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.