What are your company's anti-values?

Posted on February 15, 2022

Think big, start small.

Focus on impact.

Learn and be curious.

These are some values from well known tech companies. A group of people have got together in each of these companies to brainstorm sets of values, refine them, even publish them to the world. Why bother?

It comes down to enabling autonomous decision making. If we’re aligned on a set of values, then we can trust each other to make reasonable decisions. That helps us move fast. It boosts morale. It helps us hire colleagues who are aligned too.

But are values actually successful in fulfilling this goal? Do you use them when making decisions? Can you remember your company’s values?

I don’t, and I don’t because most company values are just a bunch of undifferentiated nice things. Which company wouldn’t say they want to focus on impact, or think big but start small?

Values should cost something. They’re a trade-off. What are you giving up for your value? What’s your anti-value?

Let’s see a classic example of an anti-value: move fast and break things. (You remember that one, right?)

It’s not “move fast”. Who wouldn’t want to move fast? How does that aid decision making?

Move fast and break things.

I just searched for anti-values amongst lists of values that some tech companies have published. They’re rare. But they exist. Here’s two:

Let’s take a value and come up with an anti-value. “Learn and Be Curious” - what might that cost us? Maybe focus (because it’s ok to go down rabbit holes in order to learn something). So how about “Optimise learning over focus”? Maybe, maybe not. But I bet you’ll find this exercise much more stimulating than deciding which set of nice things to write down in a list.