Organizational Effectiveness: How Do You Provide Value?

value and poetryA brief piece on the radio today highlighted college students’ monetary challenges and struck a disharmonious chord with me. A student said she was voting for a particular candidate because the person would fight for free tuition. 

I don’t write political blogs, but the economy is fair game. Business, capitalism and free markets have brought more people out of extreme poverty and created more value for the people of the world than anything else. (See “Enlightenment Now” by Steven Pinker.)

One could argue that a free college education is a boon to the economy and our country. I might buy that as long as it resulted in society members who were better prepared to provide value. Our extra taxes might get a good return on investment. 

This particular student, however, was in a graduate program studying poetry and blamed capitalism for her problem. I vehemently oppose my hard-earned money going to support poets. I have nothing against artists of most variety; in fact, my wife and one of my adult children are artists. I paid for my daughter’s art school, but we both knew she wouldn’t make a living doing art. That was my choice. However, paying for your son or daughter to study poetry or 12th century Swedish history doesn’t excite me. 

One tenet of a well-run business is that most everyone employed by the firm adds financial value. Whether you’re the CEO or much more junior, you’d be better off starting each day by asking, “How can I best add value around here today?” Have fun, take a long lunch, even play a game of foosball, but bring value to the firm. Your job, your family, your co-workers, the shareholders, the economy and the country depend on people producing a return on the investment that the owners make in them. If you don’t believe this, ask your boss if you can get paid to be the company poet.

I’m partial to business that adds value to society. While tobacco companies, casinos, prostitution and portions of the financial sector bring employment, they bring little value to society overall. I’d rather not financially support them either.

Having a purpose and adding value gives people a sense of accomplishment, unless they have a corrupt set of values. (They should, of course, feel rewarded for this.) Creating or allowing valueless jobs is criminal. No one is productive all hours of the workday, but everyone deserves a chance to add real value to their firm so that they can participate in making their lives better.

I fully recognize that poetry brings some people great joy, much as skiing does for me. I just don’t think that you should pay for my season pass.

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