“How do we decide?” “What do we do next?” are common questions I hear in co-creative meetings. It gets especially common in innovation spaces and there is so much unknown.
Competing Values as Action Steps
Some time ago, I was introduced to the Polarity map, which helps you talk about your values and how they help you decide what to do next. You should go read the entire article yourself, but here’s a tldr;
- Sometimes you are problem solving and sometimes you are working through competing values.
- Problems have solutions. They may not be easy to implement, but you can choose something that is best.
- Competing values do not have a ‘best’ solution. There is a limiting factor (time, money, resources, mutual exclusion). They instead must be balanced. Your next steps will either create balance or disturb a balance.
- Polarity Mapping is a diagramming framework to help you have a conversation about your competing values and which direction you are leaning and where you need to go next.
Example–COVID-19 just hit and your business needs to go online.
Problem: You need to purchase an online shopping platform. You will purchase the best one that you can afford and the problem is solved.
Competing Values: Learning about this new world vs. making something
On the one hand, you could wait and learn valuable information to help you make a better decision and survive. On the other, you could go to market too late and miss the opportunity.
You will need to balance just enough time learning with moving quickly enough.
Competing Values as Decision Makers
There’s the classic quality vs. time vs. cost. There’s cost vs. benefits. Something feeling large vs. feeling intimate. This diagram can also also be used in these types of value conversations.
Circling back around to my colleague’s question of “How do we decide?” Indeed, how did we decide? We were building an app that was a companion to a physical book. Students had expressed a desire for the app to also include study guide from the physical book.
- We could offer the guide in the app, as asked for by students so that they would always have their study guide on them.
- We could not offer the guide in the app, as asked for by staff to encourage students to be more responsible and to reap the benefits of studying by book instead of studying by phone.
Proposals & Values
Indeed, how are we to choose? We obviously want to listen to our students, but we also want to develop our students. We need to get our app out, but we also want to do it right. If we are unsure of what we are valuing, or even how the proposals subtly indicate values, then indeed, there will be endless conversations and opinions.
- Proposal 1 leaned on the value of student feedback and ease of accessibility at expense of a longer build time.
- Proposal 2 leaned on the value of responsibility and good habits and a shorter build time at the expense of student feedback.
The decision in this case actually was quite easy and after hearing the pros and cons of each value, it was quickly decided — we had already established a value for a shorter build time. That’s not to say we weren’t valuing student feedback (balance!) — we wanted to get something out quickly and learn from them actually using it what they thought. Later we intend to swing towards the value of student feedback.
One more thing…values even in small conversations
So far, the examples I have shared are about large-scale decisions, but I am learning the power of unearthing values even in smaller conversations without pulling out the diagram. (Though if the conversation had gone much longer, I probably would have reached for it!)
A colleague and I were discussing two platform options.
“Colleague: I wondered if you considered Platform 1 as your main recommendation? It would be an easier climb for our staff.”
Me: “It depends on what we’re valuing — Usability or Learnability. Platform 1 may win in learnability because it only has a few things you can do, but Platform 2’s usability is far superior. You can always learn a new tool (consequence of not valuing learnability, but you depend on a company to fix its usability issues (consequence of valuing learnability).
It’s not bad to prioritize learnability over usability, and there probably are instances it would be better to make that value call — for instance, we would be willing to wait for the company to improve its usability issues and value the simpler interface. But by unearthing my values for my recommendation and acknowledging what my colleague was valuing, we were able to have a really productive conversation.