How Will You Measure Your Life
By Clayton M. Christensen, Robert and Jane Clark Professor of Business
Administration at Harvard Business School
When the members of the class of 2010 entered business school, the economy was strong and
their post-graduation ambitions could be limitless. Just a few weeks later, the economy went into a tailspin. They’ve spent
the past two years recalibrating their worldview and their definition of success.
The students seem highly aware of how the world has changed (as the sampling of views in this article shows). In the
spring, Harvard Business School’s graduating class asked HBS professor Clay Christensen to address them—but not on
how to apply his principles and thinking to their post-HBS careers. The students wanted to know how to apply them to
their personal lives. He shared with them a set of guidelines that have helped him find meaning in his own life. Though
Christensen’s thinking comes from his deep religious faith, we believe that these are strategies anyone can use. And so
we asked him to share them with the readers of HBR.
Before I published The Innovator’s Dilemma, I got a call from Andrew Grove, then the chairman of Intel. He had read one of my
early papers about disruptive technology, and he asked if I could talk to his direct reports and explain my research and what it
implied for Intel. Excited, I flew to Silicon Valley and showed up at the appointed time, only to have Grove say, “Look, stuff has
happened. We have only 10 minutes for you. Tell us what your model of disruption means for Intel.” I said that I couldn’t—that I
needed a full 30 minutes to explain the model, because only with it as context would any comments about Intel make sense. Ten
minutes into my explanation, Grove interrupted: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”
I insisted that I needed 10 more minutes to describe how the process of disruption had worked its way through a very different
industry, steel, so that he and his team could understand how disruption worked. I told the story of how Nucor and other steel
minimills had begun by attacking the lowest end of the market—steel reinforcing bars, or rebar—and later moved up toward the high
end, undercutting the traditional steel mills.
When I finished the minimill story, Grove said, “OK, I get it. What it means for Intel is.
..,” and then went on to articulate what would
become the company’s strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the Celeron processor.
I’ve thought about that a million times since. If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the
microprocessor business, I’d have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think—and then he
reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own.
That experience had a profound influence on me. When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question