Intro to My Influencers: Clayton Christensen

Photo Credit: Betsy Weber on Flickr

Author’s note: A while ago, when I began my coaching business, I started making a list of those people that influenced me. But a list alone isn’t compelling enough so I wanted to do a deeper dive into each of my influences to share HOW they influenced me, my personal development, and my coaching. Enjoy!

The late Clayton Christensen taught at Harvard Business School, studied in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and wrote one of the most famous business books of all time, the Innovator’s Dilemma. Beyond these more celebrated accomplishments, though, Professor Christensen’s influenced me through one of his last and less famous books.  

Late in his career, Professor Christensen began sharing some lessons from his life with his Harvard Business School students. He later shared these lessons as a commencement speech for graduating HBS students which evolved into a short book, How Will You Measure Your Life?

What was so fascinating about this book was that I had read “self-help” books and I had read “business” books, but I had never read a “self-help business” book. I was the perfect audience for this book as it took some of the clear, values-based direction you often get in self-help books and applied them in business settings. This addressed one of the key limitations of self-help books for me: they often seem like they don’t necessarily apply to you and your situation.

How Will You Measure Your Life? was different, though. It tackled subjects like leading with your values, investing in the right things, and that 100% compliance was easier to manage than 99%. A clear example that has stuck with me: while I recognized that spending time with your family was a long-term investment compared to finishing up that last email or even an important client presentation, I had never stopped to realize why so many otherwise smart people fell into the trap of prioritizing their careers over their family by working long hours or being distracted by work on the weekend. Professor Christensen highlighted the immediate feedback loops on your progress at work—and rewards to boot—incentivize you to work more. On the other hand, supporting a partner and raising kids have very long feedback loops with big investments of time at the beginning that pay off more slowly (or ever, for some people and some relationships). 

Neither is necessarily right or wrong, but Professor Christensen forced me to confront that choice so that I didn’t unwittingly fall into a common trap of investing in those areas that give you the immediate reinforcement that our ancestral minds crave. And for that, I am grateful.



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