Clay Christensen Asks: How Will You Measure Your Life?

“Our careers provide the most very tangible, immediate achievement,” says business thinker Clayton Christensen. “In contrast, investments in our families don’t pay off for a very long time.”

“Our careers provide the most very tangible, immediate achievement,” says business thinker Clayton Christensen. “In contrast, investments in our families don’t pay off for a very long time.”

Image courtesy of Facebook user TEDxBoston. Photo credit: Sheryl Lanzel Photographer.

Back in May, the New Yorker published an expansive, intriguing, 11-page profile of Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor. (MIT Sloan Management Review has published some of Christensen’s research over the years, including the 2007 “Finding the Right Job For Your Product.”)

The New Yorker article talks about Christensen’s long-time focus on why success is so difficult to sustain.

The article details his fascination with low-end disruptive products (articulated in his 1997 book The Innovator’s Dilemma), the emergence of online learning through video lecture, his Mormon faith, and how good people, like good companies, can lose their way in life.

That last topic, about how people falter, is one that Christensen is particularly passionate about these days. The New Yorker article, for instance, includes this passage:

He had seen many people tell themselves that they could divide their lives into stages, spending the first part pushing forward their careers, and imagining that at some future point they would spend time with their families – only to find that by then their families were gone.

Christensen has written a book on this topic, called How Will You Measure Your Life? (HarperBusiness, 2012).

Last month, at the TEDxBoston conference, Christensen spoke about this question, in a talk of the same name. “Our careers provide the most very tangible, immediate achievement,” he said. “In contrast, investments in our families don’t pay off for a very long time.” The full 19:31 minute video is here:

Here are some other articles from the MIT SMR archives:

Good Days for Disruptors”: In this 2009 interview, Christensen explains why he thinks the economic downturn will have "an unmitigated positive effect on innovation.”

The Great Leap: Driving Innovation From the Base of the Pyramid”: From 2002: Christensen and co-author Stuart L. Hart explain that with billions of poor people aspiring to join the world’s economy, disruptive innovation should be able to pave the way, helping companies combine sustainable corporate growth with social responsibility.

The Past and Future of Competitive Advantage”: From 2001: Christensen lays out his overall thesis, that today’s competitive advantage may become tomorrow’s albatross unless strategists attune themselves to changes in underlying conditions.

4 Comments On: Clay Christensen Asks: How Will You Measure Your Life?

  • What Peter Drucker Would Be Reading | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute | July 24, 2012

    [...] 3.     Clay Christensen Asks: How Will You Measure Your Life?: Posing a question reminiscent of Peter Drucker’s “What do you want to be remembered for?” Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen has been concerned with how people falter and take wrong turns.  A particularly common hazard has been to push aside family in favor of career, at the expense of family closeness. MIT Sloan Management Review quotes Christensen on the phenomenon: “Our careers provide the most very tangible, immediate achievement. In contrast, investments in our families don’t pay off for a very long time.” [...]

  • R Karath | July 25, 2012

    I left work and stayed home for the first 4 years after the birth of my child, then re-entered the workforce part-time until my child was in middle school. We took a financial hit because of this, it hasn’t been easy and it’s been a struggle to move my career forward because of my age now. But I wouldn’t change a minute of it. There’s no price-tag to put on what we gained because of this choice as a family, and how beneficial this was for my child.

  • lmiller | August 1, 2012

    I was really excited to listen to this talk. I had been meaning to get to it for days. Finally I had some time and was ready for something profound. After listening to a thoughtful speech I eagerly awaited the final few statements just waiting for the jewel of wisdom I was about to receive from this prestigious Harvard professor. Then it came… because GOD doesn’t aggregate. His mind is infinite. Clay, what the hell are you talking about? It blows my mind when I hear people pretend to know the mind of GOD if even such a deity exist. First Clay, there is no proof he does exist and second even if he did, your limited human mind could not pretend to know how a deity would think and judge. I couldn’t be more disappointed. A great academic mind reduced to spewing mythology to the masses.

  • MIT Sloan features "How Will You Measure Your Life" | How Will You Measure Your Life? | August 11, 2012

    [...] Head over to MIT Sloan Management Review to read the full post. [...]

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