Life: Calibration Required…

Today, as I sat pondering my lesson material for an up-coming Social Responsibility and Ethics Management course, I was prompted as part of the discussion, to query my students, regarding their understanding of success measurements.

Choose Ye This Day...

I have been giving much contemplation as of late, regarding where one places the greatest emphasis and effort in one’s life.  Certainly, if one has the role of provider for his/her family, there must needs-be some degree of emphasis and effort on achieving success in one’s chosen profession; but at what cost?  Where does one draw a line in the sand?  When does one justify crossing the line?  At what point does one realize the eternal losses, for temporal gains?  These questions brought to my memory, an article I had once read, and would like to share with those who might read this blog post.

As is my regular routine when I travel for business, I purchase the latest edition of Harvard Business Review (HBR) to read during the flight.  During one of my trips in 2010, I was reading my then current issue July-August 2010 of HBR, and was intrigued by a Dr. Clayton M. Christensen article, entitled: How will you measure your life?  In the article, Dr. Christensen posed three questions: (a) How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? (b) How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? and (c) How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?  This last question, is central to helping my students understand why social responsibility and ethical decision-making are essential to business and personal success.  An interesting point for discussion is that by working on questions (a) and (b), one can be fairly confident that (c) will be achieved by default.  Simarly, if one were to place considerable effort to become successful with question (c), both (a) and (b) would be satisfied respectively.

As I was reading, I had a highlight marker and pen at the ready, to mark the comments, which resonated with my beliefs and understandings.  I found that the article by Dr. Christensen presented many of my personal beliefs and philosophies on leading people.  I remember having a thought as I was reading (and marking), that the information seemed to convey what I know, to be eternal truths, in addition to business principles.  I made an entry in the margin, “Note to self: Me thinks he’s LDS”.  In my hotel room that evening, I searched online and discovered that Dr. Christensen was indeed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Having discovered Dr. Christensen’s religious affiliation, solidified to me, why the principles he espoused, were so familiar to me.  I knew these were eternal principles because I had been taught them since becoming converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they were Christ’s teachings, and not only apply to church, but at work and at home too.  I still have the heavily-marked-up, hard copy of this publication, and it has made its rounds within my circle of influence.

Measuring Up: Are we even on the scale?  If not, how do we get there?

I have included the topic headings and some of the key points Dr. Christensen presented in the article here to share:

  • Create a Strategy for Your Life: “…spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put [you] on this earth, instead of learning the latest techniques [and business tools] for mastering the problems of [xyz]”1.  It may be fair to suggest that the techniques and tools of business would be used only a few times per year (monthly, quarterly, or annual metrics), but application of one’s life purpose would be employed daily.  “It’s the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned, [and] clarity about life’s purpose, will trump knowledge of [xyz]”1.
  • Allocate Your Resources: “People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness”1.  “If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification.  If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most”1.
  • Create a Culture: “…use of ‘power tools’—coercion, threats, punishment, and so on—to secure cooperation”1; whether at work or in the home, the use of power tools, is a very dangerous undertaking, and one should select or use power tools sparingly, because damage to the product may occur if used incorrectly.
  • Avoid the ‘Marginal Costs’ Mistake: “…it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.  If you give in to ‘just this once’, based on a marginal cost analysis …you’ll regret where you end up.  You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place”1.
  • Remember the Importance of Humility: “…if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited.  But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited”1.
  • Choose the Right Yardstick: “…the metric by which God will assess [your] life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives [you’ve] touched…  Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people”1.

What has been your experience with what gets measured more in your organization?  In your home?  In your relationships?  I welcome your comments and feedback.

1.  Christensen, C. M. (2010, July-August). How Will You Measure Your Life? Harvard Business Review.

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