It’s that time of the year when I think about one of my favorite of Professor Christensen’s books, How Will You Measure Your Life?, a book that imparts how business management theories can help us succeed not just in our entrepreneurial endeavors, but also in our everyday lives.
A theory is an understanding of causality, of what causes what, and why. Theories help us make good choices, appropriate to the circumstances of our lives. Oftentimes, we look towards experts of a particular field for quick fixes to our problems, but quick fixes don’t take into consideration differing circumstances. Theories, on the other hand, teach us how to think, not what to think.
The theories in How will you measure your life? aim to teach us how to think about our life and purpose by studying the tools that have helped managers lead companies to world changing success, and applying those same tools to our everyday decisions. By learning how to approach a problem, as opposed to looking for a quick fix to our problem we learn to differentiate between good and bad advice.
Last December, the book inspired me to make three business management resolutions to better manage my life in 2023:
- Allocate my resources accordingly
- Avoid the marginal costs mistake
- Address culture and routine
A year later, I can proudly report that these resolutions helped me accomplish most of my goals, both professional and personal. From completing an MCI bootcamp for policymakers in Uganda and finishing a report on market-creation for Nigeria’s solar sector by breaking down the large projects into weekly tasks that I could easily allocate time and attention to, to launching a Thursday Theory Tips blog series by establishing a disciplined and regular writing schedule. All while having the wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the cultures of six different countries because I took the leap and avoided putting off solo travel for “just another year”. So this year, I suggest we revisit my favorite multi-purpose resource to pull out three new resolutions for 2024.
What will business management theories teach us for 2024?
The first lesson applied to the new year will be:
1. Be open to new opportunities.
One of the theories and tools studied at the Christensen Institute is the management of strategy development. In every company, there are two sources from which strategic initiatives arise: deliberate and emergent. Emergent strategies should be used in the early phases of an organization’s life or in circumstances with unclear futures, and deliberate strategies should dominate once a winning strategy becomes clear. This means that emergent strategies become deliberate ones, but this doesn’t happen in a clear, analytical way. On the contrary, the evolution of strategy is continuous, diverse, and unruly—and it happens through resource allocation.
In companies and in our lives, deliberate and emerging strategies will fight for resources, so for a company and for an individual to succeed, the key lies in balancing the allocation of resources between both types of strategies. We have to be focused enough to work toward our goals, but we also have to be open enough not to dismiss new, rewarding opportunities.
Now, it’s easy to say “be open to opportunities as they emerge,” but how do we know which new opportunities will be rewarding? There’s a tool to test whether it’s worth allocating your resources toward an emerging strategy, and it’s called discovery-driven planning. Understanding the different strategies and managing them through this approach can help us with this first lesson.
2. Create metrics for your personal values.
In a How Will You Measure Your Life? TEDx Talk Professor Christensen says, “It’s actually really important that you succeed at what you’re succeeding at, but that isn’t going to be the measure of your life.”
Sometimes, we get the measure of success wrong. This can mean that although we may value family over career, we might still be measuring success in life more by career progression and promotions, rather than time spent and memories created with those we care about. This can also mean that our compensation system, whether it be for our career or life, can sneakily encourage us to do the opposite of what we mean to do.
And finally, it can mean that even when we think we’re doing right by those we care about, if we don’t understand their Job to Be Done, then we don’t understand what is important to them, and we may not be empathizing and supporting them as well as we think we are. Asking ourselves “What job does my ____ most need me to do?” gives us the chance to get the right unit of analysis and the right metric for success. Actively choosing the right metric for success will then help us stay true to our values.
3. Allow for anomalies
As we try new emerging opportunities, and correct or change the metrics by which we measure our success we have to allow for anomalies. We can only get closer to the truth, to being correct rather than right, by acknowledging that anomalies (in thinking, beliefs, codified strategies, etc.) exist and can be applicable to our way of doing things.
Allowing for failure or “wrong” turns allows us to get more efficient through iteration. Allowing for anomalies is the driving force in being a lifelong learner so that we can constantly gain, rather than reject knowledge. By testing our assumptions through discovery driven planning and questioning what Jobs those around us are trying to accomplish, we become better at what we do and who we serve. If we find that our strategies or assumptions were wrong instead of seeing that as a step back, we can see it as a way to better enhance our theories and our application of them. Allowing for anomalies inspires innovation and progress.
As we measure our lives in 2023 and think about measurement in 2024, it’s reassuring to know there are always new lessons to leverage and tools to utilize at the Clayton Christensen Institute.