Highlights: How Will You Measure Your Life?, by Clayton M. Christensen;Karen Dillon;James Allworth


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By doing this, the students learn that a robust theory is able to explain what has and what will occur across the hierarchy of business: in industries; in the corporations within those industries; in the business units within those corporations; and in the teams that are within the business units.

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mother of two daughters, is two decades into a career as an editor. She says her beliefs and career fall

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explained that disruption happens when a competitor enters a market with a low-priced product or service that most established industry players view as inferior. But the new competitor uses technology and its business model to continually improve its offering until it is good enough to satisfy what customers need. Ten minutes into my explanation, Andy interrupted impatiently: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”

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On the surface, competition in the computer chip market and the proliferation of global terrorism could not seem like more different problems to tackle. But they are fundamentally the same problem, just in different contexts. Good theory can help us categorize, explain, and, most important, predict.

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People often think that the best way to predict the future is by collecting as much data as possible before making a decision. But this is like driving a car looking only at the rearview mirror—because data is only available about the past. Indeed,

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But this doesn’t solve the fundamental challenge of what information and what advice you should accept, and which you should ignore as you embark into the future. Instead, using robust theory to predict what will happen has a much greater chance of success. The theories in this book are based on a deep understanding of human endeavor—what causes what to happen, and why. They’ve been rigorously examined and used in organizations all over the globe, and can help all of us with decisions that we make every day in our lives, too.

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The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

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sight of aspiring to do something that’s truly meaningful to them. But for many of us, as the years go by, we allow our dreams to be peeled away. We pick our jobs for the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. We begin to accept that it’s not realistic to do something we truly love for a living.

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There are a determined few who never lose sight of aspiring to do something that’s truly meaningful to them. But for many of us, as the years go by, we allow our dreams to be peeled away. We pick our jobs for the wrong reasons and then we settle for them. We begin to accept that it’s not realistic to do something we truly love for a living.

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The problem is that what we think matters most in our jobs often does not align with what will really make us happy. Even worse, we don’t notice that gap until it’s too late. To help you avoid this mistake, I want to discuss the best research we have on what truly motivates people.

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While some people will argue that you should always have the next five years of your life planned out, others have followed a strategy of just seeing what has come along and will tell you that it’s worked well for them. There’s a time and a place for both approaches. Drawing on our research, I will explain what the best circumstances are to be deliberate, to have that plan; and when it’s best to be emergent—to be open to the unexpected. The final element is execution. The only

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All of these factors—priorities, balancing plans with opportunities, and allocating your resources—combine to create your strategy. The process is continuous: even as your strategy begins to take shape, you’ll learn new things, and new problems and opportunities will always emerge. They’ll feed back in; the cycle is continuous.

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The paper, which has been one of the most widely cited of the past three decades, focused on a problem known as agency theory, or incentive theory: why don’t managers always behave in a way that is in the best interest of shareholders? The root cause, as Jensen and Meckling saw it, is that people work in accordance with how you pay them. The takeaway was that you have to align the interests of executives with the interests of shareholders. That way, if the stock goes up, executives are compensated better, and it makes both shareholders and executives happy. Although Jensen and Meckling didn’t specifically argue for huge pay packages, their thinking about what causes executives to focus on some things and not others is financial incentives. Indeed, the drive toward top performance has been widely used as an argument for skyrocketing compensation under the guise of “aligning incentives.”

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The problem with principal-agent, or incentives, theory is that there are powerful anomalies that it cannot explain. For example, some of the hardest-working people on the planet are employed in nonprofits and charitable organizations. Some work in the most difficult conditions imaginable—disaster recovery zones, countries gripped by famine and flood. They earn a fraction of what they would if they were in the private sector. Yet it’s rare to hear of managers of nonprofits complaining about getting their staff motivated.

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incentives, theory is that there are powerful anomalies that it cannot explain. For example, some of the hardest-working people on the planet are employed in nonprofits and charitable organizations. Some work in the most difficult conditions imaginable—disaster recovery zones, countries gripped by

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Well, there is a second school of thought—often called two-factor theory, or motivation theory—or motivation theory—that turns the incentive theory on its head. It acknowledges that you can pay people to want what you want—over and over again. But incentives are not the same as motivation. True motivation is getting people to do something because they want to do it. This type of motivation continues, in good times and in bad.

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Herzberg notes the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous spectrum—starting with very happy on one end and reaching all the way down to absolutely miserable on the other—is not actually the way the mind works. Instead, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are separate, independent measures. This means, for example, that it’s possible to love your job and hate it at the same time.

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This theory distinguishes between two different types of factors: hygiene factors and motivation factors. On one side of the equation, there are the elements of work that, if not done right, will cause us to be dissatisfied. These are called hygiene factors. Hygiene factors are things like status, compensation, job security, work conditions, company policies, and supervisory practices. It matters, for example, that you don’t have a manager who manipulates you for his own purposes—or who doesn’t hold you accountable for things over which you don’t have responsibility. Bad hygiene causes dissatisfaction. You have to address and fix bad hygiene to ensure that you are not dissatisfied in your work.

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Technologies, once counseled me, “Compensation is a death trap. The most you can hope for (as CEO) is to be able to post a list of every employee’s name and salary on the bulletin board, and hear every employee say, ‘I sure wish I were paid more, but darn it, this list is fair.’

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This is an important insight from Herzberg’s research: if you instantly improve the hygiene factors of your job, you’re not going to suddenly love it. At best, you just won’t hate it anymore. The opposite of job dissatisfaction isn’t job satisfaction, but rather an absence of job dissatisfaction. They’re not the same thing at all. It is important to address hygiene factors such as a safe and comfortable working environment, relationship with managers and colleagues, enough money to look after your family—if you don’t have these things, you’ll experience dissatisfaction with your work. But these alone won’t do anything to make you love your job—they will just stop you from hating it.

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So, what are the things that will truly, deeply satisfy us, the factors that will cause us to love our jobs? These are what Herzberg’s research calls motivators. Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth. Feelings that you are making a meaningful contribution to work arise from intrinsic conditions of the work itself. Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you, and inside of your work.

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It wasn’t too long, however, before some of them privately admitted that they had actually begun to resent the jobs they’d taken—for what they now realized were the wrong reasons. Worse still, they found themselves stuck. They’d managed to expand their lifestyle to fit the salaries they were bringing in, and it was really difficult to wind that back. They’d made choices early on because of the hygiene factors, not true motivators, and they couldn’t find their way out of that trap.

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Traders, for example, feel success and are motivated by being able to predict what is going to happen in the world and then making bets based on those predictions. Being right is almost directly correlated with making money; it is the confirmation that they are doing their jobs well, the measure they use to compete on. Similarly, salespeople feel success by being able to convince customers that the product or service they’re selling will help those customers in their lives. Again, money directly correlates with success—a sale. It’s an indicator for how well they’re doing their jobs.

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It is hard to overestimate the power of these motivators—the feelings of accomplishment and of learning, of being a key player on a team that is achieving something meaningful. I shudder to think that I almost bought a kit from which I could have quickly assembled the playhouse myself.

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I concluded, if you want to help other people, be a manager. If done well, management is among the most noble of professions. You are in a position where you have eight or ten hours every day from every person who works for you. You have the opportunity to frame each person’s work so that, at the end of every day, your employees will go home feeling like Diana felt on her good day: living a life filled with motivators.

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In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed, and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.

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Rarely is it so simple. You have to balance the pursuit of aspirations 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; it’s true for our careers, too.

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As Professor Henry Mintzberg taught, options for your strategy spring from two very different sources. The first source is anticipated opportunities—the opportunities that you can see and choose to pursue. In Honda’s case, it was the big-bike market in the United States. When you put in place a plan focused on these anticipated opportunities, you are pursuing a deliberate strategy. The second source of options is unanticipated—usually a cocktail of problems and opportunities that emerges while you are trying to implement the deliberate plan or strategy that you have decided upon. At Honda, what was unanticipated were the problems with the big bikes, the costs associated with fixing them, and the opportunity to sell the little Super Cub motorbikes.

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If you have found an outlet in your career that provides both the requisite hygiene factors and motivators, then a deliberate approach makes sense. Your aspirations should be clear, and you know from your present experience that they are worth striving for. Rather than worrying about adjusting to unexpected opportunities, your frame of mind should be focused on how best to achieve the goals you have deliberately set.

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But if you haven’t reached the point of finding a career that does this for you, then, like a new company finding its way, you need to be emergent. This is another way of saying that if you are in these circumstances, experiment in life. As you learn from each experience, adjust. Then iterate quickly. Keep going through this process until your strategy begins to click.

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Strategy almost always emerges from a combination of deliberate and unanticipated opportunities. What’s important is to get out there and try stuff until you learn where your talents, interests, and priorities begin to pay off. When you find out what really works for you, then it’s time to flip from an emergent strategy to a deliberate one.

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There’s a tool that can help you test whether your deliberate strategy or a new emergent one will be a fruitful approach. It forces you to articulate what assumptions need to be proved true in order for the strategy to succeed. The academics who created this process, Ian MacMillan and Rita McGrath, called it “discovery-driven planning,” but it might be easier to think about it as “What has to prove true for this to work?”

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Nobody wants to go back to management and say, “You know those assumptions we made? Turns out they weren’t so accurate after all …” Projects end up getting approved on the basis of incorrect guesses, as opposed to which project is actually most likely to work out. For example, Disney

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Some person way down in the organization made an unconscious assumption about Disneyland Paris being the same size as all the other parks. That assumption then got embedded in the numbers. The folks at the top didn’t even know to ask, “What are the most important assumptions that have to prove right for these projections to work—and how will we track them?” If they had, they might have realized very early in the planning that no one knew whether people would still stay at the park for three days if there were only fifteen rides. Instead, Disney had to scramble to recover from the terrible start.

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The logic of taking this approach is compelling—of

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Before you take a job, carefully list what things others are going to need to do or to deliver in order for you to successfully achieve what you hope to do. Ask yourself: “What are the assumptions that have to prove true in order for me to be able to succeed in this assignment?” List them. Are they within your control?

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If my student had listed out and found ways to test those assumptions, she would likely have recognized that though the firm might have intended to invest in emerging economies, it was quite unlikely that it would really do so. Similarly, it turned out I was just very lucky when making my own professional choices after my undergraduate studies. I never stopped to scrutinize my own assumptions. This would have been a great tool to help me think through what had to prove true for any opportunity in front of me—be it consulting, entrepreneurship, or academia—to be one that I could both be successful at and also enjoy.

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you’ll know that if you’ve yet to find something that really works in your career, expecting to have a clear vision of where your life will take you is just wasting time. Even worse, it may actually close your mind to unexpected opportunities.

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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 both satisfies the hygiene factors and gives you all the motivators. Only then does a deliberate strategy make sense. When you get it right, you’ll know.

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Often even more perplexing, however, is when these problems arise within the mind of the same person: when the right decision for the long term makes no sense for the short term; when the wrong customer to call on is actually the right customer to call on; and when the most important product to sell makes little sense to sell at all.

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The danger for high-achieving people is that they’ll unconsciously allocate their resources to activities that yield the most immediate, tangible accomplishments. This is often in their careers, as this domain of their life provides the most concrete evidence that they are moving forward. They ship a product, finish a design, help a patient, close a sale, teach a class, win a case, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. They leave college and find it easy to direct their precious energy into building a career.

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They prioritized things that gave them immediate returns—such as a promotion, a raise, or a bonus—rather than the things that require long-term work, the things that you won’t see a return on for decades, like raising good children. And when those immediate returns were delivered, they used them to finance a high-flying lifestyle for themselves and their families: better cars, better houses, and better vacations. The problem is, lifestyle demands can quickly lock in place the personal resource allocation process. “I can’t devote less time to my job because I won’t get that promotion—and I need that promotion

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You can talk all you want about having a clear purpose and strategy for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.

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It should be becoming clear that the answers to all three of our questions are deeply connected. Try as you might, it’s very hard to wall off different parts of your life. Your career priorities—the motivators that will make you happy at work—are simply one part of a broader set of priorities in your life, priorities that include your family, your friends, your faith, your health, and so on. Similarly, the way you balance your plans with unanticipated opportunities, and allocate your resources—your time and energy—does not stop when you walk out the door of your office. You’re making decisions about these every moment of your life. You will be constantly pressured, both at home and at work, to give people and projects your attention. How do you decide who gets what? Whoever makes the most noise? Whoever grabs you first? You have to make sure that you allocate your resources in a way that is consistent with your priorities. You have to make sure that your own measures of success are aligned with your most important concern. And you have to make sure that you’re thinking about all these in the right time frame—overcome the natural tendency to focus on the short term at the expense of the long term.

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But I know that spending my time this way is not consistent with my priorities. I’ve had to force myself to stay aligned with what matters most to me by setting hard stops, barriers, and boundaries in my life—such as leaving the office at six every day so that there is daylight time to play catch with my son, or to take my daughter to a ballet lesson—to keep myself true to what I most value.

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know I would be tempted to measure my success that day by having solved a problem rather than getting the time I love with my family. I have to be clear with myself that the long-term payoff of investing my resources in this sphere of my life will be far more profound. Work can bring you a sense of fulfillment—but it pales in comparison to the enduring happiness

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That would be an enormous mistake. By the time serious problems arise in those relationships, it often is too late to repair them. This means, almost paradoxically, that the time when it is most important to invest in building strong families and close friendships is when it appears, at the surface, as if it’s not necessary.

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viable. In other words, successful companies don’t succeed because they have the right strategy at the beginning; but rather, because they have money left over after the original strategy fails, so that they can pivot and try another approach. Most of those that fail, in contrast, spend all their money on their original strategy—which is usually wrong.

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profits is bad capital. But the reason why both types of capital appear in the name of the theory is that once a viable strategy has been found, investors need to change what they seek—they should become impatient for growth and patient for profit. Once a profitable and viable way forward has been discovered—success now depends on scaling out this model.

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the theory. The alternative to this approach is to focus on the opposite: invest to see a business grow big quickly and figure out how to be profitable down the line. This is what Motorola did with Iridium. History is littered with failed companies that tried to take this path; it’s almost always an ineffective shortcut to success.

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It can be all too easy to default to a bad money approach in our lives, too. Many of us thrive on the intensity of a demanding job—one that we believe in and enjoy. We like proving what we can do under pressure. Our projects, our clients, and our colleagues challenge us. We invest ourselves in our jobs. But in order to accomplish all this, we start to think of our jobs as requiring all

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It can be all too easy to default to a bad money approach in our lives, too. Many of us thrive on the intensity of a demanding job—one that we believe in and enjoy. We like proving what we can do under pressure. Our projects, our clients, and our colleagues challenge us. We invest ourselves in our jobs. But in order to accomplish all this, we start to think of our jobs as requiring all our attention—and that’s exactly what we give them.

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While most of us do have a deliberate strategy of creating deep, love-filled relationships with members of our family and our friends, in reality we invest in a strategy for our lives that we would never have aspired to: having shallow friendships with many but deep friendships with none; becoming divorced, sometimes repeatedly; and having children who feel alienated from us within our own homes, or who are raised by a stepparent sometimes thousands of miles away.

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One of the most common versions of this mistake that high-potential young professionals make is believing that investments in life can be sequenced. The logic is, for example, “I can invest in my career during the early years when our children are small and parenting isn’t as critical. When our children are a bit older and begin to be interested in things that adults are interested in, then I can lift my foot off my career accelerator. That’s when I’ll focus on my family.” Guess what. By that time the game is already over. An investment in a child needs to have been made long before then, to provide him with the tools he needs to survive life’s challenges—even earlier than you might realize.

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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.

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If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late. But as you are getting your career off the ground, you will be tempted to do exactly that: assume you can defer investing in your personal relationships. You cannot. The only way to have those relationships bear fruit in your life is to invest long before you need them.

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What do I mean by that? We don’t go through life conforming to particular demographic segments: nobody buys a product because he is an eighteen- to thirty-five-year-old white male getting a college degree. That may be correlated with a decision to buy this product instead of that one, but it doesn’t cause us to buy anything. Instead, periodically we find that some job has arisen in our lives that we need to do, and we then find some way to get it done. If a company has developed a product or service to do the job well, we buy, or “hire” it, to do the job. If there isn’t an existing product that does the job well, however, then we typically make something we already have, get it done as best we can, or develop a work-around. The mechanism that causes us to buy a product is “I have a job I need to get done, and this is going to help me do it.”

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When a company understands the jobs that arise in people’s lives, and then develops products and the accompanying experiences required in purchasing and using the product to do the job perfectly, it causes customers to instinctively “pull” the product into their lives whenever the job arises. But when a company simply makes a product that other companies also can make—and is a product that can do lots of jobs but none of them well—it will find that customers are rarely loyal to one product versus another. They will switch in a heartbeat when an alternative goes on sale.

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Addressing a job is the causal mechanism behind a purchase. If someone develops a product that is interesting, but which doesn’t intuitively map in customers’ minds on a job that they are trying to do, that product will struggle to succeed—unless the product is adapted and repositioned on an important job.

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Indeed, we learned that just as the fast-food restaurant had been improving the milkshake on dimensions of improvement irrelevant to the jobs that customers were trying to do, our schools were improving themselves on dimensions of improvement irrelevant to the job that students are trying to do. There is no way that we can motivate children to work harder in class by convincing them that they should do this. Rather, we need to offer children experiences in school that help them do these jobs—to feel successful and do it with friends.

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Ironically, it is for this reason that many unhappy marriages are often built upon selflessness. But the selflessness is based on the partners giving each other things that they want to give, and which they have decided that their partner ought to want—as in, “Honey, believe me, you are going to love this Iridium wireless telephone!”

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companies, too. Yes, we can do all kinds of things for our spouse, but if we are not focused on the jobs she most needs doing, we will reap frustration and confusion in our search for happiness in that relationship. Our effort is misplaced—we are just making a chocolatier milkshake. This may be the single hardest thing to get right in a marriage. Even with good intentions and deep love, we can fundamentally misunderstand each other. We get caught up in the day-to-day chores of our lives. Our communication ends up focusing only on who is doing what. We assume things.

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Rather, the reverse is equally true: the path to happiness is about finding someone who you want to make happy, someone whose happiness is worth devoting yourself to. If what causes us to fall deeply in love is mutually understanding and then doing each other’s job to be done, then I have observed that what cements that commitment is the extent to which I sacrifice myself to help her succeed and for her to be happy.

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Given that sacrifice deepens our commitment, it’s important to ensure that what we sacrifice for is worthy of that commitment, as the church was for me and Annie. Perhaps nothing deserves sacrifice more than family—and not just that others should sacrifice for you, but that you should sacrifice for your family, too. I believe it is an essential foundation to deep friendships and fulfilling, happy families and marriages.

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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 we be timid in giving our children and our spouses the same opportunities to give of themselves to others. You might think this approach would actually cause resentment in relationships because one person is so clearly giving up something for the other. But I have found that it has the opposite effect. In sacrificing for something worthwhile, you deeply strengthen your commitment to it.

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Wall Street analysts hawkishly monitor financial metrics and ratios that track the “efficiency” of capital used in a business. One particularly common one is RONA, or Return on Net Assets. In manufacturing businesses, this is calculated by dividing a company’s income by its net assets. Hence, a company can be judged as being more profitable either by adding income to the numerator, or by reducing the assets in the denominator. Driving the numerator up is harder, because

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The higher the ratio, the more efficient a business is judged to be in using its capital. Asus’s proposal made sense.

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The answer lies in understanding the concept of “capabilities.” You need to understand what capabilities are, and which of them will be critical to the future, to know which capabilities are important

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What do I mean by this? When you boil it down, the factors that determine what a company can and cannot do—its capabilities—fall into one of three buckets: resources, processes, and priorities. These offer an accurate snapshot of a company at any given time, because they are mutually exclusive (a part of a business cannot fit into more than one of the categories) and are collectively exhaustive (together, the three categories account for everything inside of the business). Together, these capabilities are crucial in order to assess what a company can and, perhaps more important, cannot accomplish.

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But resources are only one of three critical factors driving a business. Organizations create value as employees transform resources into products and services of greater worth. The ways in which those employees interact, coordinate, communicate, and make decisions are known as processes. These enable the resources to solve more and more complicated problems. Processes include the ways that products

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Unlike resources, which are often easily seen and measured, processes can’t be seen on a balance sheet.

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Like Dell, companies in the pharmaceutical, automobile, oil, information technology, semiconductor, and many other industries have increasingly pursued outsourcing without considering the importance of future capabilities. They are encouraged to do this by financiers, consultants, and academics—they see how quickly and easily they can reap the benefits of outsourcing, and don’t see the cost of losing the capabilities that they forgo in doing so. They risk creating their own version of Asus.

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longer make them. The theory of capabilities gives companies the framework to determine when outsourcing makes sense, and when it does not. There are two important considerations. First, you must take a dynamic view of your suppliers’ capabilities. Assume that they can and will change. You should not focus on what the suppliers are doing now, but, rather, focus on what they are striving to be able to do in the future. Second, and most critical of all: figure out what capabilities you will need to succeed in the future. These must stay in-house—otherwise, you are handing over the future of your business. Understanding the power and importance of capabilities can make the difference between a good CEO and a mediocre one.

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The end result of these good intentions for our children is that too few reach adulthood having been given the opportunity to shoulder onerous responsibility and solve complicated problems for themselves and for others. Self-esteem—the sense that “I’m not afraid to confront this problem and I think I can solve it”—doesn’t come from abundant resources. Rather, self-esteem comes from achieving something important when it’s hard to do.

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It’s a beautiful way of articulating the importance of building the third of the capabilities—priorities. It affects what our children will put first in their lives. In fact, it may be the single most important capability we can give our kids.

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Or, in other words, he had the right processes to do the job. In expressing a preference for the more polished candidate, we biased ourselves toward resources over the processes. It is what I described in the previous chapter as something parents do, and it’s an easy mistake to make. Even big companies get this wrong all the time. Take, for example, the story of Pandesic, an extraordinary collaboration between two of the world’s technology giants, Intel and SAP. They made exactly the same mistake that my colleagues and I made in hiring the wrong VP-Operations at CPS Technologies—just on a much larger scale.

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The answer: it depends. In a start-up company where there are no processes in place to get things done, then everything that is done must be done by individual people—resources. In this circumstance, it would be risky to draft someone with no experience to do the job—because in the absence of processes that can guide people, experienced people need to lead. But in established companies where much of the guidance to employees is provided by processes, and is less dependent upon managers with detailed, hands-on experience, then it makes sense to hire or promote someone who needs to learn from experience.

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Blockbuster followed a principle that is taught in every fundamental course in finance and economics: that in evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore sunk and fixed costs (costs that have already been incurred), and instead base decisions on the marginal costs and marginal revenues (the new costs and revenues) that each alternative entails.

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This doctrine biases companies to leverage what they have put in place to succeed in the past, instead of guiding them to create the capabilities they’ll need in the future. If we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, that approach would be fine. But if the future’s different—and it almost always is—then it’s the wrong thing to

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The CFO made the marginal-thinking mistake. He didn’t see that by utilizing the existing plant, they were not changing their fundamental cost of making steel at all. Building a completely new mill would have had an up-front cost, but then given the company a new and important capability for the future. These case studies helped

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When there is competition, and this theory causes established companies to continue to use what they already have in place, they pay far more than the full cost—because the company loses its competitiveness.

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When you decide that the upside of investing in the new product isn’t substantial enough while you still have a perfectly acceptable existing product, you aren’t taking into account a future in which somebody else brings the new product to market. You’re assuming everything else—specifically, the money you make on the old product—will continue forever exactly as it has up until now. A company may not see any consequences of that decision for some time. It might not get “caught” in the short term if a competitor doesn’t get ahead. But the company that makes all its decisions through this marginal-costs lens will, eventually, pay the price. So often this is what causes successful companies to keep from investing in their future and, ultimately, to fail.

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But if an organization has a clear and compelling purpose, its impact and legacy can be extraordinary. The purpose of the company will serve as a beacon, focusing employees’ attention on what really matters. And that purpose will allow the company to outlive any one manager or employee. Apple, Disney, the KIPP Schools (chartered schools in inner-city neighborhoods that have remarkable results), and the Aravind Eye Hospital (an eye surgery hospital in India that serves more patients than any other eye hospital in the world) are examples of this.

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These three parts—likeness, commitment, and metrics—comprise a company’s purpose. Companies that aspire to positive impact must never leave their purpose to chance. Worthy purposes rarely emerge inadvertently; the world is too full of mirage, paradox, and uncertainty to leave this to fate. Purpose must be deliberately conceived and chosen, and then pursued. When that is in place, however, then how the company gets there is typically emergent—as opportunities and challenges emerge and are pursued. The greatest corporate leaders are conscious of the power of purpose in helping their companies make their mark on the world.

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But the world did not “deliver” a cogent and rewarding purpose to them. And, unfortunately, it won’t “deliver” one to you, either. The type of person you want to become—what the purpose of your life is—is too important to leave to chance. It needs to be deliberately conceived, chosen, and managed. The opportunities and challenges in your life that allow you to become that person will, by their very nature, be emergent.