Saturday, August 3, 2013

What's in a value?

I've been meaning to write this blog post for a long while now. I don't really know why, but it's about a realization of some importance to me. And by value I don't mean the usual "our company's values are openness, honesty and integrity" bollocks. You know, the part of the holy mission-vision-strategy-values quad that companies use as repairkit when they have lost one or - more often - all of the four.

So what is a value, for a person? Here is my definition:

A value is something a person values in her or his head that cannot, and should not, be justified or rationalized.

If you pursue in asking a person why she/he likes this or that, or wants this or that in life and you push them to a standstill where the only answer is: "dunno, for shits and giggles?" it's a good chance you've just stumbled on a value for that person.

For example I find it quite difficult to lie to a customer, even when ordered to and when it's good for the business. Sure I could rationalize and explain that lying makes me uncomfortable because I am concerned how the other person perceives me, or that lying is bad for long-term return business, or that it's against the bloody ten commandments, but I would be kidding myself. I don't like lying, period. I value honesty. It's built into my head. Sometimes to an annoying degree, sorry about that.

So why is this important? A few years ago I realized that people have different values and by and large, they don't make any sense and are not supposed to make any sense. Understanding that helps in arguments and in making decisions. "Ah I see, it's a question of values. No point to argue, then!" has saved me from many aggravating situations.

A couple of years ago the CEO of a startup tried to recruit me to take over product development for him. We had a nice lunch and he described his plans of doing business development locally and software development abroad. I was looking at the situation from two main points of view: openness and what I called then quality. Openness means simply open access to all info to everyone in the company and most of all would my position be a player or a pawn in the game. Quality means a belief about how quality in product and software will reduce headaches for everyone in the short term and better business in the long term. Since he was committed to outsourcing hsi R&D I knew what his stand on that was. As for openness I had difficulties getting simple answers to questions I had about his game. Therefore: either the gameplan was closed or it was lacking - in both cases he was looking for a game-piece not a partner. I had the easiest decision ever not to join his endeavour because oh boy would we have clashed if I had.

A second example. In a recent discussion a business consultant friend was explaining his rationale for picking a position in a hope to give me out some pointers. Essentially, looking at certain key figures to determine if the (IT solution provider) company is healthy, seeing if their sales had gone up and checking that the products they sell are decent brands. During the discussion I kept wondering: why are you telling me this? Tell me how the solutions you sell enable business for customers, tell me what unique things you have in your solution selling process to understand tacit & latent customer needs, tell me how the projects are based on seeking long-term strategic partnership, tell me how the tech dudes delivering the solution are enjoying their lives in the projects. But no. Until I realized that we have different values. I don't care less about big money, status, short-term consulting or in-depth product understanding. I care about helping to build something new and groovy, about good projects (=customer & staff statisfaction). So it's a value question, we want different things, why argue?

It's interesting to notice that many people are blind to what they value (or want in life for that matter) and that other people have different values. For example I've been pondering a career change for many years now. For example, my dad once suggested to me that why don't I start a small IT shop selling Apple computers and services for small businesses. After all, I like good design, I (mostly) like Apple products, and I'm good with this IT stuff, and like helping people out. Besides, sales is where the money is, and it is good to have money in life. Thanks for the nice thought, dad! But I am not the least bit interested. I am quite happy with the money I make now in life, and I value other things (cuddling with my wife, playing with my kitten, enjoying good design, learning, teching) more than dough right now. So the times change, and isn't it fun to realize your values have diverted from those at home?

So much for the digression. Back to thesis writing.

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