Theories that can steer you to good decisions
COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2016 - 10:00am

In your professional and personal encounters, you have probably met well-meaning individuals who offer guidance on how to live your life well, make your career choices better, or how to deal with yourself and make your family happier. Self-help tomes come in abundance and in a variety of topics. Some are appropriate, some are inapplicable, some are just a rehash of somebody else’s thoughts and still others are nothing you don’t already know.

In making life decisions, you can be led by events of the past — your relationship with other people and to yourself, or from writers and commentators who have studied, researched and elucidated on certain topics that you are interested in.  As such, you are confronted with the basic challenge of what information and counsel to accept, reject, or ignore as you embark upon the future.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, working together with two other Harvard academicians, James Allworth and Karen Dillon, authored the book How Will You Measure Your Life, which is anchored on the premise: “You’re not extraordinary. Life, while rewarding, is hard. So too must be how you grapple with it.”

Christensen splits the principle into accepting what you have, and appreciating and working with them. Purpose and process, he declares, are key factors. The book covers three imperatives: how to be successful and happy in your career, how to build a happy family, and how to live a life of integrity, broken down by the authors into eight questions:

What makes you tick? It’s impossible to have a meaningful conversation about happiness without understanding what makes you tick. When you find yourself stuck in an unhappy career — or an unhappy life — it is often the result of a basic misunderstanding of what really motivates you. The theory of motivation suggests you need to ask yourself a different set of questions than most people are used to asking: Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to develop?  Am I going to learn new things? Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? Am I going to be given responsibility? These are the things that will truly motivate you. Once you get this right, the more measurable aspects of your job will fade in importance.

What are you doing with your life? You have to balance the pursuit of applications and goals with taking advantage of unanticipated opportunities. Managing this part of the strategy process is often the difference between success and failure for companies, and it’s true for your career, too. Depending on your particular circumstances, you should be prepared to experiment with different opportunities, ready to pivot, and continue to adjust your strategy until you find what it is that gives you all the motivators. When you get it right, you will know. As difficult as it may seem, you’ve got to be honest about the process you take. Change can often be difficult, and it will probably seem easier to just stick with what you’re already doing. That thinking can be dangerous. You’re only kicking the can down the road, and you risk waking up one day, years later, looking into the mirror, asking yourself: “What am I doing with my life?”

What type of person do you aspire to be? Real strategy in life is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your resources. As you’re living your life from day to day, how do you make sure you’re heading in the right direction? Watch where your resources flow, and if they’re not supporting the strategy you’ve decided upon, you’re not implementing that strategy at all. You might think you’re a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time and money to a cause or an organization that you care about? If your family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you’ve made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top? Because if the decisions you make about where you invest your blood, sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.

What sacrifices are you willing to make for your family? It’s natural to want the people you love, like your spouse or children, to be happy. What can often be difficult is how to understand what your role is in that. Thinking about your relationships from the perspective of the job to be done is the best way to understand what’s important to the people who mean the most to you. It allows you to develop true empathy. But more than understanding the job that needs to be done, you need to actually do the job. You’ll have to devote your time and energy to the effort, be willing to suppress your own priorities and desires, and focus on doing what is required to make the other person happy. Nor should you be timid in giving your family the same opportunities to give of themselves to others. In sacrificing for something worthwhile, you deeply strengthen your commitment to it.

What right experiences will you give your children? If you’re a parent, you will for sure agree that the challenges your children face serve an important purpose: they will help them hone and develop the capabilities necessary to succeed throughout their lives.  Coping with a difficult teacher, getting bullied by schoolmates, failing at a sport, learning to navigate the complex social structure of cliques in school all become “courses” in the school of experience. People who fail in their jobs often do so not because they are inherently incapable of succeeding, but because their experiences have not prepared them for the challenges of that job. In other words, they’ve taken the wrong “courses.” The natural tendency of many parents is to focus entirely on building their child’s résumé: good grades, sports successes, and so on. It would be a mistake, however, to neglect the courses your children need to equip them for the future. Once you have that figured out, work backward: find the right experiences to help them build the skills they’ll need to succeed. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give them.

What is your family culture like? All parents aspire to raise the kind of children that they know will make the right choices — even when they themselves are not there to supervise. One of the most effective ways to do that is to build the right family culture. It becomes the informal but powerful set of guidelines about how your family behaves. It’s not just about controlling bad behavior, it’s about celebrating the good and what the family values are: creativity, hard work, entrepreneurship, generosity, spirituality or humility. It’s what kids know they have to do to earn a “well done” evaluation from their parents. Although it’s difficult for you as a parent to always be consistent and remember to give your children positive feedback when they do something right, it’s in these everyday interactions that your culture is being set. And once that happens, it’s almost impossible to change.

Why is it easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than to hold to them 98 percent of the time? The boundary — your personal moral line — is powerful because you don’t cross it; if you have justified crossing it once, there’s nothing to stop you from doing it again. In your mind, you can justify these small choices. However, none of those things, when they first happen, feel like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can add up into a much bigger picture that can turn you into the kind of person you never wanted to be. Life is just one unending stream of mitigating circumstances. Again, if you end up doing it one time, the likelihood is great that you will do it over and over and over in the months or years to come.

What do you stand for? Decide what it really is. And then stand for it all the time. Fast-paced careers, family responsibilities, and the tangible rewards of success tend to swallow up time and perspective. In the long run, clarity about purpose will trump knowledge about activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps of marketing, the six Cs of communication, and other key business theories that are being taught in business schools. If you take the time to figure out your life’s purpose, you will look back on it as the most important thing you’ll have ever learned.

Many products fail, and many people fail, too, because companies, as well as people, are developed from the wrong perspective. Companies go into them thinking about what they want rather than what is important to their consumers, or parents handle their children using their own precepts without consideration of what their offspring really needs.  The theories of Christensen and company are powerful tools that can guide you as you navigate the currents of business and life and steer you to good decisions.

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Email bongosorio@yahoo.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

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