book review by Dennis Stearns, CFP®
We have recommended many books to our clients over the years, most having to do with finances, business topics, leadership or career reinvention. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen (with co-authors James Allworth and Karen Dillon) is a bit different, but right in the sweet spot of areas that many of our clients are contemplating these days. How can I be successful and happy in a career in the midst of a super trend world of constant change? (A number of major "super trends" are driving massive change in our world, with three of the most powerful being globalization, technology accelerators and the global age wave.) Life has thrown me a not-so-pleasant personal curve ball-how can I regain my balance and find enduring happiness? How can I keep my moral compass pointed at true north as people around me practice situational ethics?
Our profession has its share of leaders in financial life planning and behavioral finance, including George Kinder, Carol Anderson, Susan Bradley, Mitch Anthony and Ed Jacobson. One challenge we often have encountered in our planning practice is how to get clients who are hard-charging, left-brain thinkers to grasp why good financial planning includes many soft disciplines, not just saving and investing. This book holds good promise to become a key tool in our toolkit because the author is highly respected in the world of type-A personalities.
Behind the Facade, Something Was Wrong
Clayton Christensen has been one of our favorite authors with bestselling books on innovation and health care business models. He teaches a graduate-level course at Harvard Business School, is cofounder of four companies and was named the "world's most influential business thinker" in 2011 by Thinkers50, a global ranking of management thinkers.
Christensen had one of those "aha" moments in 2010 after examining his life and asking tough questions. He successfully fought the same cancer that ended his father's life. At a Harvard Business School reunion, he noticed that behind the facade of many successful people in his class, something was wrong. They weren't happy, or their marriages or families were in trouble. Some even landed in jail.
He set out to write about what makes the difference between success and failure in our lives, not just in business. What is stunning about this book is that Christensen has taken the groundbreaking ideas from his "Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise" MBA class at Harvard and adapted them to predict how our personal lives will turn out based on different decisions and actions we make. Solving the complex challenges in our lives (and those of our clients) requires a deep understanding of what causes what to happen.
The Difference Between Success and Failure
The sections on "what makes us tick" and "balancing calculation versus serendipity" have many useful insights in career and business development. The difference between success and failure, especially in the turbo-charged super trend world we see coming, involves making key decisions while a blender full of problems and opportunities confront you as you're trying to implement the deliberate plan or strategy you've chosen.
Here are a few highlights that caught our eye:
- 93 percent of all companies that ultimately became successful had to abandon their original strategy because it proved not to be viable. Careers often work the same way. Can you spot the moment when you need to make a critical change?
- The danger for high-achieving people is they will unconsciously allocate their scarce resources (personal time, energy, talent and wealth) to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. If a marriage or personal friendship seems to be going along fine, they will allocate fewer resources to it until it becomes a problem area, and often then it is too late. What "job" do your closest relationships in life need you to do?
- Many American businesses have outsourced their way to mediocrity. Personal outsourcing is also now fashionable. With the best of intentions, each new generation of parents hands their children off to myriad coaches and tutors, thinking this will better prepare them for the future. But is it what they really need?
- No one sets out to ruin their life through unethical or illegal actions, yet many would-be champions in every field of endeavor fall from grace. Failure is often at the end of a path of marginal thinking, a series of small, everyday decisions that rarely seem to have high stakes attached. How can you steady a moral compass that is being constantly affected by people and situations around you?
If you follow the prescriptions Christensen outlines in the book, you will better navigate the ever-changing super trend world that lies ahead and come out happier and healthier in the bargain. If you send the book or a summary of the book to your clients who need help, no doubt many will thank you for giving them the right tool at the right moment in their lives.
This book is part self-help, part business and investment guide-all rolled into one excellent read.
Dennis Stearns, CFP®, is a planning practitioner and president of Stearns Financial, a fee-only wealth management firm with offices in Chapel Hill and Greensboro, N.C. He is a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences on surviving and thriving in a super trend world and is the author of CEO Road Rules: Right Focus, Right People, Right Execution.