The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Teaching people how to think

Some articles get better every time I read them. Clay Christensen’s “How Will You Measure Your Life?” belongs to that category.

Christensen starts the article with an encounter with Andy Grove. As so many people do, Grove, interested in Christensen’s theories, asked him to share what these theories meant for Intel.

Maybe a bit by chance, maybe a bit by habit, Christensen decided that he couldn’t answer that question without sharing how his theories had applied to a different industry than Intel’s. Grove, being short on time on that day became impatient after listening for some 20 minutes and started answering his question himself. It became a strategy that Intel applied for years.

For Christensen, this experience developed into a strategy to help people learn how to think for themselves. He saw that answering their question directly would have been telling them what to think.

The examples and the theory Christensen described gave Grove enough information to connect it with his deep knowledge of his own industry. A throve of knowledge Christensen would not have been able to integrate had he answered Grove’s question.

But Christensen also knew that such deep knowledge doesn’t come on its own. His own experience had taught him that to uncover the purpose of his life, he had to invest time in uncovering it. And so, he did, I don’t know for how many years, but one hour after the other. He had committed himself to invest one hour daily to read, reflect, and pray until he had figured it out.

With his students, he thus used the approach to teach them his theories throughout the academic year. However, on the last day, he invited them to use the learning to answer three questions related to their personal lives. He knew that he was giving them a framework to design their lives as well as deepen their understanding of the learned theories.

The questions Christensen shared were: “First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?”

The last question might seem to have an easy answer. But Christensen had seen how some of his students and classmates ended up in jail. As he described it: “These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.” It helps see how the last question is a relevant one.


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