This post is Part 1 of the fifth numbered post that I planned to write at the start of The Good Life Book creation process. Each post was intended to form the context and be the start of a dialogue on an aspect of living, and of trying to live a good life.
Most of you reading this will be faced with the challenge of how to create (financial) value to survive and to pay the bills, on an ongoing basis. The journey to a good life I think is a state of being where what we do and who we are is aligned with our values. So this begs the question – “how do I create value aligned with my values?”.
This article recognises that there is a broader context of the exchange of value and values in society and lays out a potential framework to analyse and inform how we could potentially answer the value and values question.
If you look up the work value in the dictionary then there are broadly two definitions:
- Definition 1 - the importance, merit, usefulness, worth… and good of a thing
- Definition 2 - a person’s standards or code of behaviour, and judgement of what is important in life
I’m interested in the intersection of these two definitions – not only for individuals but for teams, communities, business and society too – what I call Individual / Integrated Business Social Value (IBSV). That is a mouthful so perhaps I could also call it “real life” or “the world” or “the way things should work”.
For the sake of this analysis let us simplify the discussion to deal with the question from the perspective of three actors: the individual, business and society. In a market economy and in life there is a value and values relationship between each of the parties. This framework is shown in the diagram below:
To use the framework you put yourself “in the shoes” of each actor in turn then look at the value and values exchange or context with the others. For example I could start with the individual and then look at the value and values exchange with business and then with society. I could then look from the perspective of society and of business too.
This very simple exercise very quickly generates some pretty fundamental questions about how individuals, business and society do, could and should operate.
I drew the diagram in a purposeful way with society at the top – though my observation from most of my work life “business” has been the dominant paradigm at the top of how we look at all kinds of things. Perhaps this is the dominant paradigm that has swept the world, in practice.
For example you could ask the question of “what is the value of a person”. A human perspective is that we are by default all equal in value – we quickly get into philosophy and metaphysics to further detail that point.
From a business perspective the value of a person is in their ability to contribute to achieve or beat and/or sustain the objectives for the business e.g. profitable growth. From a society perspective then the value of a person is perhaps based on their ability to contribute to a well functioning and safe society that respects all individuals within it.
Not all of these situations are mutually-exclusive, there is an overlap between the circles. Business still needs at least a few individuals to do the work and to buy the products or services it produces. Business needs society to provide the legal, security and infrastructural context within which it operates. Society relies on business as a mechanism to solve some of human's needs and wants – to produce what it needs (and doesn’t need) to function, and to give humans structure / employment. Society is the sum total of individuals multiplied by societal institutions – government, religious groups, charities and so on.
One thing that has struck me is the number of professional people that see society as a kind of given that has nothing much to do with them – it just exists like oxygen. I’m not talking here about individual acts of charity and giving – I’m talking about the ability to influence and steer society towards common goals.
I’m not sure whether this is disillusionment in institutions and the current state of relationships between individuals, business and society. It is also possible to live in somewhat of a bubble as a professional (for some of us). The income afforded to many professional jobs allows a person to focus on meeting their needs and the needs of those close to them despite what is happening in the rest of society. This is not a judgement it is just an observation.
A key part in my journey from success to being (that I’ve talked about elsewhere) has been to reconnect to the rest of the human race and to think more about my responsibility as a professional. Sometimes I think it becomes much harder to live a good life as you ascend through a large organisation (in practical time and energy terms, and in terms of focus) – though there are select examples where leaders use the opportunity to give back while they are still in-role. Overall, I think it is impossible to work through meaning and a state being without shifting your focus beyond yourself. Of course how much of an impact you have depends on how much you act. Perhaps this can be summed up as moving from a sense of entitlement to a state of enlightenment (and then enlightenment in action through doing). Let me just say that the definition of entitlement is seeing yourself as having the right to something e.g. money, from working hard. The enlightenment part comes I think from realising that there are many people working hard or in hardship in the world that are not getting returns. This cannot be explained by luck in a simplistic way e.g. I have come into contact with children from disadvantaged backgrounds that are working to support their families instead of studying and being kids.
The relationships between the individual and business and society are something that we all participate in, whether we look at it in these terms or not. Because we participate we can also (even in 2016) influence too. I've said before that I believe as professionals we have a responsibility to do so also, and the good life experiment is focused on doing so, in a small or large way.
I believe that using this framework is a way or at least a start to convert a feeling of what a good life is into questions, thoughts, decisions and actions.
In Part 2 of this article I want to take a deeper dive into the case of the individual in answering the questions of how do I optimise my value and values with respect to business and to society.
Thanks for reading and have a good one!