Just This Once

clayton-m-christensen

Clayton M. Christensen, who has been called “The Number One Management Thinker in the World”



In a brilliant address titled “How Will You Measure Your Life: Don’t Reserve Your Best Business Thinking for Your Career,” Clayton M. Christensen, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, advised his students how to apply his principles and thinking to their post-graduate careers. Here is an excerpt from that speech, which speaks to the heart of integrity.







Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine [a business theory that is unimportant to go into here] in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”

I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life. I played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team. We worked our tails off and finished the season undefeated. The guys on the team were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. We got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament— and made it to the final four. It turned out the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday. So I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?”

I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment—so I didn’t play in the championship game.

In many ways that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed.

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold to them 98 percent of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.


Christensen’s thoughts on integrity resonates with me because I came to the same conclusion after a series of minor transgressions that left me feeling like less than who I wanted to be. Today, I alert cashiers if they undercharge me and I politely decline if someone urges me to exit one movie and duck into a second one without paying. When you commit yourself to living a life of 100 percent integrity, life becomes simpler. You also sleep better at night.

Christensen later expanded his remarks into a full-length book. Click here to order How WIll You Measure Your Life on Amazon.

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dad-and-me-game-two

Coming home with my dad after seeing Sandy Koufax pitch in Game Two of the 1965 World Series


If you’re a baseball fan, you probably thought of Sandy Koufax when you read about Christensen’s experience. Koufax, who is Jewish, famously refused to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series for the Dodgers because it fell on Yom Kippur. People pleaded with him to make an exception “just this once.” But he held his ground. The fact that he pitched a shutout in Game Seven against the Twins to win the World Series doesn’t change the fact that it was a courageous decision. if the Dodgers would have lost the series, fans would still be second-guessing him today. Incidentally, because of Koufax’s decision, I got to see him pitch Game Two when my dad took me to the game at the old Met Stadium in Minneapolis. Thanks, Sandy!






ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA

Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?

Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one
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SiSe_fullcover_final.inddPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent people he interviewed, including Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford, Dr. Larry Dossey, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Caroline Myss, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, singer Billy Vera, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, and bassist Victor Wooten.

Here is a three-minute video that introduces you to Phil and his book. Click here to order Sixty Seconds. Click here to ask Phil to add you to his e-mail list for updates on his blog and books.

Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories. Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers. Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.

Sixty Seconds was one of three finalists in the General Interest/How-To category at the 12th annual Visionary Awards presented by COVR (Coalition of Visionary Resources) in Denver on June 27, 2009.

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