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Deseret News Exclusive: Excerpt from Clayton Christensen's 'How Will You Measure Your Life?'

By Clayton M. Christensen

From "How Will You Measure Your Life?"

Published: Monday, May 21 2012 5:28 p.m. MDT

Personal dissatisfaction, family failures, professional struggles, even criminal behavior — these problems weren't limited to my classmates at HBS. I saw the same thing happen to my classmates in the years after we completed our studies as Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University. To be given that opportunity, my classmates had to have demonstrated extraordinary academic excellence; superior performance in extracurricular activities such as sports, politics, or writing; and significant contributions to their communities. These were well-rounded, accomplished people who clearly had much to offer the world.

But as the years went by, some of my thirty-two Rhodes classmates also experienced similar disappointments. One played a prominent role in a major insider trading scandal, as recounted in the book Den of Thieves. Another ended up in jail because of a sexual relationship with a teenager who had worked on his political campaign. He was married with three children at the time. One who I thought was destined for greatness in his professional and family spheres has struggled in both — including more than one divorce.

I know for sure that none of these people graduated with a deliberate strategy to get divorced or lose touch with their childrenmuch less to end up in jail. Yet this is the exact strategy that too many ended up implementing.

I don't want to mislead you. Alongside these disappointments, there are many of my classmates who have led exemplary personal lives; they have truly been an inspiration to me. But our lives are not over, and the lives of our children are just now unfolding. Understanding what causes the problems that trapped some of my classmates is important not just for those who have come off the path that they had planned to follow but for those whose lives are still on the right pathas well as those whose journeys are just beginning. We all are vulnerable to the forces and decisions that have derailed too many.

I am among those who have been fortunate so far — in many ways due to my wonderful wife, Christine, who has helped us see into the future with remarkable prescience. It would be folly for me to write this book, however, to proclaim that everyone who replicates the decisions we have made will be happy and successful, too. Instead, in writing this book, I have followed the approach that has characterized my management research.

I have engaged my students in the quest as well. In my MBA course, Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise, we study theories regarding the various dimensions of the job of general managers. These theories are statements of what causes things to happen — and why. When the students understand these theories, we put them "on" — like a set of lenses — to examine a case about a company. We discuss what each of the theories can tell us about why and how the problems and opportunities emerged in the company. We then use the theories to predict what problems and opportunities are likely to occur in the future for that company, and we use the theories to predict what actions the managers will need to take to address them.

By doing this, the students learn that a robust theory is able to explain what has and what will occur across the hierarchy of business: in industries; in the corporations within those industries; in the business units within those corporations; and in the teams that are within the business units.

In the past several years, on the last day of my class after I've summarized what so frequently happens in the lives of our graduates, we have taken the discussion a step further, plumbing to the most fundamental element of organizations: individuals. For this discussion, rather than use businesses as the case studies, we use ourselves.

I participate in these discussions with more history than my students do, but I follow the same rules. We are there to explore not what we hope will happen to us but rather what the theories predict will happen to us, as a result of different decisions and actions. Because I've been present in these discussions over many years, I've learned more about these issues than any one group of my students ever has. To even the score with them, however, I have shared stories about how these theories have played out in my life.

To help structure this discussion, I write the theories we have studied along the top of the chalkboard. Then I write three simple questions beside those theories:

How can I be sure that

I will be successful and happy in my career?

My relationships with my spouse, my children, and my extended family and close friends become an enduring source of happiness?

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