Did you ever think it might be possible to work out what your life is all about by using business strategy? In 2010, famous Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen spoke to the graduating class of Harvard, posing them a thoughtful question: How could one measure one’s life ? In his speech, Christensen told the students that many highly successful people could spend their whole lives feeling unhappy and living a purposeless life. He drew on his business research to provide the students with guidelines that enable them to find the reason why they were here: on planet Earth.
Writing for TIME magazine, Eric Barker (2014) mentions Christensen, to explain some of the ways that parallels can be seen and how learnings from business can be adapted into your personal life. One area where this is possible is with considering life goals. Many people do not have any idea of what their five or ten year plan should be. Yet people that do not know the answer to these kinds of questions may often feel inadequate somehow when they compare themselves to people who do. To compare yourself to others though, is actually a waste of time, particularly when you realize that everyone does it, which leads you to feel either inadequate or self important. When you train yourself to be conscious of “the comparison trap” you can free more time to do something productive about your life.
Going back to the metaphor of business planning it is important to realise that even though businesses may have a plan they often have to change what they are doing and adapt to new situations. Businesses may seem to have concrete plans, but as Professor Amar Bhide explains in his book, “Origin and Evolution of New Business” even the best laid plans often change along the way:
“A full 93% of all companies start out doing one thing and abandon that strategy because it wasn’t viable.”
That does not mean that businesses do not plan: they do. What this means is that businesses try one approach that often does not work, but the way that they go about it is that they still have resources left over in the end after that approach does not work out. That means they can try something new instead.
Strategy And Planning: The two possible approaches
In fact, management strategy theory shows that businesses take two approaches to strategy and planning. One form of strategy is deliberate. That is the budget, what you see in the business plan and the initial goals. The second form of strategy is emergent. That comes about through what businesses discover along the way. The same is also true of personal planning and direction. You may have an idea of what you are going to do, but along the way you see there might be something better, which is off track from what you originally planned. Your plan moves from a deliberate one to an emergent one as you take the new route.
The challenge may often be understanding when you should explore new options, and when it is better to commit to what you originally had planned. However, if you are happy doing what you are doing, you should consider what the new emergent option offers you that your current situation and future plan does not. If you feel fulfilled already then there perhaps needs to be a really good reason to make a change that could end up being negative.
It is a different story altogether if you feel dissatisfied with what you are doing. In this case you should be looking for emergent options. You should be trying to iterate and come up with new possibilities for your life. This may require looking at your current situation with fresh eyes and seeing how moving at a tangent may be able to help you to feel more fulfilled. In this case you need to think about emergent opportunities. It may be time to experiment a little, safely with new things. If your experiment works out then you can take it further, quickly but little by little. Then you may find that your strategy starts to fit.
Making a Plan And Putting It Into Practice
Continually analysing the possibilities but failing to take action will not get you to the point where you have a plan that you feel satisfied with. You do actually have to take some action. Like a business trying out a new strategy, you have to dip your toes into the water and see what comes of it. If it works out for your toes then you could dangle your legs in, then up to your waist, before finally taking the plunge. Just sitting and thinking about how a situation might look does not help you to try it out to see if it is really for you or not.
Thinking and analysis of your situation is just the start. Being fulfilled requires you to work with your situation and explore different options that may be peripheral to begin with. It is only then that you will gain a better idea of what you want from your life. Then you can start to work towards feeling fulfilled.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.