Tournament of values

Every few years, I go through an exercise where I collect a giant list of values, virtues, and intentions and rank them. The whole endeavor is a pseudo-quantitative approach to something deeply qualitative, but it articulates what I’m finding meaningful and helps me choose how I spend time, energy, and money. In the past, it’s been especially useful for helping me come up with responses to tricky situations where I don’t immediately know what to do.

The following link will take you to a collection of virtues so you can choose the full list (889 values) or shorter lists that are oriented for work, personal life or both:

Spreadsheet: values, virtues, and intentions compilation

It also includes my top 29, ranked. This post isn’t going to be about my list, but how to do ranking if this happens to catch your interest.

I had been brute forcing my way through spreadsheets until one day I looked up at a giant TV screen in the gym and realized the answer was March Madness. Or rather: sports brackets! The sites that help you create rec league tournaments can also help you puzzle through values. The one that worked best for me is Challonge.

Tournament of values!

Step-by-step: Creating a values tournament

Go to and sign up. You’ll be taken to a home page and can click a big giant orange button on the right called Create a Tournament.

You’ll fill out some names — if you want to be really fast, just choose a single stage tournament with single elimination. But I typically choose to have two stages, the first as a round-robin and the second as double elimination. That’s what I’ll show here. Press the Save and Continue button at the bottom of the form.

This is the route for maximal complexity (and thoroughness?)

Now you need to add the values — that’s called “Participants” in Challonge since normally people are doing tennis or basketball and not abstract nouns. So click the Participants tab. Then upload your values in bulk and press the Bulk Add button. You can grab a set of values from the various lists I’ve compiled here.

Get to the Participants tab

The values will get added in the order you put them. So if you’ve preordered them, you can use this for “seeding”. If you’re not used to sports brackets, the point of seeding is that it’d be lousy to put the best two teams against each other in the very first round. To randomize your list, press the light grey Shuffle Seeds button that appears after you do the bulk add. If you’re doing a two stage competition as I’m showing here, you SHOULD shuffle them.

If you’re doing two stages, Shuffle Seeds; if you’re just doing one stage and you’ve preordered stuff, don’t shuffle

If you’re just doing one stage, you’ll click on the Brackets tab at the top, but here we’re doing two stages, so we shuffle the values and then go to Group Stage. Now you’re going to have to work.

A first stage round robin helps you ditch things that don’t really matter. You probably want this mostly if you are starting with one of my longer lists. If you use the default round robin setup, that means for every four values you are going to toss out two. The shorter your list is, the more painful a round robin is. Press the orange Start the Group Stage button over towards the right and get to it. Your first group, click the Matches tab and then the first icon, which is to Report Scores.

Click the edit icon (it says “report scores” but you’ll use it to “give points to values”)

You’ll need to both select who wins and what the points are. Some pairs will be easy for you. I try to assign 5 total points to each pair. One each for:

  • Which one do I want to strive for?
  • Which one do I more clearly already exhibit?
  • Which one would I wish my loved ones had 10% more of in their lives?
  • Which one do I think would make the world a better place if everyone valued it?
  • Which is easier to imagine specific actions around?

I got to these questions after doing a bunch of rounds — they are meant to connect person values to the rest of the world, to reflect both ideals and realities. And to prevent ties.

You need to click the “Winner” in the top row AND give points before you click Submit, see above for suggestions on how to assign points

You’ll have to go through all of them and finalize it. You’ll see something like this when you’re done with the round-robins. You can see which ones have advanced.

Ready to advance to the next stage

When you’re really done, you’ll see a button to End the Group Stage. That will take you to the Final Stage. Click the Start the Final Stage button. Here’s a very simple example of what you’ll see:

Double elimination has the nice quality of letting an early loser come back to win

If you want to do some copying and pasting of your values, click the Standings tab.


My own rankings are based on averaging an absurd number of tournament s— uh, sixteen — and I’m still not satisfied. That makes sense: values are very context sensitive and it’s not even clear these all belong on the same scale. Imagine a bracket where you have to rank Venus Williams, Magic Johnson, James Merrill, Marie Curie, and Aretha Franklin. (Using the five-point system above, you can! Don’t you want 10% more Aretha in your loved ones’ lives?)

It happens that my top four are pretty stable, though: Curiosity, Love, Creativity, Justice. But perhaps number five holds the key to why I do this at all: Integrity. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a definition for this that I really liked. Integrity is integrating who you are with who you want to be. A values tournament doesn’t make that happen but it does call attention to where you are and gives you a chance to ask if that’s where you want to be.

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