Let’s talk about values?

March 2, 2017

Becoming 33 years old soon I want to take the opportunity to reflect and write about values. We all know, they are important, aren’t they? And yet it is often difficult to name the values that define us. Also, these values are not always carved in stone. Some might change over time whereas others are there to stay. Therefore I rather like the idea of a liquid approach to a concept of values and how they work.

Having that said, values are ambiguous. They help to define how people, but also cultures, and of course organisations work. And while this shows that values work on various levels some of them also operate against each other.

An example:

Although I consider myself as a liberal guy I am sure that many of my ideas are pretty conservative. Depending on my surroundings they fluently change and adapt to the context. Also, I am getting gradually older, which makes me … let’s say gradually more conservative. So things change all along. This is not an unusual thing. It is simply the case that my life changes – and so do I.

While this is a very personal example I think the very same concept can be extended to the values of organisations. Today most managers know that values play an important part to an organisation’s success. Internally, they help businesses to define their purpose and aims. They set common goals for employees but also management. Externally, they allow organisations to position themselves in the market. They help to set relations to competitors yet also customers.

The thing is, and that’s the tricky part, these values constantly whiz around. It is pretty similar to what I described in my personal example. They are like a moth to a flame.

Now most Western concepts of how to engage with the world are not truly comfortable dealing with change. We usually expect that things are here to stay. Uncertainty is the enemy. And so there is a deep longing for the good old days.

This is especially true to those that fear shifts. Dealing with uncertainty is a difficult thing to do. In such situations, people often aim at protecting themselves. In itself, this is not bad, yet protection is often accompanied by solidification and solidification hinders development.

In a world like the ‘good old days’ that has already solidified that seems to be a valid approach. Here we already know what is going to happen. Unfortunately, for challenges that lie ahead of us, we need a different strategy. A strategy that challenges the forces of change itself and aims to use them (if you wanna know more search for Nassim Taleb’s ideas of Antifragility).

So let’s get back to the start:

My 33rd birthday is in 19 days. I do not expect to be the same person in ten years from now. 10 years ago I was certainly a very different person to the man writing these lines today. I am looking forward to seeing how I am going to change.

Let’s conclude: values are tricky. It is difficult to define them and it’s even more difficult to deal with the fact that they constantly change. Yet it is important to do so because only people knowing who they are will be the ones that are able to define.

About the pictures: The pictures you can see here represent the values and beliefs that were involved in a project back in 2015. In the project, 30 individuals had to come up with a common set of values and beliefs to create a visual identity for an event at Central Saint Martins London. As a kick-starter for the project, I created a document collecting ideas, wishes, and beliefs that were mapped out to create an initial basis for discussions.