How will you measure your life?

A business guru raises interesting questions about work, family, and faith

What happens when one of the business world’s top thinkers applies lessons of business innovation to the subject of how to live a better life? You end up with a book that’s not your typical self-help book.

A couple of years back, Clayton Christensen—well-known professor at Harvard Business School, author of influential business books, and a leading authority on “disruptive innovation” in companies—went through a disruptive change in his own life. A life-threatening bout with cancer inspired deep reflection and eventually resulted in the 2012 book How to Measure Your Life (co-authored with James Allworth and Karen Dillon). I just finished the book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a refreshing, hard-headed perspective on how to develop strategies for improving your work life and home life. But the real reason I’m writing about the book here is that it’s chock-full of deep, provocative questions.

Let’s start with one of the great business questions in the book—because even though this isn’t a business book, per se, Christensen offers up some very savvy questions that business leaders should be asking. Case in point: “If we didn’t have an existing business, how could we best build a new one?” Christensen posits this as a question that every large, established company should be asking itself in order to overcome the natural bias toward perpetuating what they’re already good at and leveraging existing assets. To think like a bold innovator, you almost have to pretend your company doesn’t exist—so that you can ask the kind of questions a smart entrepreneur in your business category would be apt to ask.

In terms of choosing the right job or career path, Christensen urges us to ask some fundamental questions that tend to get overshadowed by issues of salary, job titles, etc. Those superficial perks will only go so far toward job satisfaction, while the more important questions are: Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to develop? Am I going to learn new things?

When it comes to life beyond work, Christensen tackles some very big questions including,

How can I be sure I live a life of integrity? How can I best prepare my kids for what lies ahead? How can I figure out what “job” my spouse really needs me to do in order to make his/her life better?

These are excellent questions, but what’s even better is that Christensen offers some tactical and practical tips on how to approach these big, difficult issues. Which is not to say he proffers easy answers. What he tries to do, instead, is provide a framework that can help you begin to grapple with some of these questions and gradually come up with your own answers. Which is not unlike what I’ll be trying to do in my book. By the way, Christensen is on my (long) list of people I hope to include in the book, and if I’m successful in doing that, I’ll report back with more details.

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About the Author

Journalist and speaker Warren Berger realized that the majority of successful creatives and entrepreneurs he was interviewing over the years were great questioners. His wondering about "How can we all learn to do what they do?” led to this website and the writing of his latest book, A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts here.

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