Looking at Value in a new Light

I have had the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” on my reading list for over 20 years. So it’s been interesting finally picking it up and reading it. Some regrets about not having read it earlier, but equally enjoying the experience of reading it now. I doubt it would be having the impact it is now if I’d read it when I was in my twenties.

I’ve not finished it yet, but just got to the bit where he talks about how Quality turns the usual dualism of Subject vs. Object, into a triad, with Quality being the third element.

I’ve found this insight fits very well with the similar questions I’ve had about Value. For starters I’ve been fighting the urge to define it. Of course I’ve tried, but never found the results either pleasing or able to stand even the shortest test of time. So when I read Phaedrus taking the approach of rejecting the need to define Quality I was intrigued.

So in this rather unfocused post I wanted to explore how Pirsig’s ideas of quality map to my specific context of how to look at the work we do. First as mentioned above, when you make Value an undefined term it frees you up to talk about it in relative terms. As Phaedrus did with his class, we can now ask people to make a judgement call on how much Value they see in a given piece of work for a given customer.

The whole Value concept was beautiful. It worked. It was that mysterious, individual, internal goal of each creative person, on the blackboard at last.

It’s not that long ago that we talked about something we called a Moment. These Moments allowed us to talk about how our customers felt when we delivered the work. As this quote shows however Moments only cover one side of the problem. 

Was Value something that you ‘just see’ or might it be something more subtle than that, so that you wouldn’t see it at all immediately, but only after a long period of time?

We still flip-flop between Moments, the bit you ‘just see’, and something else we call Flow which talks to the value which only becomes visible after a long period of time. Once you have these two concepts it is tempting to leave Value sitting somewhere between the two. However this leaves us with a Dilemma. Two conflicting ideas. You can take the viewpoint of the Customer and look at just their subjective thoughts and feelings about the Work as it is delivered, or you can look at the Work itself and the long term impact it has on the world of the Customer.

However there is a third way. To take Value outside of the Customer and the Work. To make it stand alone. In echo’s of Drucker’s quote about the purpose of Business we now have Value itself creating both the Customer and the Work.

This means Value is not just the result of a collision between the Customer and the Work. The very existence of the Customer and the Work themselves is deduced from the Value event. The Value event is the cause of the Customer and the Work, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of the Value!

So rather than the general focus on how we can demonstrate the value of the work we have done for our customers. The new mindset is begin with the Value. Let the Value drive the process. Here again we have echos of a Lean Manufacturing mindset, but for me this approach would go much further.

‘The sun of Value,’ he wrote, ‘does not revolve around the Customer and the Work. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!’

Put simply the hypothesis is that you should build your business around the Value. If you figure this out (in all it’s undefinable glory) then the Customers and the Work will create themselves. A bold statement. Not one I can stand by, but a mindset shift that I think is worth exploring.

I’d better go and finish the book now!

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