Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Adding the Value Only You Can Add

I sometimes get asked by my employees what I think they should focus on. The answer I usually give is: take a look at the company, take a look at where we're heading, and “add the value only you can add.”

In my experience, there are *four* ways in which value gets created in an organization:

1. The coming-together of capital and people (foundation)
2. The reaction of people to plans and needs (task-based work)
3. Contributions to intellectual property (creative thinking)
4. Self-organization based on a combination of the above (entrepreneurial activity)

Additionally, there are *four* ways in which value gets destroyed:

1. Resistance to change
2. Secretiveness and/or disrespect
3. Lack of communication or understanding
4. Criminal acts: theft, fraud, sabotage

Destroying value is easy - everything you need to know is listed right here, and applies in equal part to religious terrorists or atheist technologists.

I personally prefer to focus my gray matter on how value is created – because when value gets cooked up at companies, a surprising amount can end up in the hands of individuals and their families. And that's a good thing.

1. Task-Based Work

Task-based work is where the bulk of the value gets created in a business – especially in areas like sales, development, QA, and customer support, where repetitive work builds the odds of success, and corporate governance and finance, where process-based attention to detail is critical to a company's prosperity.

But task-based work can also be wearying if you’re kept in the dark or not properly tasked – it can feel at times like negative value is being created.

How do you know if you’re working for a bad manager? If you have a bad manager, you’ll find yourself frequently with time on your hands - or no idea of the value of what you’re doing – because the manager either misjudged your ability to get something done, or because they didn’t provide any context or understanding.

Suggestion: Tell your manager you need to understand why doing the task you’re doing is important. If you don’t have a task, ask your manager what problems they need to solve or processes they are trying to create.

If you are tired of doing a repetitive task, figure out how to automate that task or response, and sell your manager on your plan to do so. Tell everyone when you’re done, so we know the value you’ve created - the value that only you were able to bring to the forefront.

2. Creative Thinking

Creative thinking is highly useful to an organization – but only if it is shared. Ideas are valueless if kept a secret. For an idea to have any value at all, it needs to be shared with managers, or with the custodians of intellectual property – the CTO, the General Counsel, the CEO, and department VPs.

Equally, the ability to see around corners is useful only if shared - taking pleasure in watching someone fail because you recognized the path they were on is a particularly nasty form of amusement.

For an idea to have maximum value, like sushi, it should be served "sliced but raw". The biggest mistake I see people making is the mistake of “polishing their idea”. The only thing that adds value to an idea is *work* – "bulk thinking" seldom adds much value to the initial burst of inspiration.

As Einstein once said, the four steps to success are: saturation, incubation, inspiration… and perspiration. He rated perspiration 99% of the effort.

Suggestion: Don’t assume something is valueless – or valuable – in its current context. Don’t keep it a secret. Make sure someone outside your department is aware of your idea – it may be worth a hundred times more in Legal or Marketing than in Development (or vice-versa).

3. Entrepreneurial Activity

The very best entrepreneurs combine thinking and action, and the best of these guys create value every waking minute of every day. Venture investors are *always* looking for people like this, and, believe it or not, these guys always come to the investors with exactly the same presentation, regardless of the nature of their invention.

At the end of any decent presentation of a business plan, there is always a graph. The graph indicates to the investor that the entrepreneur understands it is their job to add value over time.

In fact, on the graphs I have personally seen, the “x” axis is always “time”, and the “y” axis is always “value”. The guys that get the money are the guys that design the best-looking “hill to climb”, and have the best-looking (and most proprietary) walking sticks to do it with – i.e. the guys that are able to prove their company will add more value over time, and face less competitive pressures, than competing operations.

Suggestion: In today’s world, the folks that add the most value in the least amount of time (Bill Gates, JK Rowling, George Marshall, Steven Spielberg, Paul McCartney, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Rupert Murdoch, Bono, Steve Jobs, Tiger Woods, Warren Buffet, etc), win.

Note: You hear a lot about the "compromises" entrepreneurs make to become successful. Really? How much do you think each of these guys on this list compromised either their beliefs or their personalities?

Read this list through again - if you can find a compromiser among them, I'll buy dinner.

Don’t think you can add value from where you sit? Look around – there are people rising fast at Authentium because they took an idea home on the weekend and worked on it until it became a product line. These people are inventing valuable work habits and may one day find this approach useful when starting their own business.


If you find yourself not adding value, ask for tasks, or invent them, or jump in and help someone with too much to do. Share ideas outside your group, and act on them. Take ownership of your output and take pride when others offer you improvements, because they will make your idea more valuable.

The cell phone of today is infinitely more valuable than the first prototype telephone. Don't you think Alexander G. Bell would be proud to hold the iPhone in his hand today? SHARE your idea, and watch it become something far greater than you.

Above all, DO NOT sit idle – because when you do that, you’re not creating value for anyone.

By the way, this is "just my small change" - you're welcome to disagree. But in thirty years of doing this, I have seen a bunch of guys succeed, and watched how. The key to every success, however long coming, is to work as a team, and add the value only you can add.

No comments: