Entrepreneurship and Activating Values

I'm taking a week-long intercession class right now with Skip Walter on entrepreneurship. One of his challenges to us is to figure out something he doesn't know and teach him about it. Here's my first attempt (and hopefully last as the week is already half over). In a recent sustainability forum, author Tim Kasser came to speak about human identity and environmental challenges. That said, he spoke a lot about the implications of activating certain values when pitching an idea or trying to promote behavior change (in effect, pitching and idea in hopes of adoption in terms of entrepreneurship). 

(yes, that's me in the video too!)

Interestingly enough, despite all of the different ideas about pitches I've read this far, I haven't heard much about conflicting values and how to best approach different types of products. In his talk, Tim mentions that extrinsic values (such as materialism, accumulation of wealth, personal success, etc.) detract from ideas associated with intrinsic values (family values, historical values, etc.). 

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(27:00) Because of the organization of values in your mind, two things tend to happen when one is activated. Firstly, the Bleed-over Effect discusses how the activation of one value can often times sensitize you to other nearby/related beliefs. His example is about universalism values leading to thoughts about benevolence values. The second effect, so named the Suppression/See-Saw Effect narrates your reaction to hearing about stated universalism values and your immediate suppression of conflicting values such as achievement and power values naturally.

This ties into sustainability as well, as you could imagine, with the most evident example being of the activation of wealth in trying to "sell" sustainable products. Consider a more energy efficient lightbulb: What does the packaging usually say? Probably something about lasting twice as long and saving you 4x your electricity costs. Think about an Energy Star rated appliance: Often, one of the "positive" point it references is the energy costs its saving you and how it will pay for itself in x number of years. Even think about current energy monitoring of homes by electricity companies... they often tell homeowners how much they're spending in their house and "ways to cut down your bill". ALL of these examples bring cost into the conversation of why you should buy energy efficient devices. Using the discussion above, we also know that accumulation of wealth is an internal values which doesn't mesh well with intrinsic values such as maintaining and improving an environment for our children and others. The seesaw effect I mentioned suggests it would actually do just the opposite; mentioning cost savings with sustainability goals in mind actually surprises the value of sustainable goals themselves. Tim calls this an iatrogenic effect (35:12).

So, yes, this is all interesting, but how does this all tie back to business and entrepreneurship? I'll explain. Often we are stuck trying to make the "business case" for sustainability and environmental goals, focusing on the cost to move forward and the savings gained from such a plan, or even what others will think of the company and/or users (eg. your "image"). In reality, focusing on these topics actually takes people (investors and customers) out of the mindset a sustainable product or application would want to applaud and motivate. So, how are we supposed to motivate people to use and promote an app focused on intrinsic values? Tim suggests appealing to intrinsic values, using metrics like offset of CO2 (I've seen examples of the offset of the number of trees it would take to produce the CO2 a machine is measuring) or some measure of social wellbeing. Perhaps an entrepreneur interested in some component of sustainability  could emphasize the impacts of users's "correct" decisions. I haven't completely gone off the deep end, I recognize the need for cost and structure for investors, but especially as one builds out their design focused on intrinsic values, finding alternate ways to promote success beyond extrinsic measures of success will be to the user's ultimate benefit. Ideally, according to this author, a design focused on sustainable goals (or related) should work to diminish the power of extrinsic self enhancing values to encourage intrinsic self-transcendent values in order to gain the most out of a design.

One other spin off I found rather interesting is his connection to "natural allies" which suggests that you can build bridges between some values, and bring in individuals who generally may not care about social wellbeing but can be connected back if they care about their own wellbeing. He makes a case later about conservatives generally being fiscally conservative but being able to make the case that conservation of natural resources may promote them to spend more (in other words, going against their financial incentives) to work towards a common goal of conservation. This might be a good way to break water when considering new ways to pitch ideas to investors.

Again, not sure of Skip was already aware of these, but it was an interesting tie-in to me at least about how to go about constructing pitches to promote specific design values within businesses and for users.

Thoughts? Questions? Feel free to add them below!