VALUE: how does it affect you and your business?
I was almost traded for 60, long eye-lashed donkeys in Dounza, a Sahara desert-trading village in Mali, in 1996. Granted, they had the thick eyeliner type markings around their eyes and that sultry tannish-grey hide, but still, I am an educated, free woman – how did this ridiculous barter even begin?
It started because every human being has a unique relationship to the idea of VALUE.
I have had plenty of occasions since that experience that inspired me to consider my value and as the “teach what we are learning” saying goes, I have helped around 100 entrepreneurs since then define and stand for their own value in the marketplace. Yet, whenever the topic of “cost”, “pricing”, and “negotiating value” comes into my day-to-day, I often think of my great teacher – AFRICA.
No matter your religion or stance on evolution verses the miracle of God, every human being inherently understands that Africa holds great, ancient historic imprints for our species and how we became who we are today.
As we evolved, and spread across this great earth, we developed several different scales of value, meaning, currency, and exchange. Never on the planet have we had such extreme examples of modernity and primitive culture co-existing. Dubai verses a remote island in the Indonesian archipelago… New York City verses a high altitude community in Wyoming. How humanity values VALUE is undergoing great evaluation right now. And, our species’ survival depends on it.
Let’s take a little trip and see what happens when the two extremes collide…
An Adventure Capitalist among us, named Derek, spent a few years between Tanzania and Holland. One day, during the dry season in Tanzania’s Olduvai Highlands, he saw a herdsman smoothly crossing the open plain, followed by four goats, two donkeys and a cow. The Masai man was heading in his direction for it was dry season and, often, where there is white man there is water.
The man held up a used engine coolant container and imploringly mutters “magi, magi.” Derek gestured by raising his shoulders, implying that he simply did not have any water, which was not entirely true, but he had just given away 10 liters in similar situation, and he sensed that given his remote location he had to think of his own well- being at that point. Indeed, he was at least 100 miles away from the nearest running water. But the Masai was adamant. Experience had taught him that persistence gets rewarded. Derek however was resolute in his refusal.
They stared at each other in silence for what seemed like five minutes.
Then the herdsman noticed Derek’s watch, which was an old Timex replica of the one JFK wore: he was a man of style and therefore by default Derek felt like he fell into the same category by wearing the darn watch. Perception of value at play indeed.
The herdsman liked the watch and gestured that he wanted to keep it. Derek considered the irony, in Tanzania, everyone rises and falls to sleep with the sun…no one needs a watch. And yet, here he was attached to his watch and the herdsman craved the watch. What VALUE system were they both toying with?
Derek felt his watch represented “security” and a sense of self he had manufactured. And the herdsman perhaps felt the watch, given as a gift, would be a sign of respect for the land and the environment that the herdsman, and his people, had stewarded for centuries.
Through this exchange, Derek noticed all the things he had with him, attached to him, accessible to him. As we all come to realize when in the presence of any indigenous culture or more streamlined person than our selves, Western folk have many things they don’t need. In this case, the Masai reminded Derek that they have only things they DO need.
So if we Westerners are the “Takers” who commodify the natural world and utilize all resources without abandon, and this Masai gentleman is one of the “Leavers,” who lives in harmony with nature and only uses the resources he needs… then where do the two meet? Who is setting the bar on value worldwide and creating the conversation to bridge the gap between the Takers and Leavers? Who is quantifying the value of nature and of the resources it takes for us all to run our businesses – day after day?
Who sets the rate on your time? What is your value? Who gives a crap when you drive 5 hours for an investor meeting and then turn around and drive home to make it to your kid’s 7pm band performance?
The answer is YOU.
Only you can define your worth, your rate, your tolerance for bullshit, your need for excess or simplicity. And the best part is, there is no right or wrong answer. You get to decide and craft your life, your business, and your impact. How your decisions impact other people and our shared natural resources are up to you. A mentor of mine said to me once, “What matters most, Megan, is how you feel and what you say to yourself at the end of the day when you are home and quiet.” What he meant was, you have to live with you and be content with your words, deeds, and actions.
When you run a business, you are not only responsible for your own words, deeds, and actions, but those of your team. Inspire and value yourself first. As the New Year approaches, start reflecting now on what you value, how you want to be valued, and how your business’s offering can increase in value in the marketplace in 2014. Best wishes and visit us for support at: www.theadventurecapitalists.com