top of page

What do you value? Three powerful approaches by decision experts

Sometimes we are clear about the decision (or problem) we face but we are not clear about what we want to achieve.

Instead of taking the time to clarify our values and objectives, we jump straight into action.


After all, who has time to sit and think?

We are adults - we know ourselves.

We've worked here for so many years - we know what this company wants.

We know the whole industry.


So we take action, let things happen and decide later how successful we have been.

And guess what? More often that not, we "hit the mark"!

We are THAT good!

Only, drawing the mark after our arrow has hit the wall is probably not the way to do it.


It may make it easier to "justify" to ourselves and others the decision we have made and how it was a success.


But in the long run, such "randomness" does not help us achieve much.Instead, we need to think about what we want to achieve.What is important to us in this decision == our values.


To address the difficulty of composing a complete set of values for a decision, different experts suggest different approaches. These can be complementary or stand-alone, depending on our starting point (how in touch we are with our values, now).


Here are three approaches that I find useful:

1/ Emotional Agility approach by Susan David


Harvard Medical School Prof of Psychology Susan David explains:


Our values are like rooms in a house.

Just like you can't be physically present in all rooms at once, you can't nurture all your values simultaneously. Finding a balance between your values is about spending some time in each room.


Why are values important? Because they guide us in our decisions - they are ongoing (not fixed like goals) and active (they evolve over time). Once we know our values we foster self-acceptance and free ourselves from social comparison. We get closer to the person we want to be.


She poses 5 important questions to identify your values:


1. Deep down, what matters to me?

2. Which relationships do I want to build?

3. What do I want my life to be about?

4. During which activities do I feel most alive?

5. If all my stress were gone, what would my life look like? What new things would I pursue?

2/ Four-step approach by Ralph Keeney


Decision-making guru and Professor Emeritus at the Fuqua School of Business of Duke University Ralph Keeney proposes a four-step approach for identifying appropriate values (and then objectives) for a decision:


Step 1. Make a Wish List.

Make a wish list of everything you can think of that is relevant to the decision.

Include every idea that comes to mind - you can always cross it off later if you decide it's not relevant.

Do your own thinking first - asking for suggestions before you have thoroughly considered your values can anchor your thinking in the ideas of others and lead to serious omissions.

If you feel you've run out of ideas, challenge yourself to add a few more and you probably will.

Take a break and come back later; you may identify even more of your relevant values.


Step 2. Employ Value Stimulation Techniques

Step 3. Ask Others to Suggest Values.

Friends, colleagues, and advisers can offer insight about your decisions.

Simply ask them, “What considerations would you take into account in making this decision?”

If you ask directly, “What do you think I should do?” be sure to ask how they came to their conclusion and work through their logic.

It is particularly useful to talk to people who have faced similar decisions.


Step 4. Clarify Previously Identified Values.

Use three simple questions:

"what do you mean by this value?"

"why is this value important?"

"how can you achieve this value?"

Example: Suppose you have several job offers and have to choose one. You have listed your initial values as interesting work, good salary and convenience. Asking yourself what you mean by interesting work might suggest working on substantive issues, making significant contributions, having enjoyable colleagues, and avoiding involvement in legal and regulatory affairs. Thinking about how your work could be more interesting might lead you to values such as professional interaction with people inside and outside the company, the desire to travel on business, continuous learning and not being at a desk all day.



3/ Inversion trick by Cassie Kozyrkov

Google's first Chief Decision Scientist Cassie Kozyrkov offers a handy trick for helping us identify our values:


Invert to narrow down and avoid herding.

Think about which values/ priorities many other people have that are simply non-priorities for you. Things other people care that you don't really care about so much. 

For example: Mark seems to prioritize his family, career and watching football with friends. Eva cares about eating sustainably, exercising regularly and volunteering. Do I care about these also? How much do I care about these? 


Assess simultaneously to stay fair.

When you're left with a short list of priorities, look at them side by side (not one by one), and compare to see which are more important to you. Then you’ll have your short list of values/ priorities.


Remember, the list is not the full you.

Sure, you also care about 100 other things and this short list doesn’t fully define you. But it should speak to your core beliefs and values, in this point in time, and that’s a great place to start for aligning your decisions. And importantly, your actions.

Question for you


Can you take 5 minutes to start a Google drive folder with your values?

17 views0 comments
bottom of page