Sunday, September 9, 2012

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Just finished reading Clay Christianson's wonderful book entitled How Will You Measure Your Life? and I have to heartily recommend it. The book is based on a lecture he gave at Harvard and you can two reviews of it here and here.

The book is about purposing steering your life in the direction you intend. There are many aspects of this and here are a few quotes from the book that resonated with me.

But there is much more to life than your career. The person you are at work and the amount of time you spend there will impact the person you are outside of work with your family and close friends. In my experience, high-achievers focus a great deal on becoming the person they want to be at work—and far too little on the person they want to be at home.
Few people set out to do this. The decisions that cause it to happen often seem tactical—just small decisions that they think won’t have any larger impact. But as they keep allocating resources in this way—and although they often won’t realize it—they’re implementing a strategy vastly different from what they intend. 
and there is some wonderful material about parents and the time and conversations they spend with their children:

In contrast, when parents engaged in face-to-face conversation with the child—speaking in fully adult, sophisticated language as if the child could be part of a chatty, grown-up conversation—the impact on cognitive development was enormous. These richer interactions they called “language dancing.” Language dancing is being chatty, thinking aloud, and commenting on what the child is doing and what the parent is doing or planning to do. “Do you want to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt today?” “Do you think it will rain today?” “Do you remember the time I put your bottle in the oven by mistake?” and so on. Language dancing involves talking to the child about “what if,” and “do you remember,” and “wouldn’t it be nice if”—questions that invite the child to think deeply about what is happening around him. And it has a profound effect long before a parent might actually expect a child to understand what is being asked. 
In short, when a parent engages in extra talk, many, many more of the synaptic pathways in the child’s brain are exercised and refined. Synapses are the junctions in the brain where a signal is transmitted from one nerve cell to another. In simple terms, the more pathways that are created between synapses in the brain, the more efficiently connections are formed. This makes the subsequent patterns of thought easier and faster. This matters. A child who has heard 48 million words in the first three years won’t just have 3.7 times as many well-lubricated connections in its brain as a child who has heard only 13 million words. The effect on brain cells is exponential. Each brain cell can be connected to hundreds of other cells by as many as ten thousand synapses. That means children who have been exposed to extra talk have an almost incalculable cognitive advantage. 
What’s more, Risley and Hart’s research suggests that “language dancing” is the key to this cognitive advantage—not income, ethnicity, or parents’ education. “In other words,” summarized Risley and Hart, “some working-poor people talked a lot to their kids and their kids did really well. Some affluent businesspeople talked very little to their kids and their kids did very poorly…. All the variation in outcomes was taken up by the amount of talking, in the family, to the babies before age three.” A child who enters school with a strong vocabulary and strong cognitive abilities is likely to do well in school early on and continues to do well in the longer term. 
There is too much to write about here. You can see some of the quotes I highlighted here. One of the final sections is titled "100 Percent of the Time Is Easier Than 98 Percent of the Time" where the book closes out on integrity. I recommend you take a look.

Clay Christensen is the author of the very well respected Innovator's Dilemma book.


  1. Reminds me of the value of reading aloud to our children too. So many skills/nurturing relationships happen with that. Sounds like a book I would like!

  2. Thanks for sharing this Mark. Didn't know his book came out. He wrote a piece about this in July 2010 HBR Magazine, which moved me greatly. Looks like he has expanded on this in this new book.