Summer Book Review #15: How Will You Measure Your Life?

I’m not a big sports fan.   My 7-year-old son has taught me more about sports and team devotion in the past year than I’ve learned in my entire life.   Last week, before our beloved Boston Celtics lost to the Miami Heat in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we were listening to an interview with one of the Celtic’s big three, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.   The player responded to a journalist’s question about their approach to upcoming practices and games by saying, ‘we’ll probably watch the tapes.’

I was struck by the beauty of ‘watching the tapes.’   How would our performance change if we could simply watch the tape?   Think about our interactions with work colleagues in high stress situations;  with spouses or partners discussing a complex issue; or  with our teenage daughters and their ping-pong emotions.   Why not just watch the tape?  Strategy to follow.

My late introduction to sports may also be the cause of my fascination with tape replay.    My guess is that even in the best situations we’ll rarely have access to tapes of our transition’s highlights.

As a lowly proxy for tapes to learn from…I am turning to books and Novofemina’s Summer Book Reviews.   Last year, I reviewed a book a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day.   At the time I was in search of ideas regarding transition and its complex processes.   I think I read every book on women’s transition that I could find.  Truth be told, the genre is pretty thin.  But, after 14 books we found a few gems (It’s Up to the Women) and some down right surprises (Necessary Dreams).

This year I’m casting the net a bit wider.  ‘Biographies’ or books on ‘change management’ that offer a glimpse into transition.   So without further adieu….

A picture of Clayton Christensen jumped out at me from my beloved New Yorker magazine May 14, 2012 issue.  The celebrated author of The Innovator’s Dilemma looked a bit weary.  After a quick scan I learned that he’s recovered from cancer and recently had a stroke.   The article reviewed his new book, Summer Book Review #15: “How Will You Measure Your Life?”    The book has little to do with his illnesses, or does it?

In the book Christensen leverages his uber strategy persona by introducing a set of provocative ‘life’ questions…albeit within a sophisticated, parallel structure:  corporate strategy versus personal strategy.   The book has lofty goals: to challenge readers in the pursuit of happiness amidst careers and families and issues of integrity and purpose.  Not quite beach reading.

His brainy approach is engaging but sometimes preachy.  Here is an example: Christensen posits that “93% of original strategies fail.”  (How will you measure, pg 87) He goes on to say that companies that win do so not because they had a brilliant initial strategy but because they can “iterate quickly.”   (How will you measure, pg 49)  He argues that “strategy is not a discrete analytical event but rather a continuous, diverse, and unruly process.”   (How will you measure, pg 46)   I wonder if he is really talking about transition?

I found the book interesting and useful.  Christensen posed questions that I thought would be valuable for those in transition…or just thinking about it.  Here goes:

  • Prior to pursuing a strategy many leaders will ask questions like, “what has to be right for this to work.”  (How will you measure, pg 52)  Christensen challenges readers to switch ‘happy’ with ‘work.’  Can you articulate what has to be right for you to be happy?
  • Understand that where you spend your “time, energy, talent and financial resources”  becomes your strategy.   I smiled when he quoted Gloria Steinem by saying, “we can tell our values by our checkbook stubs.”  (How will you measure, pg 71)
  • “Every company has a purpose.”  Can you “articulate the purpose of your life?” (How will you measure, pg 194)  His commentary on purpose was exceptional.  Do you know the answer to ‘who do I truly want to become?”  (How will you measure, pg 200)

Thanks to Christensen I am curious about the impact of iteration on transition regardless of the status of your personal strategy.  Truth be told our Summer Book Review #9: Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra first introduced the necessity of experimentation, or iteration, to those in transition.   I’m sold on experimentation…even if you only have 1 Tuesday evening a month from 7-11 pm to try something new….

Could it possibly be that iteration along a purposeful path is the transition summary I’ve been searching for?  What do you think?   Is there more to it than that?   If only I had a tape replay maybe I’d know for sure…

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7 responses to “Summer Book Review #15: How Will You Measure Your Life?

  1. This concept isn’t so different from a root cause analysis, where one reviews the steps taken to identify the cause of a suboptimal outcome. Combined with checklists I started making after reading Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, these analyses have been extremely helpful in improving my performance at work.

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