TEDx Talk: How Will You Measure Your Life?


In his 2012 TEDx Talk based on the book by the same name, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen explores the question, ‘How will you measure your life?’. Today, Ignitia reviews the key points from professor Christensen’s talk.

A View of the World

To begin his talk, professor Christensen asserts the world is organized into nested systems. At the top are nations. Within nations, industries.  Within industries, corporations. Within corporations, business units. Within business units, teams. Within teams, people. And within people, minds. From here, professor Christensen relates how business theories are often based off this nested model. For example, the theory of disruption is what happens when a company at the bottom of the market dramatically moves up. This is what professor Christensen refers to as a, ‘statement of causality’. According to professor Christensen, these statements of causality apply to every level of the nested system. As an example, professor Christensen asserts such theory explains why nations lose competitiveness. According to professor Christensen, such theories become incredibly useful when placed on individual nations or companies as a whole.

Applying This View to Ourselves

However, on an individual level professor Christensen states such methods are just as useful. In examining our individual lives, professor Christensen asserts we may use causal theory to predict how we should live our lives. Professor Christensen asserts after using these tools with his students, useful causal theories have emerged as the most beneficial to their individual lives.

The First Personal Theory of Causality

In relating his first theory of personal causality, professor Christensen returns to his example of disruption. He relates a time in the market when Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks were at the top of the heap. That is, until a small company called Cisco started taking over the bottom of the market and moved up to kill off both Lucent and Nortel. According to professor Christensen, the reason Lucent was vulnerable was because they had become focused on what would pay off now, as opposed to what would pay off ten years from now. Professor Christensen then takes the example further by relating what his ten, fifteen, and twenty year HBS reunions were like.

According to professor Christensen, at the 5 year reunion, everyone was happy. But at the 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th reunions, many of his former classmates were divorced and unhappy with their lives,  because they had not planned ahead. According to professor Christensen, this was often due to the fact that his colleagues were too focused on their careers. According to professor Christensen, this is a common mistake because our careers are often immediately able to demonstrate achievement. In contrast according to professor Christensen, investments in our families don’t pay off for a long time. It may take twenty years before a parent can think, ‘we raised great children’. According to professor Christensen, this makes sense because our families are often the deepest source of happiness in our lives. To sum this theories, professor Christensen circles back to the reason many companies fail: their focus on the most immediate and tangible sources of achievement.

The Second Personal Theory of Causality

In examining his second theory, professor Christensen relates a time where he was wondering how his life would be measured. According to professor Christensen, he came to the realization that, ‘God does not employ accountants or statisticians’. According to professor Christensen, since we have finite minds, we must aggregate our view of the world in order to make sense of it. We cannot understand the individual details of everything, so we look at the big picture.

As such, when we look at people who are higher up in large companies, we tend to think they are doing better in life. We also tend to measure how well a person is doing by how much money they make. However, according to professor Christensen, such an outlook is merely a result of our limited minds, and their need to aggregate. According to professor Christensen, God does not need to aggregate because he has an infinite mind. He has a perfect understanding of what’s happening. As such, as the end of our lives the measure of our lives will be the number of people we helped to become better people. What really matters according to professor Christensen, is how we use the talents we have been given to help the people we encounter. Thus, the measure of our lives will be the individual people whose lives we made better for having known us while we were alive.


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