Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Value: An Universal Human Interface

I’ve recently heard someone using the word “value” in a public speech, and whilst I believe not many people fully realized what the presenter was trying to say, and perhaps me neither to the full extent, this word stuck with me for a while and made me think profoundly about what “value” means.

I decided to write this blog post to share with readers my perspective about value, and the different shapes that it takes depending on the societal context.

So let’s start this post by providing the definition of what value means. To correctly or completely define what value is, we need to build on a few concepts:

  1. Value is subjective, meaning that what is valuable for one human, is not necessarily valuable for another.
  2. Values can be connected to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and depending on at what level an individual is in that pyramid representation, they can have different needs, hence different value ranks.
  3. Value can be directly or indirectly provided. E.g. We work for money, which is a means to buy, food, housing, transportation, which is the real end value. Another example is: we work for a company and the final product of a company adds value to customers, therefore we indirectly helped on producing that value. In other words, we are part of the value chain.
  4. Value can be synthesized by leveraging dopamine addictions. Not everything is of real value. Only discerning people know the difference.
  5. Value in society is skewed, and with marketing, people's perceptions of what is valuable and how valuable it is can be hacked. Different societies have different cultural values and that’s inherited by people living in those societies.
  6. Value is not an on/off, 1 or 0. It's a continuum, and more value can be added, however, that is subject to diminishing returns, as the more that value is fulfilled, the lesser the need for further fulfillment.
  7. Value can be produced, stored, transferred, exchanged, or lost.
  8. Value fulfillment is rewarded. Producers of value receive rewards for producing and consumers of value reward producers with money, votes, support, or any other means.
  9. Value is an organic concept, meaning that at any point it can diminish its weight, can be transferred in different shapes, and evolves alongside the individual or group of individuals that are agreeing on that value. Value is almost never a fixed commodity.
  10. Value sources can be finite or infinite. For example, chocolate brings value to someone who enjoys eating chocolate, but once eaten it loses value immediately, whereas, for example, a transportation system in a city brings value indefinitely, as long as citizens use that method of transportation.

With that being said let’s now attempt to define value:

“Value is the transferable energy, from one source to another, that is storable in different mediums, fully transferable and exchangeable, finite or infinite, that once reached the receiving end, it fullfils a need or belief of one or multipe people.” — Gabriel Baciu

Before getting into a practical aspect of understanding how knowing all this can improve our lives, I want to make a parenthesis, about different types of societies and how value is being understood depending on context.

Contextualizing Value

On one end of the spectrum, there is capitalism where, on the surface level, one is valued (at least measured by how much they are paid) depending on how much value they add, to one organization, and implicitly to the society (other people) in general. So basically, if you are in luck choosing a profession or a craft that is better valued by society, you implicitly are more valued in the view of that society. So a barista compared to a lawyer, or a doctor seems to provide less value, judging on how much they get paid. It’s almost like society as a whole agrees on a value ranking, and providing coffee services is valued to a lesser extent than providing legal services as in this example. The number of people that barista services per day can be oftentimes much greater than a lawyer, and the level of satisfaction, in terms of the coffee made to perfection can be much greater, however, this value provided is priced less, hence implicitly valued less.

On the other end of the spectrum, we could have a society where the sole nature of being human, or citizen of that society, and contributing to it by whatever means (barista/lawyer, etc..), qualifies you to a baseline pay, that can fulfill your and your family's needs. On top of that, whoever chooses to go to a greater extent in pursuing greater education, yes, they are given a premium, as they can add value that is more substantial, but that premium is 1.5–2x not 10x or 100x. Value price is better distributed in this case, and people pursue higher education, or different careers because that is what they like to do, not because that’s the only way to provide for themselves or their families.

Regardless of the type of society, we can agree that depending on the context, value is treated differently, and one activity, product or service, can be of greater value than the other. People vote with their money or their time, on what is higher in the ranks of value for them.

Now there is this exception where value is hacked, or exploited by big corporations that understand how the brain works, and our need to prevent and predict and to keep up with the Joneses. For example, we spend hours in front of a phone so we vote with our precious time, that spending time on social media and devices, is of greater value, than going for a walk in the park, or talking to friends, or further developing a craft, just to give a few examples. That is not because our social media feed is more valuable but most likely because those nuggets of information, we get from social media, are hacking our brain’s dopamine addiction, and we become social media or email addicts, checking our phones every 10 minutes anxiously that we might get something of importance there. There are many corporations that have predicated their growth on this type of medium and have made a fortune, but the value there is not real, or not to the extent we give it our time.

There are many ways to provide value in a society, for example investing in 1) public transportation, so people can move freely and unrestricted, and transport is easy and convenient, 2) the food system, by providing healthier food, accessible to everyone, and the list can go on and on about what true value is. As said before, value ranking can be skewed by marketing, mass media, or social beliefs.

Now that we know all this, let’s see how we can extract practical advice that we can apply in our lives. The thing to understand here is that whether we like it or not, value is something that is important and can be used to our advantage to make the lives of others better and therefore ours as well.

The Value Graph

The Value Graph is an important concept as you can draw all the dimensions of your life in a graph and list there how do you provide value to that dimension. For example, if you have a job you can write down how you bring value, i.e. directly to customers or part of the value chain, how big your impact is, e.g. do you bring value to 10 people a day, 100, or thousands for example if you have an online service. If you’re married, or have kids, you can write down there the things that you do that your family values, e.g. cooked a nice meal, or took the children to kindergarten each day, morally supported all members whenever they need it, etc... If you have friends that you’re close with, you can think of how many times you’ve come up with an idea for a gathering location, or how many times you’ve paid for the beer, or entertained a nice conversation, so you keep those friends. And the list can go on and on depending on how many facets of your life you have.

Next to the value that you add to those dimensions of your life, you can write the value(s) that you expect to get back from that dimension. If your expectations are higher than the value you give, then that’s a good clue that you can get better there, or if you add too much value, and receive too little in return, the value efficiency of that environment is not great, so you might want to do something about it.

The way to look at this graph, and perhaps further diagnose potential issues or imbalances if one aspect of your life is not working that well, is to look at that value list that you wrote down and make an objective assessment on if the value you provided is in line with the value you receive back from that. For example, you might complain that you don't have enough friends, but when is the last time you’ve organized a gathering, or came up with a good idea, or were kind to a friend in need, or perhaps work is not doing well, perhaps you think you don't make enough money or you did not get that promotion that you were looking for. Think about the value you add there, do you really add more value than others, now that you have that list written down, you can objectively assess that. And if for example, the environment does not allow you to provide value to the extent you want to, or the value exchange is imbalanced or trending downwards, it’s okay to look for something else.

Entitlement is also a function of value, and can be defined as such:

Entitlement is the delta between the value provided and the value expected. If the delta, in this case, is negative, that results in entitlement. E(v) = Vp— Ve. If the delta is net positive, meaning you provide more than you expect, you’re either altruistic, or you invest in that domain long term, or you have a low value efficiency.

Value-Based Leadership

Now for people who are interested in formally pursuing a leadership career or even the ones who do not but are interested in leadership in general, we are all leaders in many aspects of our lives. Even if formally we’re not minted as leaders of our communities or organizations, leadership is a way of being, a lifestyle if you will, and is not a position. Anyone can be a leader. It only takes the wisdom to know what is best for the greater good of the group, and have the courage to voice it and/or pursue it, and the energy to see it through.

Now if you want to further develop this aspect of your life, you’d have to understand some of the mechanics of leadership:

Leadership is based on influence and the extent of influence exerted is directly proportional to the value provided to those we seek to influence. Given all things equal, it is not the idea that has provided the most value wins, but the idea of the person who provides the most value prior to a decision most of the time wins. For example, if you need the votes of one or many persons to win an election, or have a majority in a decision-making event, you have to understand where you stand in terms of the value that you’ve brought to the electors. If another candidate, or member of the team, or whomever else has a different idea if they have historically provided better value to the people who are voting they will most likely win regardless if their idea is better or not.

So if you’re a leader, start by knowing your community or organization, and then providing them real value, honest actual value based on what they value (not what you value). Support them in their work, both practically and emotionally, listen to their feedback, give them advice that will open opportunities for them, and then when the time comes to get their support and loyalty you will most likely have it. This process needs to be genuine of course.

Now that we’re close to the finish I’ll leave you with a question to reflect upon:

What is the value that you want to bring to this world? Don't wait, begin now to impact the world by providing value to others using your unique qualities and skills, and ultimately with your inherent quality of being a human!

Thank you.

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Gabriel G Baciu

Gabriel G Baciu

Software engineer, leader, entrepreneur, lately focusing on the science of leadership and success, healthy living, and low latency software systems.