I want my students to leave my classroom knowing this.

Read this article on Harvard Business Review entitled ‘How Will You Measure Your Life? by Professor Clayton Christensen. There are so many subtle nuggets of wisdom and truth (increasingly hard to find in articles these days), that I would recommend you read the whole article here. But I’ve snipped out the portions which resonated with me and which I feel compelled to share. Here goes:

Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy. I have a bunch of “businesses” that compete for these resources: I’m trying to have a rewarding relationship with my wife, raise great kids, contribute to my community, succeed in my career, contribute to my church, and so on. And I have exactly the same problem that a corporation does. I have a limited amount of time and energy and talent. How much do I devote to each of these pursuits?

My thoughts: This struck a chord with me as I am teaching a class on basic Economics now, and one of the first things we learn is the idea of scarce resources and how to optimally allocate them to meet our unlimited wants. Yet, so much of this theory is based on material, consumable goods. And yet what if our resources are really our time, our energy, our happiness, our smiles? How do we ‘allocate’ them to ensure that they go to the things and people that matter the most?

We’re taught in finance and economics that in evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore sunk and fixed costs, and instead base decisions on the marginal costs and marginal revenues that each alternative entails. We learn in our course that this doctrine biases companies to leverage what they have put in place to succeed in the past, instead of guiding them to create the capabilities they’ll need in the future. If we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, that approach would be fine. But if the future’s different—and it almost always is—then it’s the wrong thing to do.

My thoughts: Another economic concept (one which I admit that I don’t like very much) – marginal costs.  Here, Prof Christensen speaks of how we need to avoid having the ‘marginal costs’ mentality in our decision-making in life. I though this is a very interesting way of looking at the idea of the ‘marginal’ vs. the ‘fixed’ and ‘sunken’ costs in the context of our everyday lives.

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

My thoughts: Ok, I must say that this is hard. Knowing how to draw the line in a safe place – when 98% sometimes seems ‘not bad already’ or ‘good enough’. I’m still learning how to do this.

It’s crucial to take a sense of humility into the world. By the time you make it to a top graduate school, almost all your learning has come from people who are smarter and more experienced than you: parents, teachers, bosses. But once you’ve finished at Harvard Business School or any other top academic institution, the vast majority of people you’ll interact with on a day-to-day basis may not be smarter than you. And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too.

My thoughts: This is an amazing yet simple truth that we don’t always put into practice. Was reminded of Sunday’s sermon when Pastor Kai said that Jesus only used two character words in the entire New Testament to describe Himself. And one of them is ‘humble’ (Matthew 11:29).

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.


~ by irwin on September 21, 2011.

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