ICE Book Review – How Will You Measure Your Life

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

With the recent news that Clayton Christensen had died, I thought it would be a good time to review one of my favorite books authored by him. No, it’s not his best-selling The Innovator’s Dilemma or his book dedicated to education, Disrupting Class. Instead, it is a small book based on an exercise that he gave his students on the last day of a class he taught at Harvard Business School titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?”.  Incidentally, is also the title of an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review prior to publishing the book (just in case you wanted a sneak peek).

The inspiration for this book stemmed from Mr. Christensen’s observations over the course of his career. He went to school with many bright classmates who seemed destined for greatness. As time went on and he reconnected with them at reunions, it was true, many had fantastic lives. He also noted, however, that there were many whose lives were unraveling: divorce, disrupted families, and even jail. With this in mind, he set out to explore the reasons why these things occurred. Within his class, he structured the discussion with three questions:

How can I be sure that:

I will be successful and happy in my career?

My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends will become an enduring source of happiness?

I will live a life of integrity-and stay out of jail?

The book is arranged in sections that explore each of these questions in turn through the lens of the theories he and his students used to wrestle with the questions. As he explains, “a good theory can help us categorize, explain, and, most important, predict.” He goes on to apply these theories to life. For example, two-factor theory, a motivational theory can help to explain our relationship with work. Two-factor theory hypothesizes that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not a continuum, but instead separate, independent measures. As he explains, it is possible to both love and hate your job at the same time. This is because two-factor theory distinguishes between what are called hygiene factors and motivation factors. Hygiene factors include compensation, work conditions, policies, supervision, and status. If you have poor hygiene in your work environment, you’ll be dissatisfied with your work. Interestingly, good hygiene doesn’t mean that you will love your work, only that you won’t hate it. On the other hand, motivation factors DO predict work satisfaction and include recognition, responsibility, challenge, and the opportunity for growth. As you may have noticed, compensation is a hygiene factor. How often might this factor have been a primary concern for our choice of profession or specialty?

Each subsequent chapter in the book explores additional theories that may have a profound effect on the outcomes of the questions asked above as well as solutions to ensure that the reader has a chance of being successful in each of the questioned domains.

Personally, I found each chapter to contain many nuggets for personal reflection. In fact, the theory that I listed above has really helped me to understand those days where my job just seems to be the pits and yet I still love what I do. With burnout being a major concern within the health professions, I highly recommend that any educator in a leadership position digest this book. I believe that everyone can find useful prompts for reflection and discussion.