Clayton M. Christensen was born on April 6, 1952 in Salt Lake City, USA. He received his B.A. with honors in Economics from Brigham Young University in 1975, and his M.B.A. with honors from Harvard Business School in 1979. He returned to Harvard Business School in 1992 to receive his DBA and became a professor at Harvard Business School, where he served as General Manager and Technology and Operations Management.Winner of the 1995 McKinsey Prize.
Christensen was the founder of the idea of “disruptive technology.”His research and teaching focus on new product and technology development management and how to open up markets for new technologies. Representative as “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “Innovators’ Answers.”
Harvard invited Christensen to explain to the entire student body how to apply his management theory to each person’s life, and when invited to speak, Christensen had already been diagnosed with cancer.
Having experienced the darkest moments of life, he systematically summarized and taught his understanding of life and his experience of a happy life.
The speech was a great success, not only deeply moved the students, but also aroused extensive discussion in the whole society.
I. Developing a Life Strategy
Over the years, I’ve been watching the fates of our Harvard Business School classmates. At reunions, I see more and more people unhappy, divorced, and estranged from their children.
Why?When they decide how to allocate their time, talents, and energy, they do not firmly put their life goals first and center.
Harvard Business School recruits 900 new students each year from the global elite, and a surprisingly large number of these students have never thought about their life goals.
I told these students that Harvard Business School might be their last chance to think deeply about this issue.
If they think they will have time and energy to reflect later, they must be mentally ill, because the burdens of life will only get heavier: you have a mortgage to pay off, you have to work 70 hours a week, you have to get married and have children.
It is important for me to have a clear purpose in life.
After I became a Rhodes Scholar, the pressure of my studies became so heavy that it was equivalent to an extra year of study in addition to my normal study time at Oxford.
I decided to spend an hour every night reading and thinking about why God put me on this earth. But sticking to that goal was also challenging, because every hour I spent on it meant an hour less time studying econometrics.
Is it worth taking an hour off from your studies to do this? In fact, I was ambivalent at the time, but I persevered and eventually found my purpose in life.
If I didn’t do that, and instead spent that hour learning the latest skills, working on issues like autocorrelation in regression analysis, I would be wasting my life.
I only use econometric tools a few times a year, but life goals require me to practice them every day.It’s the most useful thing I’ve ever learned.
Figuring out the goal of life is far more important than learning what is done, balanced, competitive, disruptive innovation, 4P marketing theory and Porter’s five forces model.
Choosing a career and being successful is just a tool to achieve your goals in life.But if there is no purpose, life will be empty and boring.
II. Properly allocating resources
How you allocate your time, energy, and talents determines your life strategy.
I have a lot of “careers” competing for these resources: I am committed to maintaining a harmonious relationship between my husband and wife, to raising good children, and to giving to my community, to my career, and to church service.
Since my time, energy, and talents are limited, how should I allocate resources between the various pursuits I pursue?
When people who are desperate for achievement have more time or extra energy, they will subconsciously devote it to activities that seek short-term gain.
And it is our profession that provides the most tangible proof of our progress. When you launch a product, finish a design, close a presentation, close a deal, give a lecture, publish a paper, get paid, get a promotion, progress is often visible.
However, the time and energy you invest in your spouse and children is often not immediately visible. Kids make mistakes every day. It may not be until they are 20 years old that you can proudly say “I raised a great kid.”
You can also ignore the importance of the relationship with your partner, after all, on a normal day, the relationship does not seem to show signs of deterioration.
Even though close, loving relationships with family members are the strongest and most enduring source of happiness, those who strive for excellence subconsciously focus on their career over their family.
If you have studied the causes of business disasters, you will often find that there is a deliberate pursuit of instant gratification in such failed companies.
If you look at personal life through the same lens, you will find a path preference that is equally astounding and thought-provoking: those previously most prized aspirations become less and less available for investment in resources.
III. Avoiding the "marginal cost" mistake
Finance and economics tell us that when evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore sunk costs and fixed costs and instead base our decisions on marginal costs and marginal returns for each investment.
We learned from the course that this philosophy makes companies more inclined to bet on their past successes than to build the capabilities they need for the future.
If the future is really just a rehash of the past, then this approach makes sense. But if the future is different from the past, it is wrong. The future is almost always changing.
This theory explains the third question I discuss with my students: how to be a decent person and avoid jail time.
When we are faced with good and evil choices in life, we often inadvertently apply the marginal cost theory.
There is a voice that echoes in our brain: “I know we shouldn’t do this, but this is a special situation, so it doesn’t hurt to make an exception. Just this once, it’s gonna be okay.”
Doing the “wrong thing” with the fluke of “just this once” seems to have a very low marginal cost, so it has an irresistible temptation. But it eats away at you, making you forget where the path ultimately leads, and how expensive it is to calculate the full cost of the choice.
I’ll tell you how I recognized the potentially destructive nature of “just this once.
I was on the Oxford University basketball team. One year, we gave it our all and ended up playing the whole season unbeaten. My teammates have become my best friends for the rest of my life. Then we played British basketball, like the NCAA championship, and made it to the finals.
Unfortunately, the championship game was scheduled for Sunday, and I made a promise to God when I was 16 that I would never play on a Sunday. I went to the coach and explained it to him, but he was skeptical. My teammates couldn’t believe it, because I was the starting center.
Each of my teammates came to me and said: “You have to play. Can’t you make an exception, just this once?” As a religious man, I ran to the side and prayed, hoping that God would tell me what to do. The revelation to me was very clear that I could not fail to keep my promises. In the end I didn’t play this final.
In many ways, it was a small decision, after all, I’ve had thousands of Sundays like this in my life. In theory, I can also cross the red line once, never again.
But in retrospect, resisting the temptation to make an exception was one of the most important decisions I ever made.
Why do you say that? Because there are so many “special circumstances” in our lives. If I had made an exception that time, I might have failed again and again in the days to come.
The takeaway from this is that it’s far easier to keep your promises 100% than 98%.
If you always succumb to “just this once,” based on marginal cost analysis, you’ll end up regretting where you ended up, like my classmates in prison. You have to stick to it and draw a safe line for it.
IV. CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE MEASURE
In 2009, doctors found out I had cancer, and I thought my days were numbered. Fortunately, it looks as if I’ve escaped this. But this experience gave me a new insight into my life.
I know that many companies have made huge profits from my research. I know I had an important impact. But the disease made me realize that, for me, those so-called important effects were just trivial.
This is very interesting indeed. This led me to the conclusion that God judged me not by money, but by the specific people I had come into contact with.I think this measure of my life also applies to everyone.
My final advice is to think clearly about the criteria by which you want to evaluate your life.