Clarity of purpose trumps knowledge: Clayton Christensen

christensenDisclosure: I had never heard of this man, Clayton Christensen, until my daughter noted his obituary and said that he had had a big influence on her life.

When I read this excerpt of his words in the Weekend Reader* — the fact that Christensen  is so devoted to God’s purpose for him, and that he has managed to impart this to the secular business community, ‘blew my mind.”

For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it  … Clarity about (a business person’s)  purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces…

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most…

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works. 

I also really liked this principle, one that I learned from Rev. Paul Couch when he pastored Redeember Moravian Church:

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. 

Rev. Couch said over and over again — if you slip once, it will be easier to do it again.

My daughter, Susannah Fox, posted about listening to Christensen in 2014. 

Then, his remarks targeted health care.  Her comment: “Great thinkers can … take you on “a helicopter ride and point out new patterns in a familiar landscape.”

Perhaps that is because he was, by definition, humble. (May I point out that great spiritual leaders, from Paul Couch to Fred Rogers are, by definition, humble?

Said Christensen:

 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.

My interpretation of how teach humble is to offer good preschool care. Self esteem matters.

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. When we see people acting in an abusive, arrogant, or demeaning manner toward others, their behavior almost always is a symptom of their lack of self-esteem. They need to put someone else down to feel good about themselves. 

Here’s the takehome, for both business leaders and the rest of us.

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.   

 *Note: Maxwell Anderson, who blogs as The Weekend Reader, is a Princeton seminary graduate and can be counted on to take a God-centered view of every issue. If curious, subscribe here.  I borrowed the image from his blog post.

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