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Management theories can help us find the right balance between our careers, families and personal priorities. Think of your career and personal life as a resource allocation problem. You have limited time, energy, wealth and talent to grow several ""businesses"", like your work, relationships with your family and your community. Unless you manage your priorities mindfully, your time and energy will be consumed in firefighting the most urgent priorities.

We read the book How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christenson and will break down Christensen's top strategies for how to navigate all these competing priorities and come out ahead with a more fulfilling, balanced, and purpose-driven life.

Top 20 insights

  1. Employees are not motivated by financial incentives. Frederick Herzberg's Two Factor theory says that compensation, status, job security and work conditions are Hygiene Factors necessary to not hate your job. But job fulfillment comes from Motivators like challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth. Find a career that has true motivators and satisfies key hygiene factors.
  2. Careers that are rich in motivators are highly correlated with financial rewards. The reverse does not hold. People who find a job that is meaningful to them have a distinct career advantage. They can put their best effort every day and soon become very good at what they do. Therefore they naturally gain access to hygiene factors like good compensation, status, job security and good work conditions.
  3. Professor Henry Mintzberg says that there are two ways in which strategy is formed. Deliberate Strategy arises from conscious, planned action based on anticipated opportunities. Emergent Strategy emerges from day-to-day decisions to pursue anticipated opportunities and resolve unforeseen problems. If company leaders make an explicit commitment to follow the Emergent Strategy, it becomes their new Deliberate Strategy.
  4. Many high achievers believe that they must have a deliberate strategy for their career and make detailed five-year plans. But this makes sense only when your current career trajectory provides a good mix of hygiene and motivation factors. If you have not found this balance so far, adopt an Emergent Strategy. Experiment and iterate fast until you find a trajectory that works. Then flip to a deliberate strategy.
  5. New ventures mostly fail because of initial faulty assumptions that were left unexamined. Ian Macmillan and Rita McGrath's Discovery Driven Planning approach avoids this trap. Project teams compile a list of assumptions made and rank them by importance and degree of uncertainty. The team then finds ways to quickly test and validate the most critical and least uncertain assumptions. Only then are investments made.
  6. Unvalidated assumptions made Disney's Paris theme-park a billion-dollar failure. Disney built infrastructure for 33 million guest days per year because they projected 11 million visitors, and other park data showed that visitors stayed for three days. Disney Paris did have 11 million visitors, but they stayed for just one day. The unvalidated number of days assumption was based on other parks with nearly 45 rides. Paris had only 15 rides.
  7. Discovery Driven Planning is an effective way to avoid career missteps and validate your most important assumptions. Systematically list the assumptions that must hold for you to succeed professionally and find job satisfaction in the role. Rank assumptions in order of importance and find inexpensive ways to quickly validate if they hold before you commit. One of Christenson's students, who wanted to contribute to developing countries, joined a VC firm that promised to invest 20% in emerging markets. But she worked solely on American investments for years until she quit in frustration. A simple discovery-driven approach to validate if the company had allocated capital to and had dedicated partners for developing markets could have avoided this career misstep.
  8. Your strategy for your career and personal life can be framed as a resource allocation problem. You have limited time, energy, wealth and talent to grow several ""businesses"" like work, relationship with your spouse, children and community. People ask for your time and energy every day. Unless you manage priorities mindfully, your time and energy will be consumed in firefighting the most urgent priorities.
  9. Your actual strategy is not what you think it is. Your strategy is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, money and attention. To make sure if you are headed in the direction you want, watch where your resources flow. If they don't support your strategy, it means you are not implementing your strategy at all. Professor Amar Bhide's work shows that 93 percent of all successful companies had to abandon their original strategy and pivot. When the right strategy is not evident in the initial stages of a new business, investors must be impatient for profit and patient with growth. Once iteration reveals a viable strategy, investors must then be impatient for growth and patient for profit.
  10. Businesses that fail to understand that the best time to invest in future growth engines is when their core business grows find themselves without a new revenue source when their core business slows down. A new business takes years of patient nurturing. Similarly, high potential professionals mistakenly believe that they invest in their careers first and spend time with family in later years. But the only way to have those relationships bear fruit later is to invest long before you need them. Steve always wanted to build his own business. He worked long hours every day, but family and friends were initially supportive. But soon, Steve's meager investments of time in his family ultimately took its toll. His marriage fell apart just as his business picked up, and when he needed the support of friends and siblings, he found himself alone. They no longer felt close to him.
  11. Your availability during your child's format years matters. Researchers Todd Risley and Betty Hart found a strong correlation between the number of words children heard in the first 30 months and their later performance on grammar and comprehension tests. Children whose parents speak to them regularly have an incalculable cognitive advantage. They enter school with solid language and cognitive abilities, advantages that continue throughout education.
  12. The Jobs to be Done framework helps companies identify what features customers truly want from their product. Job to be Done is the task a customer wants to accomplish. The customer ""hires"" a product only when it can do that job. A product that does not accomplish that will not be purchased irrespective of many other attractive features. Use the Jobs To Be Done framework to understand what's most important for your partner. Just like companies try to understand what jobs they perform for a customer, figure out what Jobs to be Done your partner wants you to fulfill in their life. The jobs your partner wants to get done through you are often very different from the jobs you think they want from you.
  13. Organizational capabilities, which determine what a company can or cannot do, fall into three buckets: resources, processes and priorities. Resources are people, equipment, product designs, brands, cash and relationships with suppliers, distributors and customers. Processes are the ways in which employees interact, coordinate, communicate and make decisions to transform resources into valuable products. Priorities define how a company makes decisions.
  14. Use the Capabilities framework to plan what resources, processes and priorities your children must develop to face future challenges. A child's resources include time, energy, knowledge, talents and relationships. Processes include the way he thinks, questions collaborates with others and solves problems. Priorities will determine how the child makes choices. Resources are what he uses to do it, processes are how he does it, and priorities are why he does it.
  15. Priorities are the single most important capability we can give our children as it impacts what children put first in their lives. When parents outsource their role to classes of different kinds where they are not involved, they lose valuable opportunities to help nurture them into the kind of adults you respect. Children will learn priorities and values from other adults whom the parents do not know or respect.
  16. The way companies hire candidates is broken. When Christensen surveyed over 1000 senior leaders on recruitment choices, 25% of hires were mistakes. Professor Morgan McCall offers a radically different approach. People succeed in specific roles not because they have credentials but because they have gone through the required courses in the school of experience to develop the right processes.
  17. Nolan Archibald took a process-based unconventional path to become the youngest ever CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Instead of highly prestigious roles, Archibald deliberately chose jobs that would give him the required courses in the school of experience to become a successful CEO. After business school, he turned down consulting offers to operate an Asbestos Mine in Northern Quebec as he wanted to learn how to lead a team under challenging conditions. At the age of 42, he became the CEO of Black and Decker and stayed in that position for 24 years.
  18. Identify what courses of experience your children will have to undergo to develop processes necessary to succeed and engineer opportunities to develop those capabilities. Children learn processes when there are challenged to solve novel complex problems by themselves. Encourage them to stretch for out-of-reach goals and help them pick themselves up and try again when they fail. Culture is the unique combination of priorities and processes within an organization. Culture in any organization is formed through repetition. Every time employees tackle a problem, they also learn what the organization's true priorities are and the processes to execute them.
  19. Build a robust family culture to shape your child's priorities and ensure they make the right choices in life. Actively choose which priorities matter to your family and engineer the culture that supports these values. Design and repeat activities that reinforce family priorities. Repeated activities lead to a clear sense of what the family prioritizes, how they do things and what really matters. Constant vigilance is required to shape a healthy family culture. For every action a family member takes, imagine it will happen all the time and ask if it is consistent with your collective priorities. A few repetitions left unchecked quickly become the de-facto family culture which is difficult to change. Remember, culture emerges from repeated behavior.
  20. A company's purpose has three critical parts - likeness, commitment and metrics. A likeness is what leaders want an enterprise to become. Executives and employees must have a deep commitment, almost a conversion, to the likeness to avoid compromises when difficult situations arise. Finally, metrics allow executives to measure progress, calibrate work and move in a coherent direction. Take time out to think and define your purpose through the likeness, commitment and metrics framework. In the long run, its benefits will outstrip any domain knowledge or expertise you may build because you will apply it multiple times every day for the rest of your life. Use the likeness, commitment and metric framework to define your purpose and live it every day.

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Christensen offers concrete theories from the world of management that can help you find direction and purpose in your professional and personal life. They have been successfully used both in organizations and in the personal lives of many of Christensen's students. Career fulfillment comes not from salary and status but from True Motivators like challenging work, personal growth and responsibility. A five-year plan only makes sense if you have a career with True Motivators. Otherwise, adopt an Emergent Strategy of quick experiments and pivots. For a healthy relationship, identify your partner's core ""Job to be Done"" from you and do it well consistently. To ensure that your child makes good life decisions, create a family culture that prioritizes core values and reinforces them through shared activities.


Find your True Motivators

Frederick Herzberg's Two Factor theory says that incentives are not the same as motivation. Hygiene factors include status, compensation, job security and work conditions. While poor hygiene factors cause dissatisfaction, an abundance of them does not result in employee satisfaction. Motivators are factors like personal growth, challenging work, responsibility and recognition that cause employees to honestly care about their work.

Many professionals make the mistake of choosing careers based solely on hygiene factors like salary and position. But over time, professionals find themselves uninspired by their work. But as lifestyles have soared with rising incomes, they find it difficult to cut down and move into more fulfilling careers.

It's essential to address the hygiene factors in your career, but they won't make you love your job. Look for meaningful opportunities that allow you to learn new things, succeed, and shoulder more responsibility. Further, when you love what you do, you will put in your best effort every day, and that will make you good at what you do, which means you will get paid well. Interestingly, motivators are stable across professions and over time.

Balance structure and serendipity

Professor Henry Minzberg's work shows that strategy emerges from two different sources. When organizations make plans based on anticipated opportunities, they are pursuing a Deliberate Strategy. But often, an Emergent Strategy emerges from myriad day-to-day decisions to pursue unanticipated opportunities or resolve unexpected challenges. If the company makes a clear decision to pursue the Emergent Strategy, it becomes the new Deliberate Strategy.

In your career, you are constantly navigating a path between deliberate strategy and unanticipated alternatives. Many young professionals believe that they must have a deliberate strategy approach and plan their career trajectories for the next five years. But this makes sense only if you have found a career trajectory that provides motivators and hygiene factors. But if you haven't found a way to maximize your motivators and satisfy the hygiene factors, adopt an Emergent Strategy through constant experimentation and modifications until you find the right trajectory.

Discovery driven planning for careers

Companies invest massive amounts of capital based on initial projections but often don't test whether the initial projections are accurate. Only when the investments are made and the rubber hits the road does the organization realize which assumptions are valid and which ones are mistaken. To avoid this situation, Ian MacMillan and Rita McGrath propose a Discovery Driven Planning approach. Project teams compile a list of assumptions and rank them in order of highest importance and least certainty. Then the team is asked to find cheap ways to quickly validate critical assumptions.

Like investments, it is often too easy to go too far down a career path before you realize that the choice isn't working out for you. The Discovery Driven Planning approach is a great way to evaluate job opportunities. Ask what assumptions have to hold true for you to succeed and be happy in this role, sort them by importance and uncertainty. Find inexpensive ways to test if they are valid through research about the company, conversations with employees and mentors or even short assignments.

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Family and relationships

Track your resource allocation

Resource allocation determines which deliberate and emergent initiatives get funded and implemented and which are denied resources. Many companies' decision-making systems are designed to steer resources to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns. Unfortunately, this shortchanges critical investments in long-term strategies.

Our limited resources like time, energy and wealth are used to grow several ""businesses"" in our personal lives, including your relationship with your partner, raising children, building careers and contributing to the community. People ask for your time and energy every day. Unless you manage your resources mindfully, your allocation will happen by default and accident. High achievers tend to prioritize activities that yield the most immediate and tangible accomplishments. Many who say that family is essential actually allocate fewer and fewer resources to them. This may initially be tactical, but as it continues, people implement a strategy vastly different from what they intended. Make sure that you are implementing the strategy you care about by tracking the flow of your resources like time, energy and money.

Invest in your relationships early

Professor Amar Bhide's work shows that 93% of all successful companies had to abandon their original strategy. Therefore, when the winning strategy is unclear, investors need to be patient with growth and impatient for profit. The reverse inevitably results in failure and losses.

The best time to build an alternative growth engine is when the core business is growing. Unfortunately, large companies allocate almost all capital and executive resources to the growing business. When the core business begins to slow, there is no new growth engine ready. It rapidly invests in new ventures and expects them to become huge very fast. Inevitably, as the theory predicts, this ends in a disaster. If a company has ignored investing in new businesses until the time it needs new sources of revenue and profits, it's already too late. It takes years of patient nurturing for a new venture to become a growth engine.

It's easy to revert to a similar bad investment approach in our lives. Many working professionals thrive on the intensity of a demanding job with challenging projects. While family and friends are initially supportive, starving them of resources like attention and energy will soon begin to take its toll. When you need family or friends, they may not be available because you did not invest in these relationships earlier.

When you are getting your career off the ground, you may be tempted to assume you can defer investments in personal relationships. Research by Todd Risley and Betty Hart shows that the number of words parents speak to the child in the first two-and-a-half years has a massive impact on their reading and comprehension skills much later in school. Children of ""talkative"" parents heard about 48 million words in the first 30 months compared to disadvantaged children who heard only 13 million. Children who have been exposed to early talk have an incalculable cognitive advantage and continue to do well throughout school.

Identify your job to be done

Customers ""hire"" products because they have jobs to be done. When companies understand the jobs that their customers are attempting to get done and develop products and supportive experiences required, customers will instinctively seek the same product every time the same job occurs in their lives.

There are enormous benefits when you take the time to understand what job you are hired to get done in your relationships. The job you think your partner expects you to do can be fundamentally different from what you think they expect you to do. It's easy to mean well and get it wrong. Couples who are loyal to each other have figured out the jobs their partner needs to get done and do it reliably well.


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Never outsource core capabilities

There are three components to an organization's capabilities -resources, processes and priorities. Resources include people, cash, equipment, technology, brand and relationships with customers or suppliers. Processes are the ways in which employees work together, interact, communicate and make decisions. Finally, priorities define how a company makes decisions, what it will and will not do. Capabilities are dynamic and built over time.

Companies that end up outsourcing critical capabilities end up outsourcing their future. The American semiconductor industry is a classic example. What began as outsourcing components because they were cheaper to manufacture has ended in outsourcing out of necessity because American companies just don't have the manufacturing capabilities anymore. Critical processes must be kept in-house.

The Capabilities framework is an excellent way to identify what capacities your children need to succeed in the future and find ways to develop them. A child's resources include time, energy, what they know, relationships and talents. Processes are what a child does with the resources they have to accomplish new things. Processes include the way they think, how they question, problem-solving, collaborating with others etc. Finally, a child's priorities will determine how they make decisions in their life. Resources are what a child uses to do things, processes are how they do it, and priorities are why they do it.

A child's self-esteem emerges not from abundant resources but from achieving something when it was difficult to accomplish. Classes provide children with resources like knowledge and skills. However, because they are highly structured, they often don't adequately challenge them to do hard things by themselves and get the opportunity to develop processes that they need to succeed in the future. Self-esteem does not come from abundant resources, it comes from achieving something important when it's hard to do. For the first time in modern economic history, unemployment among young males is higher than almost any other group in America and most developed countries. An entire generation has possibly reached adulthood without any of the critical processes that translate into employment.

Further, when children spend most of their time in activities where their parents are not involved, they learn their values from other adults who are present. As parents outsource more and more of their roles, they lose precious opportunities to develop their child's values.

Plan courses in the school of experience

Recruiters search for candidates whose CVs show consistent success to identify the right fit for a position. However, Christensen's survey of over 1000 executives showed that 25% of hiring choices turned out to be mistakes. Professor Morgan McCall's School of Experience theory explains why. The candidates' skills do not come from stellar credentials but because they have undergone the necessary experiences to succeed in that role. Candidates succeeded when they had previous opportunities to develop the processes necessary for that role. McCall's work prioritizes a candidate's processes over their credentials.

The same principles apply to raising children. We might be tempted to judge parenting success by a stellar resume of accomplishments, but what courses of experience children have gone through matters far more in the long run. Parents can consciously think of what experiences children must undergo to develop critical processes and engineer situations. Putting a child through challenging situations also means that they may fail occasionally. Parents must be comfortable with watching them fail and try again. If children don't get the opportunity to face complex challenges and sometimes fail along the way, they will not get the chance to develop the resilience and processes necessary to succeed in life.

Consciously design your family culture

Culture is the only way to ensure that employees in an organization make decisions consistent with organizational priorities without constant management oversight. Such culture is formed through repetition. Every Time employees solve a problem, they are also learning how that problem should be addressed and the key organizational priorities that make them decide a particular course of action. If a company doesn't explicitly articulate a culture, a culture will still evolve based on ad hoc priorities and decisions. Therefore many companies repeatedly articulate their organizational values and processes and consistently enforce them across all critical decisions.

Every family must choose a set of priorities and values that are important to them and engineer a culture that reinforces those elements. Family culture is formed by doing things together, over and over again, which leads to an implicit understanding of what matters to the family and how they solve problems. Enforcement is a necessary part of the culture. While it might be tempting to let an omission, every excuse shows the child that this is how the world actually works. For every action a family member takes, imagine it will happen all the time and then act appropriately. Culture, after all, is formed by repeated actions, and every action communicates what is permitted and what is a value.

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Personal priorities

100% of the time

When new entrants develop disruptive technology, the incumbent company thinks that the total upfront cost of matching the new technology is too high. It instead opts for the marginal cost of slightly improving its outdated technology to gain the same outputs. However, as companies continue with existing technology, they pay more than the total costs as they lose competitiveness and face disruption.

Similarly, the marginal cost of violating a principle just once is alluringly low. But multiple small decisions compound into much more significant consequences, eventually ending at a destination you never imagined for yourself. The lure of taking a performance-enhancing drug just this once or insider-trading just this once has led to the ruin of many careers. Nick Leeson, the 26-year-old banker who brought down the 233-year-old British bank Barrings in 1995, began with a small error which he hid in a relatively unscrutinized trading account. To make up for the losses, he made further risky bets which failed. The trap of marginal thinking about just this once exceptions ultimately led him to forge documents and make false statements. The story ended with $1.3 billion in trading losses and Leeson's arrest. Leeson did not imagine that his small initial mistake would lead him down a path that cost him his freedom, marriage and career at 26.

Define and measure your life

The company's purpose, as determined by its priorities, shapes the rules by which executives make decisions in every situation. The company's purpose focuses the employee attention on what really matters. A company's purpose is a combination of likeness, commitment and metrics. Likeness is what the company aims to be at the end of the road. Executives must have a deep, almost fanatical commitment to the organization's likeness to make decisions consistent with it even under challenging circumstances. Finally, metrics aligned with the likeness enable managers to measure their progress consistent with organizational purpose.

The purpose of your life is too important to leave to chance. The likeness, commitment and metrics framework is a great tool to define your purpose. First, begin with the likeness and sketch out the kind of person you want to be. Second, you must devote your life to becoming that kind of person. This comes naturally if you intensely care about the likeness and have a deep desire to become that person. Finally, think about the metrics to measure your life.

The process of finding and articulating your purpose in life is not an easy one. It takes time, repeated iterations and sustained effort. But it is worth spending that time as your purpose is likely the single most valuable piece of knowledge in your life. In the long run, clarity about your purpose will trump any domain knowledge or skills, as it is likely to be applied multiple times every day for the rest of your life. The right time to begin is now.

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