How Will You Measure Your Life?

"I know for sure that none of these people graduated with a deliberate strategy to get divorced or lose touch with their children—much less to end up in jail. Yet this is the exact strategy that too many ended up implementing."

- How Will You Measure Your Life?, page 4

How Will You Measure Your Life extrapolates business and life lessons by combining these principles:

  • what gets measured improves
  • hindsight is easier but foresight is better
  • business and life often run parallel

The advice throughout the book focuses not on the minutiae but the big picture, teaching business lessons and applying them to life choices. The result is forceful in its clarity and simplicity.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Your Strategy Is Not What You Say It Is

"Watch where your resources flow. If they’re not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, then you’re not implementing that strategy at all."
- How Will You Measure Your Life?, page 62

We all have dreams about our business and our life. We’ve all had cases where the day-to-day got in the way of the big picture of those dreams. Author Clayton Christensen eloquently makes the point that our best defense is to ensure that the day-to-day is about those dreams and that the dreams we’ve chosen, the big picture we’re painting, is what we really want.

It’s common for a business to publicly state altruistic, politically correct goals, then give the lie to those statements by what it does. How we allocate our resources determines whether or not we paint the big picture we’re dreaming. We’re not the disingenuous type to put on a false front for social expediency. But it’s human nature for us to allow the day-to-day to get in the way of the long-term, to give our time to whomever screams loudest, and energy to what provides the quickest return on our investment.

The best defense is to verify that how we allocate our resources is consistent with our goals.

Write a paragraph outlining the big picture of your life and business. Then, for the next two weeks, track where you invest time, energy, attention, or any resources that matter. Then objectively assess whether you are allocating resources in alignment with your goals. Be scrupulously honest with yourself. Where necessary, make adjustments.

Just as a sailor constantly adjusts the trim of his boat’s sails to counteract the effects of wind and waves, this is not a set-it-and-forget-it task. Regularly revisit your resource allocation and avoid the pain of looking back over the years and discovering you’ve sailed a direction you never intended.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Balance Deliberate And Emergent Planning

"Managing this part of the strategy process is often the difference between success and failure for companies; it’s true for our careers, too."
- How Will You Measure Your Life?, page 42

Entrepreneurs love planning. We buy journals and software and set aside time on our schedule. We write outlines and draw diagrams. And we forget that this “planning stage” (aka the beginning) is the time when we know least about how a project will progress.

Plan, absolutely. But knowing that plans can be derailed or discovered to be faulty, watch for emergent opportunities, the serendipity of what can’t be planned.

Christensen discusses Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. I’ve written about it at length here, but in short he teaches that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not opposite ends of a continuum but are instead different measures altogether.

Hygiene factors are those which remove dissatisfaction. When working conditions are safe, making them more safe has little or no effect. When we’re paid enough, the reality is that being paid more has no more effect than pouring water into an already full bucket. Hygiene factors remove dissatisfaction but they don’t create satisfaction.

Motivation factors such as autonomy over our work and a real purpose are like leaves piled into a basket. Even after the basket is full they can be squished down and piled high. There’s always room for a little more in the motivation basket.

Look at the progress of your deliberate plan. Are all the hygiene factors cared for? Does the current plan do everything necessary to remove dissatisfaction? Now, is your satisfaction basket filling? If not, watch closely for the emergent opportunities. Use the bucket and basket thinking to measure whether new opportunities are more likely to remove dissatisfaction or create satisfaction. Don’t make the mistake of treating the two as opposites on a single continuum.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Processes And Priorities Are More Valuable Than Resources

"These offer an accurate snapshot of a company at any given time, because they are mutually exclusive (a part of a business cannot fit into more than one of the categories) and are collectively exhaustive (together, the three categories account for everything inside of the business.)"
- How Will You Measure Your Life?, page 124

It’s easy and common to measure a business by the assets on the balance sheet. Christensen points out that your capabilities include more than resources. What you are capable of also includes your processes and your priorities.

We all share the same pool of stuff, the resources in our businesses and often in our lives. What we do with that stuff, our process, is less common.

Our priorities, a reflection of our core values, are powerful and unique.

What processes make you stand out? Which don’t fit the big picture you’re painting? Where can you make use of another’s capabilities as a resource without surrendering process or priority?


How Will You Measure Your Life? is a simple book which asks a simple question to which I was sure I knew the answer. During the week I spent reading it, I realized time and again that I was allocating time and energy to things I knew weren’t aligned with my life but were instead reactions to the loudest voice and the quickest ROI. I’ve already made some changes and more are on the way.

You may know how you will measure your life. Are you planning on looking back at the end, or looking forward from this moment?

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Joel D Canfield

ABOUT Joel D Canfield

I'm a creative who works mostly with words, sometimes accompanied by music. I write because I have to, and I have very little patience with money and its attendant issues...
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