Sunday 2013-06-09

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen

Christensen misleads with the title; Life Quantified Over a Metric Space is not the objective, rather he means "What precepts should you follow that are most likely to work as you expect?" My concerns along his line of reasoning are several:

First, reflecting on one's life and goals seems like correct behavior. In this much, he is off to an excellent start.

Second, his book seems intentionally mass-market, which leaves one wishing for a follow-on version subtitled "The Science and Practice", wherein Christensen walks around Harvard and collects questions and critiques from every department, providing citations as needed.

Third, Christensen believes in Family and raising children well; with this, he opens the philosophical Gates of Hell, as he has moved beyond what one should do to one's self, and into the realm of what one should do to others.

And last, he recommends a strange mix of humility and hubris. For each individual, Christensen espouses a slave meme: love your job, and follow the rules. Then he professes:

When I have my interview with God, our conversation will focus on the individuals whose self-esteem I was able to strengthen, whose faith I was able to reinforce, and whose discomfort I was able to assuage.
-- Chapter 10, Just This Once...
Were I to converse with some Supreme Being, I'd be much less sure that I would be able to control the conversation or predict its content given said Being's "mysterious ways" and significant power/intelligence advantage.

With respect to his lesser children, he thinks: I will have to chat with God, so I have to engrave this culture into you kids as best I can. This seems an echo of the monarchist divine right argument: God picked me, so I get to tell you what to do.

Since we're reading this in the 21st century, we know that Locke would ask something like "What about the kids rights? When do they ever become individuals? Do you always have the right to correct their behavior and punish them?"

Had Christensen foreseen Locke's critique, he might have improved his argument by creating some path to individual rights; whether it be by simply accumulating 18 years of experience, or by passing a series of tests, or whatnot.

And had this book been run around Harvard, someone hopefully would have pointed out that he has centuries of Philosophy and Political Economy to at least acknowledge, and perhaps to help improve the ideas behind this work.

[permalink] Was wondering if I should read this book. Did you already read Reid Hoffman's The Start-up of You, or Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness? Or Simon Sinek, Start with Why? I was always skeptical of feel good, self help books. The truth was, I never finished How to Win Friends and Influence People. - Ray

[permalink] Most "moderns" seem incapable of a literature review of the classics: Epicurus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Gracian, etc. So the new books end up (sometimes badly) rehashing the old. That said, every book is a chance to destroy the author's claims and also our own. So, I'll likely read the books listed above... ;) -- Patrick