Adding ValueNovember 8th, 2009 at 8:48
I find this concept from the theories of economics and enterprise a very useful rule of thumb in helping me approach my life and make both big decisions on my life’s course, as well as day to day decisions while charting that course, including looking back and evaluating in hindsight what I have done or chosen not to do. I think perhaps as a society and participants in an economic system, we have lost touch with this rule of thumb along the way, which I believe has led to a large degree to our current economic turmoil.
As I understand it, the system of free enterprise at its best encourages people to initiate and participate in economic activities that are of value to others in exchange for a material benefit for themselves (often in the form of money earned). To the extent that these benefits are realized and are lasting rather than ephemeral, the system and the activity it inspires contributes to the development of humankind. But economic activity that adds little or no value to others, or little to no lasting value, is a net negative that contributes to undermining or at least holding back human development.
From what I have seen, economic activity that adds little or no value has increased in recent years, and played a key role in our current severe recession and problems with our recovery from that recession. It’s a very broad spectrum. People shopping for shopping’s sake, maybe gaining some ephemeral benefit of relieving alienation or other stresses by buying things they don’t really need. A financial industry that developed a whole new generation of loan products (e.g. sub-prime loans) that allowed the industry to earn significant profits while encouraging people to use their inflated home equity as disposable income or persuading people to buy homes that they really couldn’t afford. Hoards of commuters buying cars that are bigger and heavier and requiring more gasoline to operate than is necessary, that they drive to work and leave in parking lots all day (serving no one). Just a few examples here, and I’m sure you could think of many more.
But I have found that the concept of “adding value” can be applicable as a broader rule of thumb applied to all aspects of my life. In my paid work playing the role of business analyst in a team of people, I focus my efforts to add value by helping my colleagues be successful, whether it is supplying them with useful documentation or simply mentoring and otherwise encouraging them. The same criteria are applied to my volunteer work, is what I’m doing helping others with their development. Even my leisure activities can be evaluated in terms of how much they add value by re-inspiring me or recharging my batteries. The goal again here is to increase that overall edifice of human evolution. Hopefully after each new level of understanding or step forward is achieved it becomes the firm basis for next steps.
As a parent I make an ongoing effort to really understand my kids and their lives and determine, from their point of view, how I can be of real value in their lives. As they are young adults now with their own independent lives, this turns out to mostly be to listen to their joys and concerns, acknowledge and applaud or commiserate as appropriate, and candidly share my own related experiences which might offer them an added perspective. Occasionally I might even give them some advice, but give it humbly without ego and with the clear understanding that they are free to take it or leave it.
When they were children it was giving them as many of my hours as I could, reading them stories, singing them songs, candidly sharing my own stories and insights, answering their many questions, encouraging them to play and joining that play at times.
As they transitioned from childhood into adolescence, it became more about encouraging the development of their own judgment and compass. There was the critical decision on whether to try to keep them going to school or give them the option of homeschooling and unschooling that was made easier by really analyzing who they uniquely were, and what venue contributed most significantly to their time being best spent on their personal development. In finally letting them make their own call on their own best educational environment, I gave them the opportunity, even the responsibility to try and identify and call out what was of most value to them.
From a more strategic charting my life’s course point of view, applying the criteria of adding value led me to overcome my past writers block and take advantage of the time I have been unemployed in these past several years of bad economy to develop the discipline to write about whatever wisdom I feel I have gained that may have efficacy for others. Is their sufficient added value in all the blood, sweat and tears of years spent traversing a life and acquiring wisdom (hopefully) along the way if I do not share it with others? The answer felt like a clear “no”. As I have said in other posts, now being perhaps metaphorically “over the hill” (no longer toiling to get up the hill but walking more easily down the other side), I can leverage gravity to speak my mind and continue moving forward at the same time.
Now at age 54 I find myself diligent in pursuit of a life in balance, with a minimum of stress and a maximum of satisfaction and opportunities for adventure. I find I do my best work, provide the most value to others, when I am relaxed and don’t have to press and hurry. This is an ongoing challenge, particularly in my paid work, because it seems that in every work environment I’ve been in I have to fight against the conventional wisdom that the only badge of honor is to be working long hours with too much on ones plate. But I take on that challenge; it is one of the little day to day adventures of my life.