Choice and value

Choice and value are very closely related. When a person chooses action A over action B, it is because, in that context, the person values the immediately apparent consequences of A over those of B.

People understandably differ in their relative valuation of short-term and long-term consequences. Much of this is due to their beliefs, rather than anything demonstrable. The martyr who sacrifices himself to a cause probably believes either in their personal survival after death, or in the long-term benefits of his sacrifice to the cause.

It may be that what is immediately apparent is more likely to be short-term, but that is not necessarily true.

One of the consequences that people most often take into consideration is their own self-esteem, and their esteem in their social group.

When someone chooses to buy something, this is presumably because they value the immediately apparent consequences of buying the thing more than those of not buying it, or buying something else. But of course, often they have not considered the alternatives.

When someone is choosing to buy one of two or more alternatives, calculating the apparent consequences can be difficult if not practically impossible. People fall back on their "values": this can be thought of as established patterns of actual choice, whether conscious or unconscious; or alternatively as conscious principles that may govern the process of choice.

It is all immensely complex, and that is reassuring, as the topic surely has this immense complexity. People usually find making rational decisions hard, and they will do anything to make this process simpler. People only have a real choice where they are practically able to choose between options, and that means that their values must support that choice.


Theodore Zeldin on the Pont de l'Europe, Strasbourg

This text appears as one of many by different authors on the Pont de l'Europe, between Strasbourg and Kehl. I was there for an ISO SC36 meeting in March, 2011.
How shall I know that we have something to say to each other, that we ought to meet? How can I guess that you too believe that humanity's most memorable achievements in extending knowledge or creating beauty have been the result of meetings between people and ideas that have not met before?
How shall I know that you wish to go beyond the language of politeness, beyond repeating what you have said before? How will you reveal that it is not mere information that you would be willing to exchange, but questions, doubts and dreams, the dreams which refuse to die?
How shall I know that, just as this garden is a work of art made out of plants whose history began in distant continents, you too are trying to shape your life into a work of art, however modest? How will you tell me that you welcome into the garden of your mind everything that civilisations all over the world have discovered about wisdom and folly?
How shall I know that busy and stressed though you are, you do sometimes find the time to pause and think, to ask whether they world has to be the way it is?
How shall I know that, just this bridge was built by people who wished to stop ancient enemies hating and fighting each other, you find it rewarding to be a bridge yourself, between individuals who fail to recognise what they have in common, and what they could do better together than alone?
How shall I know that you do not judge people by their religion, or even by their beliefs, and that you are much more impressed by how they put their beliefs into practice, whether with dogmatism, or humility, or compassion?
How shall I know that you applaud people not for their victories over others, but for the thought they have given to their failures, for the courage with which they handle their disappointments, for their ability to continue to laugh and hope?
How shall I know that you are not a prisoner of the prejudice which separates people of different sex and age? Or that you are more interested by what a person's appearance conceals than the first impression it creates?
My answer. We can only discover who we are, and what we would like to be, by having conversations with one another. There are so many possible links between us, and we have to search behind the fashions and facades for them. That is why I rejoice that this garden has been created as a place, I hope, where people will meet to start long conversations, not just to pass the time, but to become clearer about what matters most to them, and what they can achieve together.
What is your answer?
Theodore Zeldin


towards real change

Had some very interesting discussion in work yesterday, but much of it was about politics rather than the subject area of work itself. It was partly about how to run things, and as that's not my area of work, and I'm not officially a manager, this wouldn't really fit in my work blog.
I was a clarification of my politics and of my vision, and that does contribute towards real choice.
In essence, I found that the route to positive change in society that I advocate is through
  • personal growth and development in consciousness, conceived in similar terms to Robert Kegan's "In Over Our Heads"
  • personal growth happening alongside professional and occupational growth in the workplace
  • the workplace being constituted as a place in which people grow and develop as human beings, finding achievement, satisfaction and fulfilment in "good work"
  • therefore, ethical development happening in the workplace
  • change in society and the world also coming about through the positive effects of change in the workplace
  • people taking their deepened moral faculties into their lives outside work, resulting in civic engagement, volunteering, family life, and all kinds of movements for positive change in the world.
The key to using the vehicle of the workplace for this journey towards positive change must be the practices in the workplace. There are a few that I think may be vital:
  • constructive periodic review and appraisal to articulate the aims and goals of the individual along with the organisation
  • positive argumentation and debate about the value of the individual's contribution to the organisation
  • the use of portfolio-style practices, very much in ways mapped out by Darren Cambridge in his excellent book "e-Portfolios for Lifelong Learning and Assessment", but specifically in the workplace, to play that role in both presenting and debating the value of the individual's contribution
  • transparency in the workplace, as happens in Ricardo Semler's Semco businesses
  • having every individual's work followed closely by a very small number (say 2 to 4) work colleagues who have the role of "critical companions" (I mean a workplace equivalent of "critical friends"), thus providing continual steer between the episodes of periodic review and appraisal.
One way in which every individual can contribute to this process of positive change is by introducing whatever practices they can in the workplace that they have the power to do — which of course may not be much.