How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay Christensen at TEDxBoston

How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay Christensen at TEDxBoston


Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Lena Clemente Thank you very much. The world is, in many ways,
organized in a nested system. And so we have nations, within those we have industries; within industries we have corporations; within those we have business units; within those we have teams; within the teams we have people; and within people we have our brains. We are nested. It turns out that, as I have and my colleagues have tried
to understand how business works, we’ve developed a set of theories. And when I say a theory,
what I mean is a statement of causality, an understanding
of what causes what and why. Some of you know some of the theories.
Disruption is a theory. What it asserts is that the mechanism
that causes successful companies to fall, it’s not that they’re not at their work, but rather somebody comes in at the bottom
of the market and moves up. And it’s that the mechanism, the pursue
of profit from at the bottom of the market that makes success so hard to sustain. There’s another theory, called the theory
of the preservation of modularity. The theory of the preservation
of modularity explains among the other things
why the euro doesn’t work and why SAP implementation systems are so difficult and complicated. There’s another theory
called jobs-to-be-done, and what it asserts is that,
you know, here’s Clay; I have characteristics:
I’m unfortunately 60 years old now, I live in the suburbs, five children, and unfortunately, have all left
and are living independently, and life has become boring. (Laughter) But the fact that I have
those characteristics doesn’t cause me to go out
and buy The New York Times. There might be a correlation
between my characteristics and the propensity to buy
The New York Times, but the characteristics
don’t cause me to do anything. What causes us to do something is there’s a job that arises in our life
and we have to get the job done, and what causes us
to buy a product or service is we have to reach out and find something that can do the job
and pull it into our lives. That’s the causal mechanism
behind a purchase, is understanding what’s the job, and the insight there is that the customer
is the wrong unit of analysis, it’s the job that we need to understand. So these are all theories, and some of you know those,
and a number of others from our research. What we have learned,
and inadvertently in many ways, is that these statements of causality apply at every stage
in this nested system, and so, the theories help us understand why nations lose their competitiveness, why Japan was so successful
and then died, for example; and why America finds it so hard
to regain our momentum; – and that goes all the way down
to the point of teams – a number of years ago, in my course
at the Harvard Business School. In this course, we study these theories, try to understand them, then put these theories on a set of lenses and examine companies,
or economies, or industries and try to understand can we understand why things
are happening the way they are happening, and what actions
would lead to what results. At the end of the course, on the last day, rather than asking them to just put on these lenses
and examine yet another company, I asked them to look in the mirror, and ask them, “Can you explain why your life
is the way it is today because of these theories?”, and “Can you predict
what will happen in your life if you continue to do
what you are now doing?” And it’s been a remarkable experience to see the students come back
on the last day of class and with causal theories
as the explanation, what they need to change in their lives so that their life will be the life
that they hoped to live. And I thought, I just offer
a couple of these in the hopes that as entrepreneurs and ambitious people you end up living the life
that you hope you will live. So one of the things
we observed, as I mentioned, is that what kills successful companies is somebody comes in
at the bottom of the market. So if you go back a few years ago
in telecommunications, the Darwins of the industry
were Lucent and Nortel, made circuit switching technology, and this rusty, little or small company not very consequential
called Cisco emerged. And their technology, the router,
wasn’t good enough to be used in voice, but they deployed it at the bottom
of the market with data, and then went up market,
and ultimately, killed Lucent and Nortel. The reason why is
that when they look down at the router, the router on every dimension
wasn’t as good. So they kept making better and better circuit switch devices. And we ask ourselves, “I wonder who decided at Lucent that they should go out and get killed?” (Laughter) “And when was the date on
which they decided they would get killed?” And the answer, of course,
is that nobody made the decision. In fact, what happened
is all the individual people in a very successful organization
did everything right, but because they did
all of these things independently and what made sense
in those circumstances, when it summed up,
it summed up to disaster. The reason why it sums up to disaster is they’re trying to maximize
their profitability and typically, the way
you calculate profitability: tomorrow’s investments
that pay off tomorrow go to the bottom line and are much more tangible than investment
that pay off ten years from now. When I go back to my graduating classes, I graduated from the MBA program
at Harvard in 1979, we have a reunion every five years. When we came back for a fifth reunion,
man, everybody was happy; most of our classmates had married people who are much better looking
than my classmates (Laughter) they’re doing well in their career, but as we hit the tenth, the 15th, 20th,
and then the 25th anniversaries, oh my gosh, my friends were coming back not happy with their lives. And very many of them
have gotten divorced, and their spouses had remarried,
and they were raising their – my classmates’ – children
on the other side of the country alienated from them. I guarantee that none of my classmates ever planned when they graduated
from the business school to go out, and get divorced, and have children who hate their guts, and are being raised by other [parents], and yet, a very large portion
of our my classmates actually implemented a strategy that they never planned to do. (Laughter) It turns out that the reason
why they do that is the very same mechanism
and that is that pursuit of achievement. So, we all, everybody here,
is driven to achieve, and when you have an extra ounce
of energy or 30 minutes of time, instinctively and unconsciously, you’ll allocate it
to whatever activities in your life give you the most immediate
evidence of achievement. And our careers provide
that immediate evidence of achievement: we closed a sale, we ship a product, we finish a mid-presentation, we close a deal,
we get promoted, we get paid. Our careers provide the most,
very tangible, immediate achievement. In contrast, investments in our families
don’t pay off for a very long time. In fact, on a day-to-day basis, our children misbehave
over and over again, and it really it isn’t until 20 years down
the road you can look at your children and be able to put your hands
on your hips and say, “We raised great children.” But on a day-to-day basis,
achievement isn’t at hand when we invest in relationships with our family, their children,
and our spouses. And as a consequence, people like you
and I who plan to have a happy life, because our families truly are the deepest source
of happiness in our lives, find that although that’s what we want, the way we invest our time,
and energy, and talents causes us to implement a strategy
that we wouldn’t at all plan to pursue. And so I wanted to just offer that one; is something to think about. The reason why successful companies fail is they invest in things that provide the most immediate
and tangible evidence of achievement, and the reason why they have
such a short time horizon is that they are run
by people like you and I. We then apply
that very same thinking process in our personal lives with sad results. Let me just offer another thought
that might be useful. I was driving to work
a number of years ago early, and when I was
on Huron Avenue in Cambridge, I just had a feeling that something important was going
to happen to Clay Christensen, that I was going to be given a much more consequential
business opportunity than I have just as a plain,
old professor. A couple of weeks later, somebody who was in that position
announced that he was leaving, and I put two and two
together and decided, “Gosh! Sounds like, for whatever reason, I just had this feeling
that I’m going to be his replacement.” So the day came,
and they chose another person. I wondered why did I have that feeling that an important thing
was going to happen to me. Did the people kind of lose guts?
Or… I don’t know. But I wrestled with how will they measure
Clay Christensen’s life? If they’re going to not make me
the leader of a large institution, how do I know whether my life
has been worth living? And again, how I measure my life? I realized that I studied this
for a long time, and I reached the strangest conclusion: that God doesn’t employ
accountants or statisticians. And what I mean by that is,
because you and I have finite minds, when we try to understand
what’s going on in the world, we have to aggregate things. So in your companies, you can’t keep track
of every individual invoice, and so you have
to aggregate all those up, so that you have receivables,
and payables, and revenues. You can’t keep track
of every element of cost, and so you have to aggregate
all that up into total cost categories, and then you subtract that from this,
and there’s a number, and that’s the way we try
to understand the world; is because we have limited minds,
we have to aggregate things up. And then we’ll look at that number
compared to last year’s number, and if it’s better, then we say
we’re doing better. That’s the way we look at the world
because of our but minds. It has then another
interesting effect on us, and that is,
because we have to aggregate, we get a sense of hierarchy in the world. In other words, people who are higher up
in larger organizations are more important than people who preside over fewer numbers of people
and fewer numbers down the road, down the bottom. So we tend to this, we get this sense that people who achieve
in a hierarchical sense, their lives will be judged
somehow as better having lived than those below. We measure sometimes
how high we go or how successful we are by how much money we make. But these are all the result
of our having limited minds, and their having to aggregate
measures of success. This choice of measurement is actually a big deal; in a company, for example, if you measure profitability
by return on net assets, that’s a ratio, and sure, you could be innovative, develop successful, new products, and take that profitability and stick it
into the numerator of the ratio, but you can also reduce
the denominator of the ratio by outsourcing everything, and the ratio doesn’t matter whether you build it from the top
or subtract from the bottom; if profitability is measured
by return on net assets, it causes us to manage it
in a particular way. And in a similar way, if we follow our professor’s
advices from finance, and we measure
profitability on innovation in terms of internal rate
of return or IRR, it’s a ratio, and sure, you could get the ratio up
by being successful with innovation, but you also could get that measure up by only investing in short-term projects. And it’s just the long way of saying,
be careful in how you measure profitability in your company. So how do you measure the success of your life? As I mentioned, it’s
because we have to aggregate, we have this sense
of hierarchy, wealth, and so on. But the reason I concluded that God
doesn’t employ accounts is he has an infinite mind, and what that means
is he doesn’t have to aggregate up above the level of individual people in order to have a perfect understanding
of what’s going on in this world. When I realized that, that he doesn’t have to aggregate up
above the level of individuals, then I realized, “Oh, my goodness! When I have my interview
with God at the end of my life, he’s not going to show me how high I went
into anybody’s org-chart, or how much money I left
behind in the bank when I died, but rather he’s going to say,
‘Oh, Clay, I put you in that circumstance. Now, can we talk
about the individual people whose lives you help
to become better people, because you worked with them,
or they were members of your family, or you just met them,
and they needed your help. And then Clay,
I stuck you in this situation. Let’s talk about the individual people
whose lives you blessed because you use the talents
I gave you to help them.'” And I realized that that’s
the way God will measure my life; is the individual people
whose lives I blessed. I just want to offer that
as the second takeaway from at least, what Clay Christensen
is thinking about, and that is it’s actually
really important that you succeed at
what you’re succeeding at, but that isn’t going to be
the measure of your life. God doesn’t count, he doesn’t aggregate; he’s just going to assess you on the basis of how well
you helped other people be better people. Well, God bless you, I hope that some of these ideas
will be helpful to you and that you all will be successful in the way that God will measure success. Thank you. (Applause)

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About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. Thanks for this wonderful Video!

    I was always worried about my work and hence not performing my work properly, so i was seriously looking for predictions of everything i do , especially my goals

    i got this cool mobile app called "SUCCESS PREDICTOR" by lokesh which helps to predict based on several mental and physical questions and this has made me lot more easy and stress free

  2. The measure of my life is in kilometers.If I can still cycle 20 km to work when I'm 60 and occasionally do  a run commute,I would consider it a good measure.But the real measure would be reflected through the eyes if my kids or grandchildren.great Talk.Thanks.

  3. I know profit is important to the health of any business. But I have long felt that there is something much more important. Integrity, quality, and responsibility to name a few. There is nothing wrong with money or wealth, but unfortunatly money, wealth and power have become mis-prioritzed.  The great news is that wealth or profit does not go away when it loses its  #1 priority status. Profit and wealth actually become more sustainable and healthy when they are a by product of ongoing good intention and passion to serve.

  4. Thank you for those point of view on you life experience God bless you and all people wo listen everywhere you presenting thanks again.

  5. If you have to listen to this guy to understand that your life is not measured by your social and professional status then you are already lost. The fact that some many people believe that this is somehow innovative is actually depressing. You can hear something similar at any Sunday sermon every week.

  6. How will You Measure Your Life? Good question to ponder about while we still have time here on earth. What is the legacy will I leave behind? To my children, to my future grandchildren, to the people whom I've touched?  What Am I really here for? How can I help others help themselves? What am I planting here today? Am I using the gifts that God has given me? Thank you very much Clay for this question that hook our minds.  How will I measure my life?

  7. The idea that business works in the same way as your life is a profound thought that has triggered my mind to think in way that i haven't thought before. God bless you Clay! 

  8. Clay, you're a brilliant man but more important … you are a good man! I'm in your camp. God will not aggregate or run norms on our lives…I'm so thankful for that. God bless you.

  9. Clay, as a 65-year old college professor, I have most recently been asking myself; does what I am doing at this stage of my life; does it really count in God's economy? Your message encourages me – thank you.

  10. Your life your choice… hope to live the best by giving and finding ways to help others… one way is by sharing knowledge and passing ideas and insights

  11. Its another way of saying what has been known for 2000 years  Matthew 25:40

    And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

  12. Great insight into how, at least in my mind, the battle between atheism and religion can be very destructive. I'd call myself an atheist and and engineer who believe in science if somebody asked me, but damnit if this man isn't more helpful to the world than I will ever be. It feels ridiculous to judge him and his actions by the framework he uses, simply because I myself have a different framework. He seems like a great guy and I've learned a lot by listening to his lectures. I think that matters more than the fact that he refers to God in the way I'd rather refer to Humanity or Civilization.

  13. And then the gates of heaven opened and Jesus said, "Children, I have a question of utmost importance to ask of you.

    I have masturbated to Kim Kardashians big fat ass so many times that I am starting to get carpel tunnel syndrome in my wrists.

    So my question is, can anyone recommend a good orthopedic surgeon?"

    —Jesus Christ, as told to Pat Robertson

  14. What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your eternal soul. Concentrate on the important over the urgent.

  15. For those of you who aren't really religious, I think the point he is trying to make at the end of his talk is this: Don't measure your life by  the amount of money, the degree, or the number of friends you have by the time you die. It's much more fulfilling to measure your life based on some of the individual experiences in your life where you a can see your positive impact to society as a whole.

  16. For those of you who aren't really religious, I think the point he is trying to make at the end of his talk is this: Don't measure your life by the amount of money, the degree, or the number of friends you have by the time you die. It's much better to think about some of the individual experiences or moments in your life where you can really see the good impacts you made on your peers or society as a whole.

  17. This is one life you have touched, Clay Christensen, your talk really focuses the mind on the important things in life. Thank you.

  18. It's interesting that this talk coincides to an old movie quote about the life of David Gale. Quote from the movie: "Because in the end, the only way we can measure the significance of our own lives is by valuing the lives of others.” Maybe the significance will be: 1) how we glorify God and 2) how we love others.

  19. it all boils down to the   ability to be selfless and  a giver not a taker  ..subset ofbvedantic learnings

  20. 7:26 everyone did the right thing, all of which just summed up to be a disaster
    10:05 achievement in career -vs- investment in family
    11:41 focus on tangible and immediate return, short horizon
    —— takeaway 1, takeaway 2 ——-
    15:29 limited brain leads to aggregate up the world information , that is why hierarchy is important to human brain, but not God

  21. This is a wonderful video, but whoever uploaded this video, please recheck the closed captions (subtitles) again. A lot of the words do not match what Clay Christensen said. Thank you!

  22. Thank you – confirms why obsession with short term earnings is so harmful. Last half reminded me of Mark Twains short story about Captain Stormfield's visit to heaven. That human measurements of success are way off…

  23. I also am 1978 HBS Graduate. Sometimes it takes a while for people to become real, to rub off the veneer and get genuine. Life is more about wearing away and getting Humble to get real meaning of life. Clay seems to be trying to say God wants a personal relationship with each of us. And God views success in the sincerity of our relationships with others and with Him. We make the life and achievement formula complicated by trying to go by our own power and understanding. Jesus kept it simple in beatitudes Matt 5. Get Real has New meaning 25 years out and onwards in the journey.

  24. I have read this book and it become one of my favorite books, which I usually read uncountable times. Both of your book and your presentation are so great.
    Thank you from all of my sincere.

  25. I've had the opportunity to be advised by Clay as we tried to reinvent our company. This video role models what each of us as business executives should be doing in our own companies, with our families and with everyone we meet. Outstanding and thought provoking!

  26. This professor at the start talks about companies killing themselves in the long term when they strive to gain instant profit at the cost of long term investment. The tendency for humans to incline towards the tangible things in life rather than the real substantial intangible things in life which do not pay off in the long run. And then afterwards, he went to talk about God has an infinite mind and doesn't aggregate things. Tells us two things though, always strike a balance between the tangible benefits and the intangible, and don't always aggregate things and set them as your success indicator in life.

  27. Clay is a fantastic teacher and full of inspiration and insight. If you haven't taken his Harvard HBX course on Disruptive Strategy, do yourself a favor and take it.

  28. Great. Whether you are religious or not, it is obvious that this fellow's poor health here has got him thinking about more than money, status, and power.

  29. Beautifull wisdom, I've discovered the last one about how "God" will measure us in the end myself troughout this year. I'm gratefull for that. I don't believe in God, but I believe in Society helping eachother out and improving the lives of the ones closeby and further away. Together with Nature, the Universe and the relation between all those I've found meaning to endure all the pain and darkness in this world. But if I can be just a small ray of sun on a few people's lives, than I'd be honored to accept the gift of life and I'll live it fully.
    Together with seeing my education as a child, an investment in the long term, not a day to day struggle to survive this talk made me a better person. Thank you Ted, thank you Clay!

  30. It was interesting to hear a philosophy with which I generally agree, expressed through the worldview of a religious business professor, especially since I think a much better World would have neither religion nor business professors.

  31. Interesting to think about. Comments seem largely from people suffering cognitive dissonance. Christianson boiled down very profound thought to get under 20 minutes. He expects you to think and know something about history and geography. You people who have given up questioning to merely boost your "team", are intellectual-masturbators.

  32. I was researching best vaping mods and somehow ended up here and no, I'm not worried about hierarchy, I help people all day long for meager earnings but I'm happy and realized years ago I'm not a ladder climber, I don't care. Sure, money would be great, but I guess it's not that important to me to actually work for it.

  33. When we read the Bible, we realize that success isn't in there. What is success in God's eyes? I don't think it really matters to Him, what matters is what we make of our life, how we deal and forgive others and the way we help shape our community, country, and the world. You are absolutely correct Clay, God bless you always.

  34. Undoubtedly, the most important TED talk I ever watched. If only the idea that the Divine metric is very different to the measure of success this world applies then our interview in the next world would be much less of an ordeal.

  35. The question was, "How Will YOU Measure Your(own) Life?". Regardless of how any other entity measures your life, Will you be able to look yourself in the mirror and honestly say, "I did the best I could with what I had. I have no regrets."? When doing a self-exam, don't blame the mirror.

  36. I'm a tall basketball player From Saudi Arabia and our government aggregate, they considered Saudi Arabia as a whole more than once because of me

  37. Summary: I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

  38. Clay is a fantastic communicator. I love the way he structured this entire presentation. It was very easy to understand.

  39. It is clear God is using your skills and talents in a way that help other people. Thank you for the clarity. Well said!

  40. the conclusion you made that god doesnt count, aggregate = assess you how to perform in a certain circumstances.. – this is the conclusion of islam as well,

  41. His God is very anthropocentric – how did one help other people to be better people does not include e.g. cleaning the oceans

  42. An interesting man. I've read some of his books ie the Innovator's Dilemma and found the case studies and analogies mostly insightful. But I also feel like some of these theories are dramatizations of concepts that are actually quite obvious. Take "jobs to be done" theory: it more or less implies that consumers buy products to fulfill a need. Hmm, sounds quite logical! I mean, how many people buy products NOT to fulfill needs? Sometimes academics have a way of expressing the obvious in the fanciest possible ways…curious what others thoughts on this are.

  43. This is powerful beyond measure! God does not hire accountants but rather at the end of life interview, he will probe into how much impact we made on the people he placed into our lives. Well, I have since decided to use my talent to inspire others to live intentionally by creating short and insightful youtube videos. Would love for you guys to join me!

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