Creating Value, What Value Is and Isn’t


Too many people abuse the word “value.” Some bandy about the phrase “creating value” to describe inane tasks equivalent to digging a hole and filling it back up to veneer dignity on worthlessness. For me, creating value means saving individuals money, time, or hassle; raising quality of life for society as whole; and practicing responsible environmental stewardship.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines value thus:

  • a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged
  • relative worth, utility, or importance

The operative word above is “relative.” That’s why there’s so much disagreement on what value is and how to measure it. Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein infamously stated that as a banker he was “doing God’s work.” Pharmaceutical companies “reformulate” their brand name drugs as their patents near expiration so they can receive new patents.

To be fair, it’s not only big corporations that make wacky claims about the worth of their products and services. Small businesses may also aggrandize their work. If you have any examples that show what value is and isn’t, post them below.

Here’s an insightful quotation from The Elements of Style that relates to the above. Unfortunately, I’m too lazy to construct a smooth transition.

Another segment of society that has constructed a language of its own is business. People in business say that toner cartridges are in short supply, that they have updated the next shipment of these cartridges, and that they will finalize their recommendations at teh next meeting of the board. They are speaking a language familiar and dear to them. Its portentous nouns and verbs invest ordinary events with high adventure, executives walk among toner cartridges, caparisoned like knights. We should tolerate them – every person of spirit wants to ride a white horse. The only question is whether business vocabulary is helpful to ordinary prose. Usually, the same ideas can be expressed less formidably, if one makes the effort. A good many of the special words of business seem designed more to express the user’s dreams than to express a precise meaning.

And if you read this far, here’s a fun corporate bullshit generator.