Value Investing

Measuring your life … and improving it.

Key lessons:

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–          Your emergent strategies might be more important than your deliberate plan

–          Align your actions with your values and culture

–          Be careful with which metrics you’ll measure your life

The Snowball Effect is not all about money. In fact, although it might seem counterintuitive, it has little to do with money. Money is only the result of a lot of what I like to discuss in my posts. The main objective of this blog, as stated in its title, is to “compound value by understanding the world”. But “value” doesn’t equal “money”. Obviously, if you can understand the world accurately, the result is that you can make a lot of money out of it, if that’s what you want, but it’s certainly not the main goal (at least not for this blog). There is a lot more than money to all of this and this week’s post is a good example of that.

Today, I just finished listening to an audiobook on the app Audible titled “How will you measure your life? – Finding fulfilment using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses” by Clayton M. Christensen. The book isn’t new, but I happened to stumble on it recently while going through suggested audiobooks on Audible. It was published in 2012 and the audio version is fairly short lasting for about 5 hours and a half. In his book, Christensen tries to answer some of life’s most challenging questions by providing some guidelines and drawing parallels between personal life, career life, and business. Some of the questions that are tackled in the book are, for example: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become an enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity – and stay out of jail?

To be honest, I initially didn’t think much of the book as it doesn’t present anything really new or earth shattering. The concepts are well introduced and explained, although the back and forth between life, career and the life of business organizations can sometimes feel like there is a lack of focus. Is it a self-help book or a business book? Well… it depends what you want to make out of it. Let’s explore a few concepts which I thought are worth reviewing.

Finding happiness at work

Christensen quotes the following from Steve Jobs: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and 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.” The main message is that once you’re able to identify accurately what you love and who you truly are, keep at it and focus your energy on this. Nothing really new here, but Christensen does present an interesting concept, the idea of “deliberate plan” vs. “emergent strategy”. A deliberate plan is what career advisors will usually tell you to put together. Find out what you like and make a plan to get where you want to be. For the author, this plan was to become Editor of the Wall Street Journal. However, it still hasn’t happened (Christensen is now 65). On the other hand, the author worked at a top consulting firm, has built companies, has written several books and is teaching at Harvard Business School – a job he loves. He presents these new paths (other than working at the WSJ) as being emergent strategies. Basically, the idea is that you can never anticipate everything that’s going to come your way and when it seems to be right, you have to go with it. Being too stubborn and rigid will only hurt you. In addition, what you think might be your “dream” job might not be and opportunities that come up might fulfil you even more. But how will you know if you don’t do anything else than what was outlined in your deliberate plan? Bottom line, starting with a deliberate plan can certainly help you focus, but adapt and embrace emergent strategies as opportunities come up.

Resource allocation

For me the chapter about resource allocation was the most impactful of the book. Again, nothing new presented, but an excellent (and much needed) reminder. In short, what Christensen’s saying is allocate your personal resources – time, energy, money, etc. – in line with your values and what’s important for you. Be determined and don’t compromise. It is not as easy as it might look. To be able to stick to what you believe in, you’ll have to face difficult choices and give up on certain things. And by the way, simply talking a lot about something doesn’t make it important and part of your values. Your actions have to reflect what you believe in, not words. For example, if you say that family is your top priority, but you’re never home, always travelling and not spending any quality time with your loved ones, your actions don’t reflect what you’re preaching. In this case, your actions show that your career might be more important and you shouldn’t be surprised by the fact that you’ll have to face the consequences of your actions years down the road. You can’t give yourself 100% to everything, so choose wisely and in line with who you are. You might not like kids, but might be a very charitable person or health might be a priority, but not having a bunch of friends – focus. Of course, we all make mistakes, even if we try our very best. What’s important is to keep on track, keep learning and keep growing our snowball ?

A warning that Christensen gives is that it can be easy to lose focus when faced with an opportunity which might give immediate results vs. actions which will only bring value in the long term. He argues that career, for example, often takes over friends and family as rewards can be earned faster – getting a bonus is earned much faster than realizing you’ve provided all the necessary mental support to your children so that they become strong independent adults.

Culture

Similar to resource allocation, Christensen makes the point that culture, corporate or family culture, is not something you can simply explain without implementing consistently, repeatedly and over time, if you want it to be successful. Every decision a firm or a family takes should be in line with its culture. Saying something while acting differently can actually backfire and cause a lot of internal and trust issues within an organization. As culture is dealt with by people at different levels and doesn’t simply depend on guidelines and procedures of only one department for example, it takes a lot of willpower to successfully implement and maintain a strong culture and unfortunately it is an area where most firms (and even families) fail.

Life measurement metrics

How one will measure her or his life is a massive question. The difficulty is that you have to consider your life as a whole, in a holistic way. You can’t only focus on one or two big mistakes, or only on your twenties, you have to consider the whole journey. But how can you do this? It’s not as simple as looking at your P&L statement or how much money you have in the bank. For the author it all boils down to how many people you have helped during your life. Nobody? You’re in trouble. He also argues that seeing life in that way will allow you to live more successfully and that even if you encounter very personal issues, focusing on others while fighting to combat these issues will bring you the necessary energy and power to keep going. This seems to be in line with what our friends Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger advocate by saying that personal success depends on how many people whom you love and love you back will be present at your funerals. Although there’s no universal answer to the question of how to measure life’s success, it definitely seems to be linked to others…

 

Embedded image: How will you measure your life? by Clayton M. Christensen  

Next post, next week!

Keep growing your snowball!