Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …


I’ve always been a fan of Prof. Clayton Christensen at the Harvard Business School and his books on innovation and disruptive innovation. As part of my Wharton class on competitive strategy we also had to read “Innovator’s DNA”  that he co-authored with Prof. Jeff Dyer, our instructor. So I was curious to see what I would find in his latest book that was purported to be more introspective and philosophical, inspired by his recent encounter with cancer that he won. The book focuses on three large areas – finding happiness in your career, your relationships, and doing the right thing and staying out of jail.

As he writes about his career choices and how he ended up where he was, he focuses on motivators that keep us in or out of our careers. He talks about how compensation is at best a hygiene factor, and given that, the rest of the indicators of how happy you are with your career are largely non-monetary. He distinguishes between deliberate and emergent strategies – having a plan for yourself in terms of what you think you want to do, and being able to adapt it given your life experiences and lessons learnt from them. He also talks about misaligned incentives in our lives and the need for us to focus on resource allocation among the “businesses” in our life – at work and in our lives.

On the relationships front, he starts off looking at Prof. Amar Bhide’s work that showed that 93% of all companies that ultimately became successful had to abandon their original strategy. He pointed out how good money from investors needs to be patient for growth, but impatient for profit. He ties this back in to our lives and looks at how we invest so much of our lives into our work, often at the expense of creating deeper, longer-lasting relationships with our loved ones that don’t have immediate returns, but need the sustained investment over time to deliver results. He also warns the reader about the risks of sequencing life investments, something that I am acutely aware of given the current craziness with work and the MBA program leaving little time with my kids for another 8-9 months. He asks us to always remember what job we’re being hired for, both in our personal and professional lives. The other interesting analogy he presents here is that of Theseus’s ship and if our kids are increasingly being taken care of by others, then to what extent they are “our” children. Drawing analogies from company culture formation, he ends this section of parenting advice with great insights on how convey our values to our children.

In the last section he speaks more generally about the dangers of marginal thinking and the slippery slope that it takes us down. I had focused on this on a related blog post on the Galleon saga. He says how being focused on our personal rules 100% of the time is always easier than 98% of the time. He concludes with a section on the importance of purpose in our lives and how we can measure ourselves.

It was fascinating to see how he was able to weave together lessons from the corporate strategy world into lessons for our daily lives. We have a tendency to compartmentalize our personas, to the extent that what might seem obvious to us at home may not be recalled in the work context, or vice versa. This book served as a gentle reminder that all said and done, our values should be our values – independent of the context that we are in. It would be hard to live up to the moral consistency of those that are able to see this fact clearly and live true to what they consider their values are but life is all about the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction, and what is happiness but at some level a reflection of our contentment with a job well done and a place we ended up at where we feel we belong?

You can also watch a talk he did recently at LinkedIn about this on inDay Speaker Series.

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