Uncovering our personal values for futures insight
It was one of those motivational speaking examples that make maturer members of my profession cringe. The speaker was trying to hype up the audience in preparation for some life changing insight which only he had access to. He had the audience stand and chant — chant — their top three values. The spectacle was of a room full of mature, intelligent grown ups chanting “Love! Joy! Peace!” Or “Family! Love! Hope!” Or “Harmony! Happiness! Forgiveness!”
All I heard was people saying what they thought they should be saying.
The speaker moved swiftly on after this interlude and never revisited the conversation about values. That was the moment, standing at the back of the room, stubbornly refusing to participate, that I realised that I didn’t know what my values were. It was easy to judge everyone in the room, but could I do any better? Was I able to communicate what my values were. Would I be able to be honest and not just parrot the nice values that we think we are all supposed to embrace.
A values deep dive
What followed was a deep dive into discovering my values. I am often a practical person (when I am not being totally fantastic about dreams and ambitions). I went to our best source of all information and downloaded multiple lists of all values that I could find. I put them all into a single document and then started putting them into categories that made sense to me. Then I looked at the categories and eliminated the ones that didn’t immediately appeal to me. And then I played with the balance, sorted them into priorities, moving categories and then individual values up and down the list in comparison to each other. I ended up with a very clinical list that I decided would be my starting point. They were good, but they didn’t resonate yet.
My next step was to discuss this with people who knew better. I am a member of an incredible mastermind of colleagues and friends. We have been meeting know for 2 years so we know each other well. And some of them are really good at the EQ conversation that I had avoided. Over time we have revisited the conversation of values and talked them through and commented on each others’ observations until we all made progress.
And then the last step was to get really personal and see what really mattered to me. Now of course my family is important. And of course peace and love and all the virtues are important. But what none of my colleagues had expressed in the activity was the same thing that I was avoiding articulating. I value success. I am ambitious. And I want to be paid for the value that I bring to people. See even there I struggle to say that I value money. It seems so dirty somehow and surely this is a hang up that we should be able to move past.
So after all this exploration and navel gazing, I came up with a list of values that I completely identify with. They are the values that I use to measure my activities against. What should I spend my day invested in? Does that gel with my values? Who should I work with? How do they measure up against my values. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do the other good things that are important, but in terms of my work and my investment of time, they need to fit.
It was also important to discover that values can change over time and in different stages of life. So at this stage, these are my values:
I define alchemy as the practice of creating something new out of something old. It involves some science, some experimentation, a little art, a dash of magic.
As a speaker and as a futurist, when I work with clients and audiences, I bring alchemy to the conversation. I have knowledge, experience, skills and a bunch of futures models. The clients have knowledge, experience, skills in their field. Together, with some collaboration, we can create solutions and scenarios that neither of us could create on our own. Together we create something new and magical out of something old and tired.
If I didn’t have this value as one of my top values, I would worry constantly that I needed to bring all the answers and solutions to my clients and present it to them. Inevitably that solution would be poorer than what we can craft and mould together.
On reflection, I think that some of our values emerge as a reaction against something we do not like. Agency is so important to me because of my experience of and witnessing of people who have their agency taken from them. Agency is the degree to which people have the opportunity to make decisions about their own lives.
As a parent, my responsibility has been to raise confident, self aware young people. Now that they are older teenagers, I parent them by giving them more opportunities to make decisions about their own lives. I know this approach stresses other people who want me to raise obedient, compliant children, but its too late now. I have children who will be responsible for their own lives, their own careers and money and family and will find ways to express their unique skills and talents according to their values, not according to what their parents, grandparents or society expects of them.
All of these values can come down to transcendence — experiencing something beyond the normal. We can invest our lives in compliance and production of the expected, or we can tap into something deeper and transcend the ordinary, the normal, the expected. We have the capacity to create more than that. We have the capacity to be more than that.
I have a secondary set of values too:
I love seeing any example of craftsmanship. When a person crafts something of value, they leave a part of their soul in their work. This could be in the form of traditional art, actual crafts, a powerful visual slide deck, a moving vocal message, a useful written report. It could be expressed in the selection, nurturing and maturing of a leadership team in an association. It could be a meaningful marketing message.
While creativity is a factor of alchemy, I get literal thrills when I see an approach to something that is unexpected. When someone takes a bad situation and tweaks it to create a new perspective, the result is surprising, pleasing, exciting. I seek to be creative about challenges that I experience.
This is where I get anxious. It feels somehow wrong to put money on a list of values. One of my mastermind colleagues suggested that I use the word ‘monetization’ instead. When I produce work that creates value for others, it is only right that I am compensated. I am not looking for indulgence but respect for value created.
My values have helped me to shift my business, focus my efforts and be more intentional about what I offer to my clients.
One of my first challenges to new clients is to do the same. If you cannot articulate your values, if your members or staff cannot articulate the values of your organization, or association, then your efforts may be unfocused and it will be more difficult for you to define your preferred future and make plans to get there.
If you would like to use the list to start defining your own values, you can get the download from this page.