Tag Archives: Tim Harford

Price Versus Value

Fantastic Value

I’m a member of The Tate, a wonderful British art institute. To visit one of the many special exhibitions The Tate stages typically costs around £15. I happily pay £90 for my annual membership and in return I can visit any of the four Tate galleries in the UK with a friend, as often as I like. There’s also a member’s room at Tate Modern which is a great place to sit and enjoy a view of London, have meetings and get a bit of work done. Fantastic value!

Our recent family holiday included a trip to The Tate St Ives, and The Barbara Hepworth sculpture garden. Prior to our visit we felt more keen to see the gallery than the garden, but having visited both, the garden proved to be the real knockout for all of us (our collective artwork ‘Swimming In The Sea’ which we made at Tate St Ives notwithstanding).

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Earlier in the year I passed by Tate Britain and on the spur of the moment, popped in to see a fantastic exhibition of Kurt Schwitters’ work. I’d not heard of Schwitters but the exhibition was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time and it made a strong impression on me.

I revisited Tate Britain this week to see ‘Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life’, an exhibition of landscapes by JS Lowry. I was disappointed. I knew some of Lowry’s work before my visit but with a handful of notable exceptions, I found the works in this exhibition repetitive and pretty depressing.

Price versus Value

If I had paid £15 to see the Lowry exhibition, I would feel like I’d wasted my money. I didn’t enjoy the exhibition enough to ‘justify’ the expense. However, the value I gain from a greater initial commitment to The Tate means I happily take the good and bad as a part of the journey. Perhaps even more importantly, I would almost certainly not have paid £15 to visit the excellent Schwitters exhibition, as he was completely unknown to me.

Neil Morrison references cost and value in his 10 point change agenda for HR. Specifically he says:

We need to stop focusing on cost and start focusing on value. These two things are not the same. Even if cost reduction is on the agenda, look at the value you can get from the budget, the resources. Cheaper and faster do not equate to better. 

You’ll not be surprised to learn I think Neil is spot on about this, and yet it is harder than it first looks to shift from cost and price towards value. The ‘problem’, particularly  for businesses that have chosen to list themselves publicly on the Stock Exchange, is that their results are pored over ceaselessly by analysts and others who have a need to interpret value in purely pound/dollar/euro terms.

Another challenge is that often, the value of an interaction is not felt in the moment of exchange. Indeed it may not be felt in any meaningful way at all, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try stuff out.

So what is the answer? I don’t think there is one single solution, but Tim Harford writes about the power of experimentation in his book Adapt, and I think we can all learn from this approach if we want to make work more about collaboration and cocreating value, and less about cost.

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