Friday, January 1, 2016

Interstitial -- Thinking about Your Value Model

One of the really weird things about growing older is how the repeating patterns in your life just get more and more pathetically obvious. After enough years it just starts to get embarrassing. Yes, I will be making the same three fucking resolutions I always make. Yes, this is my time of year to vacillate between complete lethargy and frenetic energy (must. do. all. the. laundry). Same annual planning, same 'creative' ideas. Yes, by next month I'll be stressed about that other thing -- because I do every fucking year.

And it's not decision driven. I decide to do new things and change stuff up, I promise. I've lived in different states and cities and had different jobs and hobbies. I'm excited by change. But underneath lurk the same seasonal cycles and personal patterns. Honestly, the reason I stopped keeping a personal diary was to try and preserve some sense of surprise.

Every year, the week between Christmas and New Years is my time for deep thinking and long-range planning, for acknowledgement of the "too much" that surrounds the holiday season. The week for plotting changes, but without the stress of having to make any of them yet. When I determined that I was down to a week of vacation time, I had a decision to make: take the week before Christmas or the week after? Week before would be less stressful. I'd have more time for last minute shopping and mailing and baking and cleaning. But the idea of returning to the quiet, quiet office after the holiday was just too depressing. Better to get the work all done early and then spend the week after just resting and enjoying myself... oh, and thinking. Lots of thinking.

Gordon kicked off a really interesting discussion about the importance of animism. In his response to my comment, he mentioned the "model value" of animism versus what I'll call the cerebral masturbation worldview (it's all psychological). Fundamentally, animism is much more hands-on, and therefore more satisfying and useful. And this got me thinking about value models in general.  

Corporate speak time: At a high level, a value model is a method for measuring the value you provide to your customers. It takes into account the processes of creating that value, as well as managing that process and supporting it. The goal is to provide value for customers in a way that drives the profit of the organization. In any company, there are three groups who impact company value: the customers (who receive the value for their money), the employees (who create the value and reap the rewards), and the investors (who fund the creation of value and gain a benefit).

In a best case scenario, the needs and priorities of the three groups are aligned. Value is created and customers, employees, and investors are all happy. Unfortunately, this best case scenario is rare. There are many companies where the groups run at cross purposes, and providing value to one steals value from another. Usually, it's the investors needs who end up winning, to the detriment of both customers and employees. I don't think this sort of situation is sustainable in the long run, but companies do it all the time (as several hiccups in my own resume demonstrate).

OK, stop yawning, this is getting relevant right now. You have a value model. Not just in a career or business sense (like your value to your employer or whatever) but personally -- and magically. In your value model, you are the customer and the employer and the investor. You invest in yourself so that you can create more value that you can then enjoy and use. But even though you play all three roles, you aren't alone.

There are others who invest in you, who help you create value, and who are customers for the value you create. In our non-hierarchical, symbiotic world your investors, customers, and employees may have considerable overlap: Ancestors, Deities that you have relationships with, spirits you work with, family, friends, colleagues and mentors. And just as in the corporate world, things work best when the needs and priorities of the various groups are aligned... not that this is always easy to do.

You'd think that if you are a prime member of all the groups, then creating value would be easy. Which is why humans are so uniformly happy and fulfilled, right?

In fact, investing in yourself in a way that pays off, doing the right things at the right time, and above all creating a life for yourself that actually brings you value... super, super hard. Add in all the other folks in your life (both corporeal and non) and it gets even more complex. In fact, people in general are terrible at knowing what really makes them happy and fulfilled and what brings them joy and contentment. This is why people's value models often include things like "make even more money," "win against that other person," "stare mindlessly at a glowing screen alone," and "argue with people I don't know about things I don't really care about." Even things like "kill those who disagree with me," or "hate those who are different."

Back to animism then. The animistic worldview is fundamentally alive. It's full of meaning and of purpose, even if you can't always see it. The natural world is numinous, each aspect working as part of a giant interconnected whole and yet driven by its own instincts, needs, wants... each plant, animal, bacteria, even rivers and rocks and forests have their own value models. Everything has a spark, a drive, a destiny.

Now before we get all fluffy, these value models do conflict, they do go wrong. But what's fragile at the micro level can be highly antifragile at the macro. And together they create something larger than the individual parts, something with its own sense of beauty and order. Our world is teeming with spirit, animated at every level. It's a living example of, well living (even in dying). And living in a way that is full.

It's the opposite of the nihilistic emptiness of the existentialist model: the idea that only your own thoughts are meaningful or knowable and that the greater world lacks meaning.* Alternately, by seeing the world as inherently full of spirit and meaning, it puts our own search for meaning in context. As we strive to make our way in the world, to create value for ourselves and those we care about, we can look beyond the values of faith and philosophy. And because the whole world is alive, that means the whole world is communicating. If we can just understand some of its language, we can tap into a much larger, and potentially more interesting, data set. The inter-net of things... literally.

Finally, animism greatly widens your potential network. Sure, many of those connections may be weak, but weak connections have been proven to give the most access to change and opportunity. And in an animistic world, you can never be alone.

As you think about resolutions and projects and all the busy todoing of our lives, don't forget to think about your value model. And as you imagine a valuable life, look around at all the animate life that surrounds you.

* The ultimate example of this is the idea that everything around you and that you experience is a creation of your own mind. That you are the only real thing and the only thing that matters. I read a book a number of years ago that makes this supposition and suggests that you can therefore create exactly the sort of life you want. I suppose this may have been one of the sources of The Secret.



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