How Do You Measure Value?

Value is an interesting and sometimes tricky thing to play with, I like to approach my work considering what a fair exchange of value for all parties might look like. I was contacted this week about speaking at an event which people pay several hundred £££ to attend. All was going well until I enquired about the available budget to fund speakers. ‘We don’t pay our speakers’, came the reply.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this, so in the absence of money, I ask about ‘a fair exchange of value’ instead, and what the promoter thinks that might look like. In this case, and in nearly all others, this question brings forth a stumbling reply leading quickly to awkward silence. The event promoter cannot come up with an answer. I appreciate I may be putting them on the spot, but if as the event promoter/owner you do not know/cannot articulate what value you can create/cocreate for any/all stakeholders, then in the absence of £££ you’re asking for unpaid volunteers, aren’t you? As a friend in my network says, ‘value is subjective’, and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it – trickier though it may be to manifest it.

How do you measure value?

More on this subject here, courtesy of Mr Godin

Opportunity Cost

A couple of months ago I wrote about preparation, and some people’s unwillingness to invest in it. Bizarrely the same people who don’t want to pay for something to be done well, often still expect it to be delivered to a great standard.

On a related matter, I saw this meme on Facebook yesterday which brought a smile to my face. I hope you like it, and this may be the one and only time you see a cat here on the blog. Like a lot of these memes, this one is spreading fast and I know not from where it originated. If anyone knows the source, please tell me so I can credit it.

Client Brief Client Budget

The example I shared previously, had it been accepted by me – would have turned an already tiny fee (sorry but I can’t bring myself to tell you how low the offer was) into something quite microscopic and definitely unprofitable, when spread across the time needed to prepare and deliver the work. If you run your own business, you’ll already have your own measures in place in order to check and test this kind of stuff. You do have those – don’t you…? 

Somewhere in the mix, there is a point below which you not only devalue yourself and your service, but you also cost yourself other, more interesting and useful opportunities. And I think this often gets missed. I know it can be tempting to say, ‘what the hell, I’ll take the fee, it’s money in the bank’, and of course, it’s your choice, but I think that way, impoverishment lies. Working for peanuts can not only set a dangerous precedent for future work, it also starves you of time that you could be using to develop something of greater, and ideally mutual, value.

I guess the important word here is mutual. Ultimately if you’re happy being stiffed (or doing the stiffing), that’s fine. But if you believe your work is about reciprocity, about helping people including you, then the next time you’re offered work that isn’t profitable, don’t just think about the money – think about all the other, useful, productive things you could be doing with that time to build something really fantastic.

Curious to know what others think. Whether you be the buyer or the seller, is there such a thing as a win-win scenario?

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

photo credit