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Adding Value

Wednesday,  09/17/03  08:42 AM

I saw my good friend Paul last night, and he reinforced something I've been thinking recently.  The most important thing you can do every day is add value.

There's a spectrum of activities you can perform every day.  Some of them are value-neutral - you just do something, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter.  And some of them are value-positive, they actually add value to the world.  These are the things you should do.  And of course, some of them are value-negative, they subtract value from the world.  These are the things you should avoid.

Adding value can be direct - you can create something useful, or fix something which is broken, or find a solution to a problem.  It can also be indirect - you can inspire someone else to do something which creates value

The things you yourself can do to add value are often time-consuming.  Creating something useful is hard; it requires thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc.  This takes time.  Fixing something which is broken is hard; it requires the same thought, planning, work, iteration, problem-solving, etc. as creating something useful, and it can be less rewarding.  And time consuming.  ("No good deed goes unpunished.")  Finding solutions can be hard or easy, depending on the problem and your approach.  (W=UH!)  Often solving problems is very time consuming.

You could imagine a unit which measures value creation efficiency:

(value created) ÷ (time spent)

This is analogous to "power", the physicist's term for work over time.  I haven't thought of a good word for this, but we need one <your word here>[ Later: "productivity"! ]

The things you do indirectly to inspire others are not necessarily time consuming, and they can have a huge leverage.  So motivating others to create value is a really efficient way to add value yourself.

So back to Paul.  He is a smart guy, successful, friendly, and fun to be around.  Paul is full of energy.  People like being around him, and I think one reason is because he readily inspires value creation.  How does he do this?  How do people in general motivate others to create value?

  • Ask good questions.
  • Focus on things which matter.  This means filter things which don't matter.  Don't get distracted by details.
  • Be honest.  Not as in "don't steal", but as in "don't delude yourself".
  • Related to the previous point, accept empirical evidence over theory.  If something is happening, it is what it is, whether you can explain it or not.
  • Understand that different people are good at different things.
  • Be self-aware.  Know what you're good at (and by implication, what you're not good at).

These are all things I'd like to do myself, and being around people like Paul who are good at them is good for me.  I want to create value, and I want to inspire value creation in the people around me.

Of course there is something even more efficient, which is inspiring others to inspire others.  That's why I wrote this :)