Why understanding your values is so important - THINKERS Notebook

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Why understanding your values is so important

From 2011-2013, the Houston Astros were one of the least successful professional sports franchises in the world -- winning just 33% of their games.

Four seasons later ...

From 2017-2019, the Houston Astros were one of the most successful sports franchises in the world -- winning 64% of their games and making two World Series appearances, winning one.

So the Astros are a model for other sports franchises to follow, right? 


The Astros have become baseball's latest black eye, due in large part to a recently uncovered cheating scandal that revealed the Astros to have violated the fundamental competitive spirit that serves as baseball's foundation.

In case you missed it, the broad overview is that Astros set up a sophisticated technological system for stealing the signals of opposing pitchers and catchers so that Astro hitters would know what pitch is coming.

In the world of baseball, this is an absolute no-no: think insider trading on a baseball diamond.

It is undoubtedly underhanded and unethical, and arguments could be made that it is immoral as well.

And yet ...

It worked. 

The Astros won the World Series -- which Major League Baseball is not taking away. Players like Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, who have admitted their involvement, have become rich superstars. 

And the reason it worked is because setting up a sophisticated technological system to steal the opposing team's signals is ...

... wait for it ...

great idea!


The old cliche is that the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. So if you are trying to generate ideas for how to solve the problem of hitting a baseball, few ideas have the potential to be as effective as a way to steal signals and relay them in real-time to hitters.

Judged simply based on how well it solves the problem at hand, it's actually a brilliant idea.

And it worked! It was a great idea that was well executed and achieved the desired effect. The Astros clearly benefitted from it, at least until they got caught. They won a World Series and won a ton of games.

So what's the problem?

The problem is one of values.

And it makes me wonder: was this idea put through a values filter prior to being implemented?

One of two things probably happened here:

1. The idea was not put through a values filter at all, so it was implemented despite its ethical red flags because no one considered whether it fit with the values of the organization.

Or ...

2. The idea was put through the values filter of an organization that valued winning over all else -- ethics and fair play be damned. Given how the Astros have acted since the scandal broke, my money is on #2.

    What's the larger point here? It's about how we prioritize ideas.

    When generating and judging ideas, you cannot overlook the importance of judging them against your values.

    And to do this properly, you have to know what your values are.

    Generating ideas is an important first step whenever you are trying to solve a problem or decide on a next course of action. And it's smart to welcome all ideas in this initial phase.

    But the next step is the one that really matters. The next step is when you start filtering your ideas. And the first filter any idea should go through is a values filter. 

    Does this idea fit with your personal values and the values of the team or organization you are a part of? If it doesn't, then it needs to be tossed.

    This way, you don't waste time developing an idea that won't even see the light of day, or, even worse, will see the light of day but ultimately lead to outcomes that go against your values. This can cause problems that take a long time to work back from.

    Just ask the Astros.

    Again, they may ultimately be fine with it. If winning was the #1 value, then the ends justify the means and the collateral damage is worth it. I certainly don't agree with those values, and I personally view the Astros with disdain, but I'm also not a stakeholder in their operations.

    But even if they value winning over all else right now, I wonder if that will still be the case a year, five years, or twenty years from now.

    An athlete's legacy lasts far longer than his or her playing career does. And a franchise's brand endures long after the parades have ended and the confetti is cleaned from the streets.

    So I wonder if the Astros might have approached this brilliant but fraught idea differently if they had taken a longer view of the potential negative impact on their individual legacies and brand. We can't ever know.

    But we can learn from their example, and make sure that we are as intentional as possible about understanding, communicating, and adhering to our values as possible.

    Because at the end of the day we are what we value. And no idea is worth pursuing if it compromises those values.

    This week in the THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three links to help you understand the importance of values in helping you filter ideas and make better decisions.

    First, a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.

    This Week in the THINKERS Workshop

    This week, I hosted a short webinar that served as a bonus lesson in our mini course Generate Better Ideas with Brainwriting.

    The topic of the webinar was how to prioritize ideas. There are several different filters ideas should go through to separate the best and most actionable ones.

    Guess what the first filter is?

    That's right: values.

    So you enjoyed reading the essay above, you should carve out 20 minutes to watch or listen to this webinar. I talk about the Astros example, as well as a few others, to illustrate why understanding and filtering through values is so important.

    View the replay here: The ONE Thing You Must Do to Successfully Prioritize Your Ideas.

    The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. Remember that if you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know.)

    Now on to this week's links ...

    Articulating your values isn't easy ... but it's worth it.

    The debasement of values is a shame, not only because the resulting cynicism poisons the cultural well but also because it wastes a great opportunity.

    Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. But coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires real guts.

    Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.​

    Read: Make Your Values Mean Something (Harvard Business Review)

    How to uncover, understand, and live your values

    Values are a part of us. They highlight what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence.

    Values guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct.

    When we honor our personal core values consistently, we experience fulfillment.

    When we don’t, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits and regress into childish behavior to uplift ourselves.

    Read: 7 Steps to Discover Your Personal Core Values (Scott Jeffrey)

    Your values will help you make better decisions

    Every decision is made within some type of constraint. Maybe it's how much knowledge you have. Maybe it's how much money you have. Maybe it's how many resources you have. Why not what values you have?

    Making better choices is often a matter of choosing better constraints. By limiting your options to those that fit your values, you are taking an important step to ensuring that your behavior matches your beliefs. (Plus, constraints will boost your creativity.)

    Know your principles and you can choose your methods.

    Read: Let Your Values Drive Your Choices (James Clear)

    Quote of the week

    "It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

    Roy Disney


    Jerod Morris
    Chief Creative Thinker
    THINKERS Notebook