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I was belatedly thumbing through my Money Magazine (Oct. 2012) last week, vaguely reading a series of not particularly illuminating articles about money, investing, retirement,etc., when I came across a short interview with Clayton Christensen, HBS professor and management guru (pp.97-100), that made me cry hallelujah.

Christensen is most famous for developing the idea of disruptive innovation, delineated in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma.  However, he has just put out a very personal book that applies his business theories to the finding of integrity and happiness in life.  It’s titled How Will You Measure Your Life?in which he specifically addresses what makes a business life worth living.

He says, “You want to be in a job where you’re motivated.  There’s a theory that was articulated by the late psychologist Frederick Herzberg.  He makes a strong point that there’s a big difference between motivation and incentives.  An incentive is, ‘I will pay you to want what I want.’  Motivation means that you’ve got an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful.”

Christensen speaks to the increasingly important field of “happinomics,” which posits that beyond a certain minimum salary, people don’t work for money.  They work for satisfaction, happiness, a free life, and other non-quantifiables.  Avatars of this new school of business psychology include Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Claremont Graduate University), Edward Deci (University of Rochester), and Andrew Oswald (University of Warwick-UK), as well as populizer Daniel Pink.

For example, Dr. Oswald states:

“The relevance of economic performance is that it may be a means to an end.  That end is not consumption of beef burgers, or the accumulation of of television sets, not the vanquishing of some high level of interest rates, but rather the enrichment of mankind’s feeling of well-being.  Economic things matter only in so far as they make people happier.”  (Happiness and Economic Performance-Economic Journal-1997)

Entrepreneurship is as much an act of vocational faith as it is one of calculation.  Christensen says most entrepreneurs are looking for personal growth and meaning almost as much as they are looking for financial success.  He is very positive about current entrepreneurial opportunities, saying,  “The great thing about society today is that we are awash in money and opportunity.  With good ideas, a lot more people can succeed than historically we might have thought….If you can’t grow [in your present circumstances], there are all kinds of ways to create new companies and new environments where you can….Most of us end up being successful in a career we never imagined.”

Finally, Christensen recounts turning his current life around by applying his business insights about meaning and happiness to his own recent experience, which, for him, has taken the form of service.

“I’ll give you an analogy from my own life.  Four years ago I had a heart attack.  Then I was discovered to have advanced cancer that put me into chemotherapy. About two years ago I had a stroke.  I had to learn how to speak again one word at a time.  The more I focused on the problems in my life, the more miserable I  was.  And then somehow I realized focusing on myself and my problems wasn’t making me happier.  I started to say,  ‘Every day of my life I need to find somebody else who I could help to become a better person and a happier person.’  Once I started to reorient my life, the happiness returned.”

On the other hand, as Ingrid Bergman put it, “Happiness is as simple as good health and a bad memory,”  Thank you, Ingrid.

10 Responses to “The Happy Entrepreneur”
  1. Cory Janssen says:

    Great article today Tim.


  2. Matthew Greene says:

    You mean, as in…”Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”?

    I’m all for it!

  3. Lewis Schiff says:


    I recently saw a comedy routine by Chris Rock who distinguishes between a “job” and a “career” and how, when he washed dishes at The Red Lobster, time moved very slowly and he’d come up with all these tricks to force himself not to look at the clock. Now tha the has a career, there’s never enough time for him to get all that he wants done. It was a great routine and really true.

  4. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Cory. Good to hear from you and thanks for reading and the affirmation.


  5. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Lewis,

    The Chris Rock routine sounds wonderful. I too washed dishes for two months once and I know just what he means. Is there a link?

  6. Tom Martin says:

    Great blog post! Thanks, Tim. I found the article/interview online, and posted a link on my Facebook page. (And I gave you thanks
    and credit for calling this to my attention.)


  7. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Tom,

    You are always so generous with sharing your enthusiasms. Knowing your substantial connection to thought leaders and reflective folks, I especially appreciate your repostings.


  8. Richard Hunter says:

    I was reading the news on line this morning and a statement by Harvey
    Mansfield at Harvard caught my attention. To paraphrase he said that
    most of those who are recipients of government welfare “entitlements”
    who voted for Obama did so, not as informed voters and how their vote
    might affect the future wellbeing and sustainability of our
    economy-immediate and long term, but as someone voting to continue to
    receive their immediate “free” benefits. What grabbed me was the term
    informed. And reminded me of what the radio commentator Neil Boortz
    has said often: “voting for the President is NOT a constitutional
    right, and the founders specifically left that right out to prevent
    democratic anarchy in the Administrative Branch by the uninformed and

    …Mansfield goes on calling entitlements “an attack on the common good.
    “Entitlements say that ‘I get mine no matter what the state of the
    country is when I get it.'” Mansfield goes on to lay out a strategy
    for getting rid of entitlements: “If Republicans can get entitlements
    to be understood no longer as irrevocable, but as open to negotiation
    and to political dispute and to reform, then I think they can
    accomplish something.”

    Then reading your blog this morning I was struck by several things.
    You wrote about working for that above minimum wage to meet immediate
    needs as working for satisfaction. Unfortunately, along with
    everything else in the common consciousness, we have bastardized the
    terms “poor” and “necessities” to be incomprehensible. In our recent
    past (meaning as understood in the United States) poor and necessities
    meant the incapability of a primary provider of finding employment so
    as to provide basic (four walls and a roof) and food (when even boiled
    corned beef and cabbage or collared greens with fatback and cornbread
    everyday was considered well fed). Today someone living in a
    government provided and paid for apartment or house and who has a flat
    screen TV, game consoles, cell phone, a car, and is provided enough
    subsistence to keep a family of six fed with vegetables, starches, and
    protein, but doesn’t have the money to buy the latest $150 basketball
    shoes is considered poor without the necessities of life and WE aren’t
    doing enough to HELP them.

  9. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Dear Richard,

    Interesting comments by Professor Mansfield. I certainly don’t think a life of dependency makes for happiness, no matter how well-off our poor are. Certainly your frustration with the ludicrousness of our overstretched entitlement and welfare system is warranted. I always enjoy your articulate passion.


  10. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Hey, Matt. Yeah. That “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness has a nice ring to it.


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