How to Create Lasting Value in Your Life and Work
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It’s no secret that to be successful, you need to create value for others. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, artist, or just looking to improve your career, adding value is essential.
But how do you go about doing that?
This essay will explore this precise question.
We’ll cover the following:
The instant gratification problemAn obsession with fast resultsThe problem with metricsWhen corporations devalue brandsAn economic definition of valueThe value creation framework
Four problems impact our understanding of value creation, so we first must understand these issues before learning how to create value.
Problem #1: Instant Gratification and the Dopamine high
In our fast-paced, on-demand society, it’s tempting to try and get ahead by taking the easy road. We want everything now: instant gratification.
Why is instant gratification such a problem, anyway?
Well, research has shown that the chemical dopamine is released in our brains when we receive something we want. This reinforces the behavior that led to the initial reward, making us crave it even more.
It’s a vicious cycle.
We’ve become so used to getting what we want immediately that we often don’t stop considering whether it’s actually good for us. We think: “I want it, so I’ll just have it.”
But this isn’t a sustainable way to live.
It’s not just that instant gratification is often bad for our health (think: junk food, cigarettes, etc.). It can also lead us astray in other areas of life, causing us to make poor decisions that we later regret.
For example, have you ever bought something on impulse, only to regret it later? (Like that chocolate bar full of sugar that you ate in one sitting, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t? on a workout day as well?)
Yup, we’ve all been there.
This is the result of instant gratification gone wrong.
Or how about this: have you ever procrastinated on an important task because it was too difficult or unpleasant? Again, this is the result of succumbing to instant gratification.
The need for instant gratification can also lead us to make sub-optimal decisions in our professional lives too.
We might take a job that’s not a good fit because it pays well or comes with perks instead of taking the time to consider our long-term goals and objectives.
Or we might give up on a business idea too soon because it’s not generating results immediately.
In both cases, we’re sacrificing long-term value for short-term gain. And ultimately, this is not going to lead to lasting success.
By the way, instant gratification also leaves us susceptible to smartphone and social media addiction and allows social media (and other) applications to steal away our precious time.
(Did you know that panic washes over 73 percent of people when they lose their phones, and 7 percent feel actual sickness? There’s even a name for fear of being out of mobile phone contact – “nomophobia.” Crazy, right?)
Problem #2: An obsession with fast results
There are many reasons why society has become obsessed with fast results. Let’s take a look at some of the historical developments that got us to where we are today.
Technology and automation
With the invention of the assembly line and machines speeding up production time, business owners also expected faster results from their workers. This line of thinking was passed down to employees, who began to feel the pressure to work faster and produce more.
(Food for thought: if technology and automation are designed to make work easier and faster, why do most people still work forty-hour work weeks instead of enjoying the increased productivity and profits that corporations enjoy? hmmm….)
From farm to supermarket
The first supermarket was opened in the United States in 1946. This was a game-changer for how people shopped and thought about food.
Before supermarkets, people went to the local butcher, baker, and grocer for their food. This process was time-consuming and required planning ahead.
A generation prior, people were even more self-sufficient, growing their own food. If you wanted meat, you had to kill the animal yourself.
With supermarkets, people can buy everything they need in one place. And thanks to advances in transportation and refrigeration, they had access to a wider variety of foods than ever before.
Having traveled to Japan a few times over the past decade (it’s one of my fave places to travel), I’ve seen firsthand how they’ve taken the concept of convenience to a whole new level. You can buy everything from prepared meals to hot coffee to electronics from vending machines. And they’ve got convenience stores on almost every block, many of which are open 24/7.
The explosion of television and TV ads
The first TV ad ran in 1941.
In 1950, televisions were a rarity in American households, with only 9% of homes having one. Within fifteen years, the percentage had risen to 92%.
With TV (and radio), businesses could reach a mass audience with their message. And they could do it relatively cheaply.
This was a game-changer for marketing. Suddenly, businesses had a way to reach millions of people with their message. And they could do it quickly and easily.
What was the number one objective of advertisers? To sell more products, of course!
And how do you sell more products? By convincing people that they need to buy your product.
And how do you do that? By manufacturing a sense of urgency and by appealing to people’s desire for instant gratification.
The rise of credit cards and debt.
Credit cards were first introduced in the 1950s. They allowed people to buy now and pay later. This created a whole new world of possibilities for consumers.
Suddenly, people didn’t have to save up for months or years to buy a new car or take a vacation. They could just put it on their credit card and pay it off over time.
Then came the internet, mobile payments, and smartphones.
We now live in a time when we can get what we want with the click of a button. Whether it’s ordering a pizza, booking a hotel room, or buying a new pair of shoes, we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it.
Want to learn a new skill? Just “Google it” or find lessons on YouTube.
Want to hire somebody to design a logo for your business or build you a website? Just head to Fiverr or Upwork, and find someone in just days.
The $40 Billion self-help industry
The global personal development market size was valued at USD 41.81 billion in 2021 and is estimated to reach USD 67.02 billion by 2030.
This is an industry that sells the promise of quick and easy results.
You can find self-help books, courses, and programs for just about anything these days. Want to learn how to be more confident? There’s a book for that. Want to get rich quickly? There’s a course for that.
The problem with the self-help industry is that it’s built on an unrealistic promise: you can change your life instantly. The truth is lasting change takes time, effort, and consistency.
We’re even building cities for convenience
Have you heard of the 15-Minute City concept in urban planning? Basically, cities are being designed so that amenities and most services are within a 15-minute walking or cycling distance.
The intent here is to create a new neighborhood approach to building sustainable urban areas, and that’s pretty cool. This concept is also fascinating because convenience is an integral part of it.
It’s no wonder we’ve become a society that’s obsessed with fast results. We’ve been conditioned to expect instant gratification for over a century!
Problem #3: Assuming that everything is measurable
Working in the marketing world for over a decade, one of the most annoying questions I always hear is, “what’s the ROI?” (return on investment)
As a fellow business owner, I get it. Business owners have limited budgets and need to manage their cash flow. They’re under pressure to perform and keep their business alive, so it’s only natural that they want to know how their spending will impact their bottom line. They’re focused on outcomes.
But here’s the thing:
Not everything is measurable, and somewhere along the way, we’ve taken this “what’s the ROI” thing, moved it out of business, and applied it to our personal growth and creative pursuits.
But Anf, what about management guru Peter Drucker’s often-quoted mantra of “what gets measured gets managed”?
Well, firstly, Drucker never said it, and secondly, here’s the actual quote:
Too many metrics can be a bad thing
Michael Harris and Bill Taylor support the notion that too much focus on metrics can be damaging in their HBR piece Don’t Let Metrics Undermine Your Business:
What’s the ROI of your Mother?
Gary Vaynerchuk, aka. social media influencer “Gary Vee,” had this to say in response to somebody pushing him for an ROI on social media:
That got her to stop for a second. Then she just said, “Excuse me?”
“Uh-oh.” I thought.
I assured that I was not making a “yo mama” joke at all. I let her know, for example, that the ROI of my own mother is everything. The reason I am able to do anything I do now, have the success I have, is because of my mother. The way she parented me is the reason I have the confidence and passion to do what I do.
I can’t show you a deck or slides or metrics on that. But I am proof that the ROI of my mother is enormous.
Gary further adds,
(So next time someone pushes the “what’s the ROI?” at you, maybe you could respond with “What’s the ROI of your mother?” Even if that someone is you.)
It starts at an early age
But this outcome-obsessions starts for many of us long before we enter the workforce.
In her article Everything is aiming: forget the target and focus on your aim Anne-Laure Le Cunff states:
In this goal-based society, success is defined by how our peers evaluate our track record. But what if you’re not excited about this definition of success? What if you’re feeling lost and want to find your way — not the default path, but your own path?
Some of the most important things in life, like relationships, personal development, and creative pursuit, are not quantifiable. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.
Problem #4: Corporations damaging small brands after acquiring them
Ever heard of a great product that respected users’ privacy, built by cool co-founders, and sold to an acquirer that promised nothing would change after the acquisition – only to be disappointed a few years later when they realize the exact opposite occurred?
Well, this is exactly what happened to WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton and Jan Koum, who sold their product to Facebook in 2014 for $19 billion. Both co-founders stayed on until 2018, when they left, citing disagreements about how Facebook chose to operate WhatsApp and growing concerns about Facebook’s position on user data.
Do you know what happened next? Signal, that’s what.
Signal is an open-source messaging app that uses end-to-end encryption to secure users’ messages and doesn’t collect user data for advertising purposes. (You know, the way Whatsapp did before Facebook bought it)
Signal was launched by Moxie Marlinspike and Brian Acton in 2018. (Sound familiar?)
Corporate acquisitions of startups typically fail due to a lack of understanding of integrating the acquired company into the larger organization. This can often lead to a loss of the original company culture and a deterioration of the product quality – as we’ve seen in the case of WhatsApp.
This is not an isolated case, nor is it limited to tech companies.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was acquired by Unilever in 2000. In 2009, Unilever started to cut costs by using cheaper ingredients, which led to a decline in product quality. This triggered a massive backlash from Ben & Jerry’s fans, who were loyal to the brand for its all-natural, premium ingredients.
The moral of the story?
Your reputation (i.e., your brand) means something to the people who buy into what makes your work special; if you lose sight of that, you will lose value.
What is value?
Investopedia says, “Economic value is the value that a person places on a good or service, based on the benefit they get from it.”
For example, somebody might be willing to pay $100 for a pair of shoes because they think it’s worth it. Another person might only be willing to pay $50 because they don’t place as much value on shoes.
Value is determined by how much somebody is willing to pay for something. In other words, the more someone is willing to pay for something, the more value they think it has.
Investopedia also distinguishes between economic value and market value – “which is the market price for a good or service which can be higher or lower than the economic value that any particular person puts on a good.“
How do we determine the value of a person?
Now, this is where things get interesting. You see, we can’t determine the value of a person in the same way we determine the value of a good or service.
Humans are not commodities. We cannot be bought or sold (at least legally). And even if we could, how would you determine how much somebody is worth? What metric would you use?
When we try to quantify the value of a person, we reduce them to a commodity. We take away their autonomy and agency. We turn them into a means to an end.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because it’s an important lesson that I had to learn in my journey – separating my intrinsic value as a human from what I do to make money (and external measures).
Your worth is not determined by salary, status, bank account, or job title.
You are worthy of love and respect, regardless of your accomplishments or material possessions.
Your worth is determined by who you are – which is something no one can take away from you.
— Anfernee Chansamooth (@anferneec)
Oct 9, 2022
How to create lasting value in your life and work – the value creation framework
What does it take to build a legacy that lasts over 100 years?
We can learn from Nintendo’s story as they’ve survived 130+ years.
When we study companies, organizations, and individuals that create value decade after decade, a few key elements stand out:
Setting a long-term visionMastering your craft over an extended periodFocusing on improvement over outcomesBecoming addicted to the process Serving others
Set a long-term vision
In a culture of instant gratification, it’s difficult to think long-term. We want things now, and we’re not used to waiting.
But if you want to create lasting value, you need to have a long-term vision. You need to be able to see beyond the immediate gratification and think about how your work will impact the world 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years from now.
When setting visionary goals in this way, it helps to chunk them down into smaller timeframes so they become manageable.
As human behaviour expert Dr. John Demartini shares:
At the same time, a long-term vision is a broadened space and time horizon.
When you live by your highest values, it’s an intrinsic or inner value that you spontaneously want to act on without needing extrinsic or external motivation.
However, when you’re pursuing lower value fantasies and goals you move down more into your amygdala, you are far more likely to need extrinsic motivation in the form of reward or punishment to get you to do it. As a result, your space and time horizons shrink, and you have very small timeframes.
Anytime you set a goal that is BEYOND your timeframe, the space and time horizon you’re functioning in, you will tend to hesitate, procrastinate, and frustrate in the achievement of it unless you strategically plan it into more manageable and achievable bite-sized chunks and link it to higher valued more meaningful objectives.”
This is not an easy task. It requires patience, discipline, planning, and mental fortitude.
Master your craft over an extended period.
Your value increases when you become a master, the best at being you, and delivering high-quality work consistently.
There is a kind of magic in learning and developing a craft over an extended period.
It’s the difference between someone average and someone exceptional.
As part of my research for this essay, I posted this question in several groups I’m a member of:
How long have you been working at your craft? and did you start it thinking, “I’ll make money from this one day”?
Here are some of the responses:
Connect with Jacinta on Twitter.
Fiona’s work can be found on Instagram.
Paul runs PhD Photography.
I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Therese on my podcast, and she’s certainly got a fascinating and inspiring story.
What immediately stood out to me from all these stories is how each person committed to developing their craft over decades, not months (and certainly not 90-day sprint cycles). They all followed their curiosity and focused on learning and honing their craft over many years.
They found ways to make a living. Those “other jobs” helped shape their thinking and approach to their craft. I’d argue that it’s because of those rich life experiences that there’s additional value in what each person offers.
The sum of all your life experiences makes you who you are. And it’s that specific knowledge that you gain from mastering your craft that makes you valuable.
Focus on improvement over outcomes
What happens when we focus on money too much
Something weird happens when money becomes the primary focus for pursuing a craft. It’s like a switch gets flipped, and the focus shifts from quality and improvement to how much money can be made (and often in the quickest time possible).
Something else can happen – you can lose passion and creative energy.
I’ve been down this road before. I was living in Toronto, Canada, and when I lost my job, I took something that I loved – dancing salsa – and started teaching salsa dancing to pay the bills. This launched me down the entrepreneurship path, but I quickly lost my passion for dancing.
The difference between goals and aims
The following metaphor and story from Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s article nicely illustrate the difference between goals and aims:
Eugen Herrigel (1884 – 1955) moved to Japan in the 1920’s to teach philosophy. There, he decided to train in Kyūdō as a way to better understand Japanese culture. He was fortunate to be taught by legendary archer Kenzō Awa, who was known as the man of “one hundred shots, one hundred bullseyes.”
The training was too slow to Herrigel’s taste, who kept on missing his target after months of training, and he complained about his lack of progress. The archery master replied: “The more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed.”
Instead, the master encouraged him to forget about the goal, and to focus on the way he was aiming — how he held the bow, the way he positioned his feet, the way he was breathing while releasing the arrow.
In life like in archery, the goal is the target we want to achieve, while the aim is the course we set to reach that target. A goal fixates on the finish line, while an aim considers the trajectory. When we focus on our aims, the process becomes the goal. And we’re more likely to reach our goal when we become fully aware of our aim.
Cool, so we get that we need to focus on improvement (our aim). What’s an effective way to do that?
Become addicted to the process
Meet Lebron James, aka. “The King.”
At the ripe age of 17, while he was still a basketball phenom in high school, LeBron made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. It was February 18, 2002.
Fast forward to Oct 2022, and King James is entering his 20th year playing professional basketball (the average pro baller will last 4.5 years in the NBA). He’s won 4 championships with 3 different teams (the only player to do it), he was finals MVP of all 4, and he’s the first-ever active NBA player to reach billionaire status.
So what’s the secret of his success?
In a talk show, Bron’s high school running mate and business partner, Maverick Carter, shared the following insight:
Mastery is only achieved through dedicated practice and a never-ending commitment to learning.
It takes an hour or two a day of focused, deliberate practice. And the best part? The more you practice, the better you’ll get and the more value you’ll be able to create.
Here’s the thing… in today’s Insta-famous, fast-paced, fake news, instant gratification, surface-level interactions kind of world, what many people are craving is authenticity and depth.
You also develop incredible depth when you dedicate yourself to continuous learning, developing mastery, and working at it daily.
It’s how the motorbike mechanic that I took my scooter to this morning for an oil change was able to pay attention to how my scooter looked and sounded as I was driving up to his garage. At that moment, he quickly determined that the tires didn’t need more air and that the brakes were fine.
Just like magic! My wife and I were like, “WOW! He really worked all that out within minutes?“
Depth is what makes you stand out, and it’s what makes what you do valuable.
Looking for a process improvement philosophy and set of values to guide you? Here’s one worth checking out.
Just Kaizen it
In Japan, there is a philosophy called Kaizen.
In fact, I’ve been taking a Kaizen-style approach to optimizing my website content, and the results speak for themselves. Below is a screenshot of my website traffic report for the last 30 days.
On Aug 1, I moved my site to a new domain, so the traffic was at zero. After a laborious process, three months later, I’ve got 2.6K visitors coming to my site, mostly from organic Google searches (and no active outreach for backlinks). I shared a bit about my optimization process in my build in public update for Sep 25.
The final piece in creating lasting value in your life and work is to serve others.
You do this by finding ways to help people with the knowledge and skills that you’ve acquired.
Going back to the economic definition, value is created when someone is willing to exchange their money (or time, or energy) for what you have to offer.
When you can find a sweet spot between using the skills you’ve cultivated while mastering your craft and solving a problem that someone is willing to pay for – that’s where the real magic happens.
As you solve one problem that can usually lead to another, and as you get better and better at what you do, you’ll find yourself in a virtuous cycle of creating more and more value.
As this is a heavy topic, I’ll dive deeper into it in an upcoming newsletter. (So subscribe if you haven’t already!)
The Value Creation Framework
So how can you apply all of this to your life and work?
I’ve packaged all of the above into a simple framework to help guide you.
Set a long-term vision – what do you want to have created over the next ten years? What work have you got to show for it?Master your craft – What’s one activity that you can do for hours without noticing the time passing? What are the skills that you’ve already acquired through years of practice? (or want to acquire over the next decade)Choose improvement over outcomesGet addicted to the process Serve others – What problems do people need help with that you could potentially solve with that skill?
If you can do these things, you’ll be well on your way to creating value that lasts. It will not happen overnight, but you will be rewarded if you’re patient and consistent.
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What’s new this week
1/ After a week of doing nothing because I was sick, I kicked off a 7-day article writing challenge with my wife. I’ve working on a blog series focused on how to make money blogging. The first 3 articles are live:
2/ I’m going to start writing guest articles for different websites starting next month. The goal is to get to a point where I’m doing 1 per week, so if you’re open to accepting guest articles on marketing, entrepreneurship, or personal growth.
3/ I’m kicking off 15-min pitch-free research calls to better understand how I can best help small businesses with marketing. If you’ve tried blogging, creating case studies, or business coaching to grow your business, I’d love to jump on a quick 15 min call with you to ask you some questions, and I’ll be happy to look at one challenge you’re experiencing right now too and see how I might help. Let me know if you’re up for a chat or if you know somebody who might be a good fit.