“He knows the price of everything but the value of nothing” is a term I often heard as a child although I never really understood it until I grew up and made my way the world. It’s been on my mind recently. Let’s take a couple of examples.
Firstly, the potential legislation in the USA to stop online piracy. The debate seems to be about whether all content should be “free” and whether in fact this law would lead to a draconian censorship of free speech. I don’t want to get too deeply in to what is a fascinating power struggle but it strikes me that everyone knows what they are willing to “pay” but aren’t sure what the “value” is to their life. To quote @neilmorrison “If I offered you a free holiday or a free car, you’d expect a catch. Online I offer you free content and you blindly accept.” I offer no conclusion on this other than to ask whether people have truly considered what it costs to have “free” content.
My next example is my bank. I choose to keep my money with them for several reasons, not least of which is the ethical stance they take over investments. It’s true to say that my banking costs slightly more than my friends and the interest rates aren’t quite so good but honestly, it gives me the warm fuzzies to know that what they make from me isn’t being spent on arming dictators and exploiting the developing world. I see that as a fair exchange. I know we can all talk about how bankers have ruined our world but it strikes me that there are a fair few people who lived on credit for things they couldn’t really afford (me included) or bought second houses to rent out. Again, I draw no distinct conclusion but I note that “free” or “cheap” credit did rather blind us to the value of certain investments.
Finally, I’ve recently been talking to David Goddin @changecontinuum following an interesting article on his “People, Performance, Potential” blog about pricing in coaching, a subject obviously dear to my heart. I won’t reprise the discussion here as David covers it much better but it prompted me to tell him a story about an old CEO of mine who was challenged in a “town hall” meeting about the size of his pay packet. He took up the challenge and gave a very interesting answer on his relative worth. The CEO had been hired to deal with a very difficult Public / Private Partnership and was responsible for renegotiating exorbitant contracts. He asked us all to consider when we would feel he had been value for money. Was it when he had saved 10 times his salary during a meeting with a contractor the previous day? Would it be when achieved 50 or 100 times his salary in savings, at no cost to our pay packets and maybe even freeing money for better wages if we could also produce efficiencies. Such a bold answer impressed many of us there and it certainly shifted the debate on dramatically.
Now I’ve been drawing on large examples that many of us can relate to and yet on a micro level we are all facing price vs value decisions daily. The convenience of the supermarket or internet shopping as opposed to traipsing down a high street being the most obvious. However it extends beyond fiscal choices in to such areas as how and where we spend our time. For example the relative worth of friends and family, the necessary compromises of relationships or parenthood, a career in social provision or in private industry. In those areas are you buying on price paid or value extracted? Maybe it’s worth taking a little while to evaluate and balance the books……
On that note, I’m off now to do some pro-bono coaching, I get no money from it, but trust me when I say that it has great value in my life.