate career rewards over personal goals that will provide long-term satisfaction.
  • We often don’t see the immediate rewards of spending time with our loved ones. It’d be wiser to manage our resources (e.g. time, energy, skills, and money) both for our career and in our personal lives.
  • If we’re stuck in our life or career, it’s usually because we’re not aligned with our true intrinsic motivations
  • Career satisfaction comes from a balance of doing work you enjoy and material benefits. Rich and successful business leaders are not necessarily happier in their personal lives. Studies have shown that money is not the primary driver in job satisfaction.
  • There are two career strategies: deliberate and emergent. Opportunities, too, fall into two categories: anticipated or unanticipated, often used if the anticipated opportunity does not go as planned.
  • Deliberate strategy uses anticipated opportunities; however, if the anticipated opportunity fails, a better unanticipated opportunity may emerge.
  • Don’t be so inflexible in your deliberate career strategy that you’re not open to a potentially better emergent career strategy.
  • Most plans are based on assumptions that tend to be incorrect. Be aware and test your assumptions.
  • Hygiene-motivation theory states that to achieve job satisfaction you need a balance of both hygiene factors (e.g. salary, working conditions, benefits, status, etc) and motivation factors (e.g. contribution, growth, etc).
  • Often we allocate fewer resources (e.g. energy, time, money) to the things that truly matter to us.
  • Spending attention and energy on children is an important investment in your child’s development, even if you can’t see immediate results. Research shows the most influential time in the development of a child’s intelligence is within their first year of life.
  • It’s difficult to let who you teach (e.g. kids, coaching clients, etc) fail, however, this is how they grow, learn, and develop a healthy self esteem.
  • Whether in business or in your personal life, it’s important to understand the needs of others. It’s best to communicate rather than assuming you know what others need.
  • Beware of marginal thinking - letting something go, “just this once.” This can snowball into additional cover-ups and general ineffectiveness, destroying what was built. (e.g. The movie rental company Blockbuster fell into marginal thinking. Blockbuster’s failure to update their business model in light of Netflix’s innovation, resulted in bankruptcy).

What are key takeaways from How Will You Measure Your Life?

Takeaway #1. Intrinsic Motivation Trumps Money

We are conditioned to think that more money, more influence, more business, or a better job title will make us happier at work but in actual fact, when it comes to work, intrinsic motivation trumps money and other financial incentives.

Job satisfaction and motivation are gained from doing work that you enjoy, work that matches your interests and needs, not from the amount of money you earn though of course, there must always be a balance.

Frederick Herzberg, a psychologist came up with the ‘hygiene-motivation’ theory which separates our needs and interests into two different categories: hygiene factors cover general working conditions, company policies, job security etc whilst motivation factors include recognition, responsibility, challenge, and room for personal growth.

He concluded that if the hygiene factors are not satisfactory it causes job dissatisfaction. This isn’t to say that a job which has great working conditions but little or no room for promotion is satisfying though, nor that a job which is intellectually stimulating but lacks good working conditions is satisfying - to achieve job satisfaction you need a balance of both factors.

Takeaway #2. Embracing Emergent And Unanticipated Opportunities

Most people have an idea of their career strategy but few people are able to describe how they will go about making it happen. Generally speaking, there are 2 paths for career strategies, the first is deliberate, the second is emergent.

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Opportunities fall into 2 categories too with anticipated opportunities, those that we see and choose to pursue, and unanticipated opportunities, the latter often happening after an anticipated opportunity has failed.

People with a deliberate career strategy often build it on anticipated opportunities whilst those who use an emergent career strategy wait for opportunities to arise.

You may think that the deliberate strategy will have the most success but that’s not always the case as, as you know, things don’t always go to plan, hence the unanticipated opportunity will often arise.

The Japanese car manufacturer Honda used the deliberate strategy with anticipated opportunities to build their business in the 1960’s. Large motorbikes like the ones made by Harley Davidson were popular in the U.S at this time so Honda decided to produce their own range of motorbikes to get a foothold in the U.S market however, the low quality of the motorbikes almost crippled Honda. Since their deliberate strategy hadn’t worked out, it was time to follow the emergent strategy which you might say, appeared by accident. You see, Honda had sent smaller Super Cub motorbikes across to the U.S at the same time as the big bikes, the smaller bikes being used by employees who would ride around LA on these unusual looking smaller bikes. People were intrigued by them, wanting one for themselves, and so the demand for Super Cubs was born. Honda embraced the emergent strategy and managed to save its business in the U.S.

The moral of the story is never to be so inflexible in your deliberate career strategy that you don’t see and grab the potentially much better emergent career strategy.

Takeaway #3. Diverting Resources To Personal Life

To run your life well, you need to manage your resources. You’re likely very good at managing your resources when it comes to your career, but few people manage their personal life in the same way.

In life, resources are things that are important to you such as family, friends, and good health, those things in which we invest our personal time, energy, skills, and money. Most of us have many aspirations in life but due to us having limited resources, just the same as we do for our business, we have to manage our priorities carefully. Most of us make the mistake of investing all of our resources into one goal; our career.

It’s vital that we better manage our resources so that we invest our time, energy, and even money into other, more personal things that we value. This can be done by getting to grips with the ‘personal resource allocation’ process. You do this by reconfiguring your default criteria - changing how you normally allocate your time. Instead of automatically spending all your spare time working on a project for work, you pause and consider how important the project is compared with other important things in your life (i.e is it worth spending the entire weekend finishing up the work project when you could spend it with a loved one).

Most high-achieving professionals make the mistake of prioritizing immediate rewards over long term gains, easily becoming fixated on a future bonus or promotion, both of which provide short-term satisfaction. However, being around to see your kids grow can provide long-term satisfaction as this task is both gradual and challenging.

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The problem is that we are tempted to invest our limited resources into a task that has an immediate, or near immediate, payoff, in this case, our career. Spare time after work is spent on business projects as they promise more money. This takes our minds off of the more important task of spending time with our loved ones since we can’t see the immediate rewards of this.

Few of us realize until too late that relationships require constant dedication, you cannot ‘make up’ for lost time later in life when your career is nearing an end - it’s just too late then.

For example, neglect of your children early on manifests in problems later on, maybe you think your 1 year old won’t miss their father, that he or she isn’t old enough to realize you’re away from the family home so much building a better future for them, but research shows that the most influential time in the development of a child’s intelligence is within the first year as the way a parent speaks to their child at this early stage of their life shapes the way they think.

Takeaway #4. Diverting Attention to What Is Truly Needed

Companies often lose sight of the real needs of their customer as they are too focused on selling their product or service. Personal relationships often fall foul of this too, lacking empathy and listening but a relationship only works when each person understands what is truly needed to succeed and thrive.

Take the following example; a man comes home from work to find the house hasn’t been tidied as it would have normally. He intuitively assumes that his wife has had a bad day and decides to start cleaning and tidying up to help her. He expects to be thanked for this so is surprised when his wife is upset at him. She tells him that looking after 2 demanding young children is incredibly demanding on her and that she hasn’t spoken to another adult all day. She needs her husband to listen to her first, not to instantly start cleaning up.

Relationships can be hard to understand but if you think of it as a job and ask yourself “what does my loved one need the most right now?” it can be easier to get your head around.

In the business world, you would ask “what do customer’s need the most?”. IKEA worked out that its customers required the ability to quickly furnish their entire home. IKEA met the needs of their customers so they remain loyal to the company.

Takeaway #5. Teaching The Right Way

Do you teach your kids all that you know, or do you give them the tools to teach themselves?

Clayton believes that the best way to teach kids (and I would add adults as well) is by letting them face challenges head on and allowing them to find solutions on their own.

Challenges kids should be encouraged to find a solution to independently include struggling with a school subject, dealing with mean popular kids or bullies, even dealing with a problematic teacher. By allowing them to deal with everyday problems early on, rather than you, the parent, fighting and fixing their battles for them, you allow them to develop a healthy self-esteem.

This goes against the natural instinct of the parent (or the teacher) who wants to prevent their child from making mistakes but letting kids fail is vital so that they grow and learn, just make sure you’re there to hear them and support them when they realize they’ve made a mistake letting them know that they will come through the issue and guiding them to recognize what they could have done differently for a more successful outcome.

Takeaway #6. Avoid Marginal Thinking. Don’t Compromise Your Integrity

Living life with integrity means being aware of the decisions you make day in and day out, not only at times when you come face to face with a moral challenge but at all times, to ensure you don’t fall into the trap of marginal thinking.

The movie rental company Blockbuster fell into marginal thinking - They were aware of Netflix, their rival, but never thought that the innovative online company could be a real threat to them so they kept their business strategy the same, renting movies via their retail stores. Netflix crushed Blockbuster with customers preferring to rent movies via the post and Blockbuster going bankrupt in 2010, paying the ultimate cost by not updating their own business model.

Similarly, stock trader Nick Leeson fell into the trap of marginal thinking which resulted in the downfall of a British merchant bank named Barings. Leeson incurred a loss on some trades he had managed and decided he would hide the loss in an unmonitored trading account ‘just this once.’ He then had to cover his irresponsible actions which snowballed to include forging documents and fooling auditors, this marginal thinking resulting in a loss of $1.3 billion and the arrest of Nick Leeson who was jailed, the company having to declare bankruptcy and being bought by a competitor for just £1.

Marginal thinking isn’t just disastrous in the business world, but in our personal lives too when we find ourselves faced with a value-based decision and end up making ill-considered decisions, saying to ourselves ‘I’ll let it go this once.’

By allowing marginal thinking to enter your life you set yourself up on a slippery slope so avoid the temptation of any ‘just this once’ occurrences.

Book details

  • Print length: 240 Pages
  • Audiobook: 5 hrs and 28 mins
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Business, Self Help

What are the chapters in How Will I Measure My Life?

1. Starting Questions: How will you measure your life?
2. Creating Your Strategy
3. Factors of Motivation
4. Time Management
5. Prioritization
6. Family
7. Growth vs Profitability
8. Staying Out of Jail
9. Nick’s Conclusion

What are good quotes from How Will You Measure Your Life?

“It's easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” (Meaning)

― Clayton M. Christensen, How Will I Measure My Life Quotes

* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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