How to measure your life?

Innovators cut heroic, sometimes lonely, figures. Like Steve Jobs, some set out to “put a ding in the universe”. Others, like musician and composer, Miles Davis, do what they do and analyse it later. “It’s always been a gift with me, hearing music the way I do,” Davis is quoted as saying. “I don’t know where it comes from, it’s just there and I don’t question it.” Innovators share many traits – courage, persistence, a touch of the obsessive – drawing strength from their vision and, often, those closest to them. In an elegant eulogy published after Jobs’ death in October, his sister, Mona Simpson, presented a far more nuanced picture of a man lauded as a lofty genius. “We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories,” Simpson writes. “What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential: What he was, was how he died.” Her brother, she says, was motivated by love, by beauty, by loyalty. “He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere,” she adds. “Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.” Harvard professor Clayton Christensen introduced the notion of “disruptive innovation” and is regarded as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers. Humble and reflective, he continued to gather new insights as he battled a heart attack, advanced-stage cancer and a stroke over a three-year period, publishing his latest book, The Innovator’s DNA, in July. Highly regarded as a teacher, Christensen one day asked his students to turn some of his disruptive theories on themselves by answering three questions: How can I be sure I’ll be happy in my career? How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? And, how can I be sure to stay out of jail? “It’s quite startling that a significant fraction of the 900 students that (Harvard) draws each year from the world’s best have given little thought to the purpose of their lives,” he writes. “For me, having a clear purpose has been essential.” Confronted with a cancer diagnosis, Christensen took stock, yet again, of his life. “I have a pretty clear idea of how many ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research,” he says. “I know I’ve had substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.”

 

 

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