Life beyond the bottom line: Clayton Christensen's new book has business world buzzing

Published: Sunday, May 13 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Christensen seems qualified to speak on such heady matters. If you turned the book's question back on the author, he would measure up pretty well. Raised in Utah and having graduated from BYU and later Harvard and Oxford (where he was a Rhodes Scholar), he has been a one-man dynamo in the business world and beyond.

At 60, he has served as a White House fellow, a Harvard professor, an author, a widely quoted business theorist, a best-selling author, co-founder and founder of consulting and investment companies, and a sought-after public speaker who is quoted by everyone from Forbes to LDS Church leaders in their semiannual general conference. He is considered the leading innovation scholar in the world by no less than Forbes. He has made impactful leaps from innovation scholarship to addressing education, health care reform and the poor.

There's more, and if Christensen were measuring his life, all of the above would take a back seat or be given equal billing with the mission he served for his church in Korea, his marriage, fatherhood, family life and church work (including Scoutmaster duty) — which is the point of the book.

In many ways, Christensen's life has come full circle. Always a writer at heart, he aspired to be a journalist early in his professional life, but was drawn into a remarkable career in education and business before he got around to writing books on an amazing array of subjects, including health, education, the poor and business theory. His most famous book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," was a New York Times business category best-seller.

"How Will You Measure Your Life?," co-authored with Dillon and consultant James Allworth, is making another big splash. Forbes wrote this about the book: "It mixes tested business theories, a heap of common sense and Clay's deep confidence in the authority of God. It's one of the more surprisingly powerful books of personal philosophy of the 21st century. The questions it asks are the right ones: How do I find satisfaction in work? How do I create a family with relationships that are meaningful and fulfilling? How do I raise kids who are responsible, kind and make good choices?

"Ask any recovering alcoholic or addicted gambler or adulterer. They'll tell you what Clay tells you: it's easier to hold to one's principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. For kids graduating from college right now, this is the best time to engage in this personal reflection. Life, kids, careers and other pressures have a way of swallowing up time. Decide now what you stand for. Stand for it all the time."

The ideas in the book have earned praise in the past from New York Times columnist David Brooks, who wrote about Christensen's approach to a "well-planned life" in August 2010, and Forbes, which produced a series of stories about Christensen in February 2011 after he'd survived cancer, a heart attack and a stroke.

As Christensen concludes at the end of the prologue, "I don't promise this book will offer you any easy answers; working through these questions requires hard work. It has taken me decades. But it has also been one of the most worthwhile endeavors of my life. I hope the theories in this book can help you as you continue on your journey, so that in the end you can definitively answer for yourself the question, 'How will you measure you life?'"

I believe Miller would have enthusiastically endorsed the book, as well. He addressed many of the same themes raised by Christensen's book in public settings, using himself as a cautionary tale. Referring to his shortcomings at home, Miller said, "I try to pass these painful lessons to others who might be tempted by the allure of professional success. For years I taught a weekly three-hour entrepreneurial class for MBA students at BYU. Near the end of each semester Gail (his wife) and I were invited to speak to the students and their spouses about the trappings of the business world. I tell the students that success, as the world defines it, is very intoxicating. I tell them that they should understand that it's important to be home with their family and be more than a breadwinner."

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