How Will You Measure Your Life? – A Book Review

The title of this book intrigued me – I mean how could it not. Typically I will take a book like this and flip to random pages to read excerpts and see if they really grab me. The excerpts, as well as the back of the jacket description, got me interested in this one. Christensen is  Professor at the Harvard Business School and this book came about as a result of a commencement address he gave to the 2010 graduating class.


The premise of the book is that Christensen applies theories used in business to individuals and their lives. He talks about Honda’s emergence in the American market and how they had to quickly change their strategy from offering a product they thought the market wanted to offering them the one it turned out they wanted. He likens this to what he calls a person’s deliberate versus their emergent plan. We have  ideas about what we want to do in our lives, and it is important to have these goals, but we also need to be open to recognizing new opportunities like Honda did. Christensen talks about how in his own life he always wanted to work at the Wall Street Journal and instead became a Harvard Professor; it wasn’t what he had in mind but he recognized it as an opportunity, found a love for it and then this emergent plan became part of his deliberate plan.

In another chapter he talks about Dell outsourcing it’s manufacturing  to Asus bit by bit over a period of years. It started with just outsourcing production of their motherboards, but piece by piece resulted in Dell doing none of the manufacturing at which point Asus knew how to make their computers better than they did. Dell had outsourced all of their competencies to the point Asus could do better without Dell which he likens this to parents outsourcing the care and instruction of their children. In the Dell/Asus analogy he refers to RONA, the financial ratio of return on net investments. As Dell outsourced further work to Asus, their RONA continually improved which is/was interpreted as good thing, but what that metric failed to take into account was what they were losing, which was their hold on their key competencies. This mistaken or distorted estimation of results, emphasizes the errors we might make in assigning value to things in our lives.

While you might not agree with everything Christiansen has to say, he presents some interesting ideas for consideration. It’s a good read if you are interested in business or if you are living.  I highly recommend this book, while I could not agree with everything, I found it thought provoking and intelligent. There is little point in my trying to summarize all the interesting things the book has to say, you should give it a read. Suffice to say if you should come across the book, I think you will find reading it worth your time.