Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M Christensen, Allworth and Karen Dillon

HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? - finding fulfilment using lessons from some of the world's greatest businesses (2012) by CLAYTON M CHRISTENSEN, JAMES ALLWORTH & KAREN DILLON, HarperCollinsPublishers UK, p 221

We have an inherent instinct and desire to live longer, healthier and wealthier.  During the course of performing our duties we try to achieve our set goals and in cases where goals are not set, take up things and activities into our stride and perform our best in the interest of the stakeholders.  This is an ideal thinking and many a times we ignore this ideal expectation and pursue something which is not so desirable of us. This is what makes our life miserable and we regret later but at that time it is already too late.  Clayton M Christensen, along with James Allworth and Karen Dillon brings out this book entitled How Will You Measure Your Life to get us focused and to let us introspect whether we are on the right path. 

A personal experience sharing style of presenting this book through the real life examples of business organisations make this book engrossing, interesting and convincing. It is sheer a coincidence that I picked up this book just after reading Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma, who is a regular columnist with Wall Street Journal without really having any clue as to Clayton while in his early 20s wanted to become the editor of WSJ.  Though Clayton could not become the editor of WSJ, he chose his career otherwise.

The book is written in a very simple, easy to understand, and common self-help book style though it refers to some of the most cited researches like Michael Jensen's Agency/Incentive Theory, Herzberg's Hygiene theory, McCall's Right Stuff, Todd Risley & Pretty Hart’s contribution on Talking amongst Parents and children, etc.

The book is divided in three sections as Finding Happiness in Your Career, Finding Happiness in You, and Staying Out of Jail.  These three sections are basically titled out of his personal oath to the students while they leave the college.  Each section has chapters on different related fields.  Management theories have been explained briefly in a layman’s style and their application in organisations and then in personal lives are elaborated so convincingly that one starts thinking of those theories as the ones primarily meant for individuals and not organisations.  His personal recount of the events in his personal life makes the book more authentic and authoritative.  Clayton has been advisor and consultant for many firms and government agencies and he is primarily known for the concept of 'disruptive innovation'.  He has been quite successful in documenting his interactions with CEO's and others and through that reaching out to lot of life lessons.  The examples of Andy Grove of Intel, Steve Jobs of Apple, Sam Walton of Walmart, Nolan Archibald of Black & Decker, are well placed.  His experiences with the students and their queries further establishes the link between theory and practice and reiterates his conviction on seeing through his students fulfilling their life goals.  Though the book is authored by three of them, but as the first author, Clayton writes the book and narrates many incidents in the first person. Hence I too took this liberty of mentioning ‘him’ and not ‘they’.

The strategies adopted by Honda while making an entry into American market (big bike segment) to compete with HarleyDavidson through Triumph and then shifting to introduce SuperCub (small bike) is elaborated through the landscape of emergent and deliberate strategy which is often applicable and used in personal lives.  That’s where his philosophy of giving more importance to JOURNEY than DESTINATION becomes relevant and important.  In fact, I have always been sharing this with my students and friends.  Personally I too strongly feel that it is the journey which is more important than the destination.  At times during the course of walking on a path we tend to change or shift our destination and that keep happening all through life.  It is true for organizations as well.  I wish there is some hard core research in this direction to further validate this thinking.

The organizational examples of Walmart's location selection, Disney's failure in Paris (because of wrong assumptions and calculations), Sonosite's introduction of ultrasound machine (its excellent features, usability, marketing, selling and wrong provision of incentives), Motorola's sponsoring Iridium Satellite Network for inventing mobile phones, Sweden's IKEA furniture store and its unique approach, Dell’s outsourcing to ASUS (price of overdependence), ENRON’s debacle, Marginal Thinking at Netflix as against Blockbuster, are some of the real organizational stories which could be helpful in problem solving in personal lives as well. 

The emphasis on Resources, Processes and Priorities is well explained in the book and their interrelationship as practiced in the organizations is illustrated through examples.  The authors have quite successfully linked their applicability in the personal lives as to learning, knowledge, actions, choices, decision making etc.  I really liked him quoting an old saying 'find a job that you love and you will never work a day in your life'. So philosophical yet so practical.  The book emphasises on leading a good family life through inculcating good values in children so that they learn to respect work and develop a sense of compassion for others.  It also helps in building strong culture in the family which helps one to make choices and take decisions at work places.    

Just This Once is something which really got my attention as many times we get carried away with compromising on some of our personal principles just for some minor gains or under environmental pressures.  As mentioned, it really becomes the beginning point for a series of compromises.  Clayton warns the readers and tells that 100% of the time is easier than 98% of the time as he mentions one of his own example of getting pressure on playing on Sunday, the day he keeps aside for Sunday service (committed to God). Ultimately he takes a decision otherwise and does not compromise on taking just this once as told to him by his fellow players. Towards the end of the book in the epilogue, the authors discuss the importance of Purpose and its three important components – the person I want to become (likeness), becoming committed, and finding the right metric. The examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Dalai Lama are well cited here. I wished that the book had a reference section at the end and some suggested readings with it which could have guided the reader further.

As the hypothesis on the primacy of life satisfaction over job satisfaction and the other way is getting tested and retested, questioned and re-questioned, there seems to be no two opinions about one simple thinking and practice that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are interrelated.  At this time this book certainly makes a mark, though it does not directly talk of positive psychology, subjective well being, hedonic treadmill, etc, however the book leaves a strong imprint in the practical literature relating life satisfaction with job satisfaction.  Clayton successfully sails through the journey from disruptive innovation, to the innovator's dilemma, to prescribing how to measure life, especially when he cannot cogently verbalise his concerns and contributions due to his health.  I wish him great health ahead and expect another bestseller from him or/and his team on the modern ways of measuring life.  Isn't it important?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Russell: Authority and the Individual

Russell: Authority and the Individual, Special Indian Edition (Reprint), published by Routledge 2010, First Published in 1949
(c) 2010, The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation Ltd.
(c) 1995, Introduction by Kirk Willis

This collection of six lectures are popularly known as Reith Lectures (which were delivered in the autumn and early winter of 1949, to honor John Reith, the founding Director of BBC who was Proud, Imperious, and vindictive autocratic administrator and formidable personality who succeeded brilliantly both in bruising the sensibilities of subordinates and overseers alike and in creating one of Britain's most admired and durable institutions) were delivered by Bertrand Russell. Authority (which is a reflection of state power) and the Individual (which reflects human freedom) as a book includes the lectures on Social Cohesion and Human Nature, Social Cohesion and Government, The Role of Individuality, The Conflict of Technique and Human Nature, Control and Initiative - their Respective Spheres and Individual and Social Ethics.

The first essay (lecture) on social cohesion and human nature deliberates on different aspects of commonalities in the beings (animals and human) as well their distinctions. Russell gives a very good example of Bees and Ants who have cooperation and unity of a group as important instincts though they are 'never tempted to anti-social actions and never deviate from devotion to the nest or the hive'.  However they do not dream like the human beings.  It is the social group called Family which necessitates the division of labor as the men hunted while the women stayed at home.

The transition from the early human beings to the social beings is very nicely elaborated and defended with reasons, conditions and considerations.  Many a times we tend to live in the past with its expressible glory, however each one of us live to earn that glory with which we would associate ourselves later in life.  That keeps driving us to perform our better and to make greater achievements.  Russell warns towards the end of the essay of the destructive philosophies that might prevent us from performing our best - 'If this is to be prevented, the savage in each one of us must find some outlet not incompatible with civilised life and the happiness of this equally savage neighbour.'

Second lecture entitled Social Cohesion and Government discusses the responsibility and role of government in order to build cohesion in societies.  It also establishes the fact that the relationship between societies and the government has to be nurtured for better policy to rule.  Different kinds of governments ruling in different parts of the world from Old Stone Age to the modern ones are exemplified in order to strengthen the argument as to authority, obedience, enforcement, liberty, freedom, religion, etc.  Russell mentions - Governments, from the earliest times at which it existed, has had two functions, one negative and one positive.  Its negative function has been to prevent private violence, to protect life and property, to enact criminal law and secure its enforcements and positive functions of government at most times have been mainly confined to war: if an enemy could be conquered and his territory acquired, everybody in the victorious nation profited in a greater or less degree. He further states that the ambit of positive functions is broadened now as the governments have to provide education (consisting not only of the acquisition of scholastic attainments, but also of the instilling of certain loyalties and certain beliefs), and encouraging industrial enterprises. The examples of the government in USA, Britain, Egypt, Sweden, India, China are sketched very lucidly.
Third lecture entitled the role of individuality basically deals with the impluses and desires of individuals for good as well as for evil.  The differences between individual's behaviour as the change happen with their respective roles have been critically discussed.  The role of court poets, artists and their contribution towards the expansion of glory of their patrons is well placed.  We have been witnessing such glorifications all through ages and the present time is no exception.  This is what makes his lecture still very relevant and provides a questioning eye towards such self sponsored praises.   Religion, moral progress (innovation), rise of men of science, community feeling and their role in building the base for individual behaviour is just marvellous.  Russell puts it - The great men who stand out in history have been partly benefactors of mankind and partly quite the reverse.  Some, like the great religious and moral innovators, have done what lay in their power to make men less cruel towards each other, and less limited in their sympathies; some, like the men of science, have given us a knowledge and understanding of natural processes which, however it may be misused, must be regarded as in itself a splendid thing...I cannot think of anything that mankind has gained by the existence of Jenghis Khan.  I do not know what good came of Robespierre...I see no reason to be grateful to Lenin. But all these men, good and bad alike, had a quality which I should not wish to see disappear from the world. The lecture ends with a very hopeful note on the role of modern organizations and institutions in allowing/disallowing the individuals to play their constructive role. 

Then comes the fourth lecture on the conflict of technique and human nature. I like the very first sentence of this differs from other animals in many ways.  More for the word ‘others’ as we all consider human being as social animal.  The comparison of men with other animals is just excellent and voices his argument for the differences and conflicts as part of human nature.  The change in the degree of conflict for early man to the modern man is expressed brilliantly.  However one has to remember that as these lectures were given sometime in the early twentieth century, the term modern become very relative.  As a student of organizational behaviour and strategic management, I really liked this lecture the most.  This is why I shall like to elaborate on this lecture more.  Let us first read this stanza and then discuss the issues involved on the basis of the researches done in the last century (approx):
Consider a large factory, say one that makes motor cars.  The purpose of the organization is to make cars, but the purpose of the workers is to earn wages.  Subjectively, there is no common purpose.  The uniting purpose exists only in owners and managers, and may be completely absent in most of those who do the work.  Some may be proud of the excellence of the cars produced, but most, through their unions, are mainly concerned with wages and hours of work. (p 42)
When this lecture was delivered, around same time Ford was leading car company and Fordism was in currency so far as management practices are concerned which was also driven by the view as reflected by Russell (the purpose of the workers is to earn wages).  Primarily for survival it seems correct but beyond that it is not just that.  Elton Mayo's work (Howthorne Experiment) defends an argument that work is a group activity and workers are driven by many other factors as well.  Herzberg's Hygiene theory concludes on satisfiers and dissatisfiers and apart from Salary there are other factors which play an important role.  Further beyond management, Easterlin Paradox also defends that the role of money ends till the basic needs are fulfilled and beyond that there are other factors which become more important.  So the point is that at present can we continue with a framework of mindset that the workers are working for wages only.  I feel that would certainly be a folly.

This lecture questions the basic premise of all the problems of today's world.  He questions the very concept of money and monetization which has created a great divide.  The conflict between management (capital) and the worker (labor) and the role of the government to resolve such conflict though he warns - it would be unduly optimistic to expect that governments, even if democratic, will always do what is best in public interest.  His another warning - Men can be stimulated by hope or driven by fear, but the hope and the fear must be vivid and immediate if they are to be effective without producing weariness. His views on competition, democracy, role of government, austerity, power, politics, industrial revolution are worth reading and thinking which are highly contextual and lead to a thinking of well-being.  

In continuation, fifth lecture is entitled control and initiative: their respective spheres. The aim of government as he suggests should be security, justice and conservation apart from taking care of institutions which produce scientific research.  The spirit of the whole chapter lies in the fact that there cannot be fruitful initiative without government, but there can be government without initiative.  The role of government is well explained and the problems in the absence of government are illustrated as well.  The scope of initiatives and actions as inspired by the governments are subject to control so that the governance becomes better.  These ideal roles of states are to be subject to public scrutiny through appropriate institutions.  The issues related to the remuneration, industrial democracy and institutional control are well spelt in the lecture keeping in mind the differences between nations as material goods are more a matter of possession than goods that are mental. 

The last lecture in the book entitled individual and social ethics concentrates on two points – first to repeat briefly the conclusions reached in earlier lectures; and second, to relate social and political doctrines to the individual ethics by which a man should guide his personal life. Security and justice as mentioned as the function of the government in the earlier lecture, require centralized governmental control.  He suggests a supra body called world government.  This whole lecture provides guidelines for the functioning of state keeping in mind the individual initiatives and basic human ethics.  His suggestions as to governance of railways and control of scientific research are worth reading.  The religious texts like the Old Testament are quoted for maintaining human/social ethics.  As I said in Lecture III, prophets, mystics, poets, scientific discoverers, are men whose lives are dominated by a vision; they are essentially solitary men.  When their dominant impulse is strong, they feel that they cannot obey authority if it runs counter to what they profoundly believe to be good.  The assertions by such individuals and bodies in order to follow ethics while being loyal to their masters are great examples which as the part of state are still relevant.  Individuals play their roles according to their loyalties.  Men who boast of being what is called ’practical’ are for the most part exclusively preoccupied with means.  But there is only one-half of wisdom. In the present world it might sound very conservative but in the name of practicality and professionalism the spirit gets lost and the drive to create new knowledge, the understanding of love and friendship, the feeling of the smell of blooming flowers, the glory, etc etc, all fall flat.  Love of power still leads to vast tyrannies, or to mere obstruction when its grosser forms are impossible.  And fear – deep, scarcely conscious fear – is still the dominant motive in very many lives.   He guides towards the end of the lecture – self control has always been a watchword of the moralists, but in the past it has been a control without understanding. 

These lectures are still very relevant.  The language is excellent and the approach is very convincing.  The examples are contemporary. At times his personal bias towards individuals, states and institutions is reflected but he accepts that.  Overall reading these lectures has really benefitted me immensely to understand the basics of individual and group behavior in different social settings.  I wish I had personally attended these lectures.