What does your organization or department stand for? What do you stand for?
Clearly defining our core values is one of the most difficult and most important things we can do. We’re going to make decisions daily. We can either make them with pre-established guidelines that reflect what we truly value, or we can make them in the moment, trusting that our emotions and the sway of what’s urgent and reacting to what gets placed before us.
So defining our values is proactive. Responding based on the moment is reactive.
National Community Church in Washington D.C. has a unique set of core values. Very “un-church-like.” They’re sticky. They represent a set of beliefs, but they’re phrased in a way that helps people remember and understand them.
When someone hits a situation in their day-to-day life to which one of the values relates, there’s a good chance they’ll remember it. When the church (which meets in movie theaters across D.C. and runs a coffee shop as one of their venues) comes across a new opportunity that means change in how they’re doing things, values like “Playing it safe is risky” and “Irrelevance is irreverence” help them filter the decision through values that speak to the importance of change and relevance. When a person in the church finds personal change and growth hard, a value like “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” inspires them to take steps toward growth.
When we worked to build our developmental model for Residence Life, we realized there are a lot of great, well-researched models out there. But most are in researcher-talk. For something to stick – to influence behavior – it has to be written in a way that connects to the people it’s meant to impact. RAs must “get it” enough to share it or program with it. So we boiled it down to seven core values and tried to name them in ways that would stick. We’re always working to improve things, but so far, they seem to have worked better than anything else we’ve tried.
Core values can be prescriptive and descriptive. They both help simplify decisions by making clear where you stand and what you’re about. But they also show others who you are from the outset.
What about you? Do you have some clear values that drive where you work? Do you have clear personal values that help you filter decisions and actions?
Fred Wilson shares profound advice from his father about problem solving and subconscious information processing:
“He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).
He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn’t stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you’ll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.”
I know this works for me when I actually do it. We’re in the process of moving right now, and I’m amazed how my mind is working on different ways to arrange our stuff and charting our moving day plans as I’m doing things like making dinner or sleeping.
In “The math of action” we talked about how action matters as much as creativity for impact.
One way to apply this is to filter others’ input through the lens of action and ownership.
We often celebrate ideas, but ideas are cheap – implementation makes the difference.
In brainstorming sessions, it’s good to hear a wide range of thoughts. Occasionally you’ll hear from someone who’s full of ideas (often just before your deadline to complete a project), but they have no stake in the final product. Their ideas don’t affect their life.
I’ve learned that if someone is giving input without owning the work to make the idea happen, their input should hold less weight than input from the person who is willing to put in the work.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for brainstorming. There’s a place for everyone’s ideas to be heard. This also doesn’t include the opinions and ideas of the boss or supervisor who has handed you responsibility for a project. They do have a stake in the outcome. They should be in the loop throughout the process.
But on a team, when it comes down to it, the ideas from those who are ready to step into the ring and put in the work matter more.
Encourage action and ownership by encouraging the people who are setting that example.
People talk about how Americans consume for meaning. We create who we are by the clothes we wear, the decorations in our homes, and the cars we drive. We shop for entertainment. We get more stuff to fill our time.
One way to attempt to avoid the consumption trap is to focus on good enough.
Like with knives. Grete and I got a cheap set when we were married six years ago. Some are bent. Others just “kinda” work. We wanted good ones that would last.
But good is a vague category. So instead, we focused on good enough. We didn’t need the $2,000 set. Or really even the $200 set. We needed something that would work for us. So, we got one or two good enough knives we could use. Still high quality, but not the highest quality. After using the cheap ones for a while we knew which kinds we used most often. We didn’t need 10 amazing knives. Two good ones worked just fine.
Or when we went shopping for sofas a few years ago. I could find so many couches I’d love to have. But they didn’t really fit into our price range (or, sometimes, our apartment). I had to realize we were shopping for a “for now” couch, not a forever couch. It helped me focus on good enough. Maybe we’ll have our Ikea couches forever. But thinking of it as a temporary purchase helped me get past the mental barrier of wanting the most and best of everything.
Not everything we buy has to be merely “good enough,” but for some things, it’s the best possible solution. Because the truth is, maybe that whole knife set would have been amazing. And maybe that perfect couch would have made our apartment perfectly impressive and inviting. But there probably would have been knives we never touched, wasting our space and resources. And we probably would have been so worried about keeping that nice couch nice we would have been concerned about our guests and their cups of coffee. And that’s not the life I want to live, either.
So for certain things, good enough is perfect.
What about you? What’s your good enough stuff?