Friday, 27 February 2015

What is priceless in your business?

What can be counted doesn't really count and what counts cannot really be counted 
Close your eyes for a minute and think about a value-based business that you may know and/or associated with.  Think of a business that lives by this maxim “What can be counted does not really count. What counts cannot really be counted”. Think of a business where values are not measures, or norms, rather values are meta-strategies. 

If you could think of one, then you are a very lucky person. If you found it hard to do so, do not despair and take a minute to read what follows…..

Last week in my ICT for social enterprise class at UC Berkeley, I had the privilege of meeting Somik Raha, a Decision Analyst and Software Development  Associate at SmartOrg, Inc, holding a Ph. D. in Decision Analysis from Stanford University. 

In his talk on “Finding your meta-strategy” - based on his thesis  "Achieving Clarity On Value” - he offers a methodology to discover, appreciate and communicate sources of value. He does so by urging us to dig deep and find our intrinsic values

“Intrinsic values are about finding your deepest values, these are things that move you, stir emotions, make you cry, are sacred to and for you and are unique”, says Raha. And because of this special characteristic of intrinsic value, it is hard to verbalize it.

He started off his talk by asking us to be silent for 10 minutes and to let our thoughts settle. That was just one of the many powerful moments of his talk. After which he asked us to make a list of the metrics we use to measure our goals and what we do. So, we all came up with SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, result-oriented, time-bound) goals and next to them put equally smart metrics.


The purpose of this exercise was to show us that what is being counted does not actually count, but may be important because it drives us toward action. That action, if thoughtful, can help us create value. Can you think of something more profound and true than this statement?

Taking us by hand, we went on a journey in the world of values, figuring out how to go beyond values as measures, or values as norms, and explore values as meta-strategy. 

He asked us “What we thought was the distinction between how we treat others and the purpose of our business”. To help us better understand this novel concept, he divided values into three categories:
  • Systemic values - counting something or following a rule
  • Practical values - these are rationalizations for the rules and systems
  • Intrinsic values - deeply-held beliefs that move us to develop practical and systemic values 
And this is when we started to investigate the world of intrinsic values. Raha’s work shows that “human mind shuts down when faced with numbers”,  while inspiration leads to creativity. 

As we examined our SMART goals and our equally smart metrics, we tried to figure out what are our shared and individual values. To do so, we used Raha’s value mapping methodology - a simple method prima facie, yet an intense and profoundly different method from what one is used to. 

Value-mapping methodology: An innovative way to find what is priceless in your business
Value-mapping helps to identify what is priceless in our business and what are those priceless things that we offer. It is an act of deep listening to “give up politics and focus on truth” and digging down inside oneself to discover our values and sources of inspiration. It is about exploring and looking for uniqueness, not universality.


Finding your meta-strategy, Somik, Raha, 2015

To help us on this journey, using the above framework, we paired up with another person where the speaker shared what is deeply important to them and the listener,  listened deeply to the sharing, asking the following probing questions to parse the head, heart and habit in an effort to find the intrinsic values - keeping an eye on silences and emotions.

To facilitate reflection, start with probing key moments by asking the following questions:
  • What are some major turning points in your life
  • What are some moments of inspirations
  • What have you believed since you were a child
Listen for loss of fluidity. When people are rationalizing and can easily articulate their argument, they are not tapping into feelings. When someone taps into their feelings, there are pauses, the fluidity of the arguments wanes and this is the sign that they are no longer talking with their head but tapping into their heart.

Stay in first-person zone. Watch out for third-person analysis - that is to say watch out for statements about the impact of your activity on others or the efficiency of the solution. When you hear such statements, ask “How does that make you feel” or “What does it mean to you to have that kind of impact”. In other words, bring it back to YOU.

To probe deeper, check for the longevity of value by asking the following questions:
  • How long has this been important to you
  • Can you share stories from an earlier experience that can demonstrate the importance of the value
  • How long do you think you’ll care for this value
To figure out what are the core motivating values and what are the practical ways of achieving it, ask counter-questions  to understand whether something is negotiable:
Why didn’t you think of this alternative?
What if you could achieve this without X, would that still be meaningful for you?

Finally to help move from systemic (bean counting) and practical (rationalization of the rules and systems) to intrinsic values, ask the following questions:
  • What choices do you plan to make based on the results of the bean counting?
  • What are the goals of your choices?
  • What end goal are you trying to achieve by counting the metric?
  • What process or outcome do you hope to improve by measuring that value?

When you identify your intellectual energy (head), your emotional energy (heart) and your unstoppable energy (habit) you’ve found your purpose and that is when you can set goals that embody intrinsic values.

An epiphany
At the end of the exercise, I had an epiphany and finally figured out why I loved being in the development business and what were all the different driving forces igniting my intrinsic values.  As Simon Sinek says "Taking a job for the cash is not as important as taking a job for the joy."

In thanking Raha for this priceless discovery, I asked him whether he had applied this methodology in the world of development. He kindly and most generously shared his paper “Values and valuation in the Amazon Basin”.

After the talk, I started thinking and asking myself how many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) embody intrinsic values? And whether the commitment and willingness to deliver on the 17 goals would grow exponentially if they all carried and embodied intrinsic values? 

I hope in coming up with action plans to implement these goals, we’ll all make sure to dig deep and unearth the intrinsic values required to deliver on them. 


Thank you Dr Raha for an inspiring and highly informative talk. And I cannot thank you enough for my personal epiphany.