Have you ever asked yourself how much value you are creating for society?
If you read business books or personal development books, you are probably familiar with the concept of value creation. The famous coach Tony Robbins says that we should always think about how we can create more value to people and I totally agree with that. If we want to make more money the best thing we can do is obviously to create more value for society through great products or great services. But what is this value we are always talking about? If a tobacco company is generating a lot of profits, does it mean that it is creating massive value for society? Is the weight-loss industry generating massive value? What about the gambling industry? Mutual funds? (See Myth #3 – Mutual Funds: Are You Investing Your Money Wisely?)
What is value?
One characteristic shared by all human beings is the desire to be happy. For me, creating value simply means providing a service or a product that helps people improve their life and become happier. Why create a company if it’s not to help people improve their life?
I’m not a materialistic person and I don’t think that material things can contribute significantly to people’s happiness but let’s assume that it does.
Even with this broad definition of value, we can find many products or services out there that are not creating value.
For instance, let’s take the tobacco industry. Can we say it is creating value?
To know if a product or service is creating value we just need to ask ourselves the following question:
“If this product/service did not exist would the world be worse off?”
If you’ve never smoke, you will never feel the need to smoke and we cannot possibly say that if tobacco did not exist you would be less happier.
If your company is not creating value, and if you agree with my definition of value, it means that, unfortunately, you too are not creating value. It doesn’t matter if you work 80 hours a week or if you are the most talented employee in your company, you are not creating value since your work is just a small contribution to the products or services that your company is creating. And your company is not creating value.
The meaning of value is subjective but just assume that a company is objectively creating no value. How many people who work in that company would sincerely believe that their company is actually not creating value? Probably very few and there is a reason for that.
The danger of commitment and consistency
Let’s say you don’t smoke, you think that tobacco is harmful for the society and should be banned, but you got a great offer from a tobacco company. The pay is great and the job description meets all your expectations. You decide to take the job.
How do you think you are going to deal with the existing gap between your values and your job?
Because, your mind is always looking for consistency in your action, it will have to find a way to fill the gap. In order to do that, your belief system will progressively shift and align itself with your company’s values and beliefs.
Before working for the company your belief system could be that tobacco industry is harmful for the society and that tobacco should be banned.
If I were to meet you a few years after you joined the company your belief system would be more likely to be something like:
- We cannot prevent people from smoking. Even if tobacco were banned, people will still smoke anyway
- People have the right to smoke. It is not my responsibility to prevent them from smoking
- Banning tobacco would lead to the creation of a black market and the lack of regulation would create a lot of problems
- If I don’t work there someone else will
- My company is not only selling tobacco but also sells many other products that are harmless
- My company is giving money to charity and undertakes a lot of CSR activities
The bottom line is that, once you commit to something, you will have to change your belief system in order for it to be consistent to what you are doing. You can always rationalize afterwards to explain any of your choices in life and people do it all the time.
If you don’t change your belief system you will experience a gap between your values and what you are doing. As a result, you won’t live in integrity with yourself. It will likely affect your self-esteem, create stress and reduce your level of happiness.
Changing your belief system is a way for your mind to try to protect you. However, in certain situations it can prevent you from operating your life under a high level of consciousness and even to create harm to the society.
In many cases people really do believe that what they are doing is good for the society even when it is not objectively the case.
Who are you really working for?
If you think you are working for your company, you might believe that you are creating a lot of value. Your company might actually consider you as a valuable asset. However, are you really working for your company? Often, in companies people feel that they are working for their company, or sometimes that they are working for their division trying to secure more budget by competing with other divisions. However, in reality, employees are always working for their customers. The only reason they get paid is because customers are buying the company’s products or services.
You might believe that you are creating value to the society, but you may in fact be creating value only for your company not for the end-users.
Do you love your job?
It is possible to be fulfilled with your career, to really love your job, your company and your colleagues but at the same time to create no value for the society, or in the worst case even to destroy value, and sometimes without being fully aware of it.
I remember reading a story of a man who was in charge of the logistics during the Holocaust. His job was to send Jews to Auschwitz in the most efficient way possible. He really enjoyed his work, but was he creating value?
Though it is a wonderful thing that you love your job, it might also lead you to further ignore factors that could force you to reconsider whether that job is really suitable for you. After all, we only see what we want to see.
Now, assume you love your job and every morning when you wake up you just can’t wait to go to work. How likely are you going to create a new belief system that allows you to feel good with yourself rather than seeing the plain truth that your company is not really creating much value or in some cases harming the society?
The danger of disconnection
The more you are disconnected from the impact that has your work on the society, the easier it becomes for you to act in an unethical or harmful way without feeling guilty. To give you an extreme example, it is easier to drop a nuclear bomb by pressing a button, that to kill with your bear hands 100,000 people. It is easier to have subcontractors in China and closing your eyes on what they are doing than to set up a branch there and take responsibility for everything.
As the world becomes more and more complex, employees more and more specialized and companies more and more global, it becomes harder and harder to realize and feel the impact that we have on the society. As a result, we end up focusing mainly on performing the task in front of us with the best of our abilities. We feel joy in learning new skills and overcoming new challenges, but we tend to forget what we are contribute for and what is our real impact on the society.
The fact that companies consist of many departments is also something that can easily prevent you from seeing the big picture. Maybe you are in a department that is totally unrelated to the main activities of your company. As a result, you might not care that much if your company is creating value or not, or you just don’t think about it.
The purpose of this article is not to point finger at anybody but just to raise people awareness and give them the opportunity to think about the impact that their actions have on their life and on other people’s life. I’m not saying that you should quit your job right away or that people working in certain companies are evil. Many of us are struggling just to find a job to pay the bill and certainly don’t have the luxury to choose a job that we really believe is creating value for society.
The reality is that we are all likely to buy products that are made in factories exploiting their workers. We are all likely to eat meat from animals that lived in conditions that would scandalize us if we knew! Or maybe, we are buying index funds that invest in companies that are not as ethical as we would like them to be.
The choices we are making every day, from what we eat and where we work to what products we are buying, have way more repercussions than we can imagine. And we are responsible for those choices. However, it is unrealistic to believe that we can be perfect and make the right decisions all the time.
The first step we can take is just being aware. Awareness is always the first step before any change is made possible. Then, based on our current level of consciousness, we should decide what is the next step we should take.
What about you? What is your consciousness telling you to do?