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The Elusive, Morphing, Meandering Nature of "Value" Vasudha Deming

This is not the story of the man who started with a red paper­clip and—through a series of barter exchanges—ended with a two-story house, although that's the story that got me think­ing about this blog post.

For Kyle MacDonald's seem­ingly apoc­ryphal but amaz­ingly true story, click here. For my take on what the story illus­trates, read on…

When I'm con­sult­ing with clients in the areas of sales, cus­tomer ser­vice, or man­age­ment, the topic of "value" inevitably sur­faces. Why do peo­ple buy? Because they per­ceive that a prod­uct will bring value to their per­sonal or pro­fes­sional lives. Why do they par­tic­i­pate? Because they expect that the expe­ri­ence will yield some mea­sure of edu­ca­tional and social merit. Why do they strive? Well, you get the idea.

But as soon as any­one tries to define "value" in absolute terms, it becomes evi­dent just how slip­pery the con­cept really is. What is true value? Does it even exist? Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems offers a course called Sales—The Other Side of Ser­vice™  which pro­poses that there are some uni­ver­sal val­ues which every­one shares: We want to be healthy, we want to save money, we want peace and secu­rity in our com­mu­ni­ties, and so on.  

In any given sales or ser­vice sit­u­a­tion, how­ever, these uni­ver­sal val­ues give way to very per­sonal desires and needs. Why else would some­one trade a movie role for a snow­globe? This is what the red paper­clip story so charm­ingly illustrates—and what makes a free mar­ket sys­tem simul­ta­ne­ously ele­gant and confounding.

The right price, the right prod­uct, the right experience—they're all defined sub­jec­tively. So, our efforts to present a value propo­si­tion (be that in the world of com­merce, fam­ily life, pol­i­tics, or soci­ety in gen­eral) must be recal­i­brated on an almost person-by-person basis.

The truth is that we never really know what some­one else will per­ceive as valu­able, and it serves us well to respect this diver­sity. (On the flip side, almost every­thing is of value to some­one—another rea­son to keep an open mind.)

Post­script: An update on Kyle MacDonald's web­site reveals that he's look­ing to trade in the red paper­clip house. Value, it seems, is as tran­sient as it is indefinable!

Vasudha leads the Per­for­mance Solu­tions Team at Impact Learn­ing Sys­tems, reg­u­larly work­ing with lead­ing com­pa­nies to improve per­for­mance of their customer-facing ser­vice, sup­port, and sales teams. She is a lead devel­oper of Impact's suite of train­ing courses and has authored four books, includ­ing the pop­u­lar Big Book of Cus­tomer Ser­vice Train­ing Games, all pub­lished by McGraw-Hill.
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Vasudha Deming
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  • http://www.warriorforum.com/blogs/rayray7/8778-history-ways-avoid-nigerian-419-scam.html Isa­iah Serrao

    I would like to thank you for the endeav­ors you have made in com­pos­ing this arti­cle. I am hop­ing the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your fan­ci­ful writ­ing abil­i­ties has inspired me to start my own blog now. Actu­ally the blog­ging is spread­ing its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine instance of it.

  • http://www.impactlearning.com Vasudha

    Isa­iah:

    Thanks for your com­ment. I'm glad you like the blog post–I had a lot of fun writ­ing it.

    Best of luck in your blog­ging endeav­ors. How can we find your blog on the Web?

  • Anony­mous

    I'm almost absolutely sure your com­ment is spam, "Isaiah".

    I'll give you a few days to reply in case it's not, before delet­ing your com­ment and mark­ing you as a spammer.






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