How will you measure your life?

Author Clayton M. Christensen is an expert in business innovation. Having spent years working alongside high achievers and in successful enterprises, some of which he himself founded, he came to realize that a measure of a person’s life needs to be more than time spent at the office.

With insightful, insider examples from his many years in the corporate world, Christensen is an able guide for readers looking to achieve the career of their dreams. Yet as a family man and cancer survivor, Christensen can also speak from the heart when it comes to work/life balance.

In the book “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, author Christensen shares more that motivation, not money, is the source of job satisfaction, and that regardless of how hard you work at your job or how many times you’re promoted, it is your friends and family that are the true source of happiness.

Through wisdom gained from the sum of his experiences, Christensen shows today’s professionals how to lead a life with balance, integrity and purpose.

What do you think would make you happier at work? Perhaps a little more pay might be nice, or maybe some more admiration from fellow colleagues.

Such assumptions are fairly common. In fact, the tangible aspects of your job, such as money and prestige, are not actually the things that will make you happy. If you think otherwise, go to a business school reunion where you’ll see just how often professional success is often tainted with personal dissatisfaction, family failures, professional struggles and even criminal behavior.

Despite this, an unhealthy approach to the use of incentives in the workplace still prevails. Popularised by economist Michael Jensen and management theorist William Meckling, the incentive theory makes the straightforward statement that the more you are paid, the better you perform.

In light of our business school reunion example, this theory seems too simplistic. What’s more, studies have shown that the hardest-working people are in fact those employed in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – people who do world-changing work, but earn very little.

In fact, it turns out that professional satisfaction and motivation are derived from work that matches your needs and interests. Psychologist Frederick Herzberg proposed that our needs and interests can be divided into two different categories – hygiene factors and motivation factors. This forms the basis of his hygiene-motivation theory.

Hygiene factors cover issues such as general conditions at work, company policies, supervisory practices and job security. If these issues are not satisfactory or are lacking, it’s a case of bad hygiene that then causes job dissatisfaction. However, would a job with great working conditions but no room for promotion or reward be satisfying? Probably not.

Job satisfaction instead is achieved by combining hygiene factors with motivation factors. Motivation factors concern recognition, responsibility, challenges and personal growth.

Consider a job that was intellectually stimulating but burdened with terrible management – would this give you satisfaction? Definitely not. It’s clear that the confluence of hygiene and motivation is crucial.

What’s your career strategy? While most people have at least an idea of how they’d like to develop professionally, few know how to describe how exactly they plan to achieve their professional goals.

A good starting point is recognising that career strategies take two different forms: deliberate and emergent. To understand these two approaches, we need to consider the ways in which opportunities in general arise.

Academic and renowned author Henry Mintzberg explains that opportunities also fall into two categories. The first describes anticipated opportunities, those opportunities we can recognize and choose to pursue.

Deliberate strategies are often built on anticipated opportunities. Let’s look at one example from Japanese car manufacturer Honda from the 1960s.

At the time, large motorbikes like the ones produced by Harley Davidson were popular in the United States, so Honda decided to launch its own range of motorbikes there, too. The goal was to get a toehold in the U.S. market, but the low quality of Honda’s bikes almost killed the company.

This shows that deliberate strategies aren’t always successful. Everyone can think of a time when, despite their best efforts, absolutely nothing went to plan! This is where an emergent strategy comes in, by utilizing unanticipated opportunities. These often arise in the implementation process of a deliberate strategy.

Honda found its emergent strategy in the United States by accident. Along with its big motorbikes, the company also had shipped its smaller, Super Cub motorbikes for employee use. Honda employees would ride up and down the hills of Los Angeles, and this unusual sight so intrigued the public that it stirred demand for the Super Cubs. Honda thus embraced the emergent strategy of selling its smaller bikes on a large scale, and thereby saved its American venture.

Creating a balance between deliberate and emergent strategies will allow you to make use of any opportunity. If you’re both calculating and flexible, you’ll always find the right direction.

When we talk about resources, we often think first of those that are business-related: assets, talent, finances and so on. This understanding is, however, quite narrow.

To gain a better understanding of how we should use our resources, we must first broaden our definition.

Consider the things that are important to you, such as family bonds, rewarding friendships and physical health. In a sense, these aspects of our personal lives are “businesses” as well, and the resources we invest in them are our personal time, energy, skills and wealth.

However, just like in business, all our resources are limited. Though there are many goals we would like to achieve, we have to manage our priorities.

It can be tempting to invest all our resources into one goal, and for many, this goal is a career. Nevertheless, it is crucial to ensure that we invest time and energy into other things that we also value.

By taking control of your personal resource allocation process, you can avoid the mistake of investing everything into your career.

One way to do this is to reconsider the default criteria according to which we typically allocate our time. Rather than automatically spending all your time on a work project, evaluate first whether the project is indeed the most important thing in your life right now, or whether there are other things more deserving of your time, such as your family or your well-being.

For high-achieving professionals in particular, prioritizing immediate rewards over long-term gains is a common mistake. It is easy to become overly-fixated on a promotion or future bonus.

The satisfaction these provide is instant but short-lived. Long-term goals, such as the task of raising your children well, while gradual and challenging, will provide a reward that is lifelong and far more valuable.

Check out my related post: How to tell when it’s time to retire?

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