What if all of the value you created could be understood along one of three axes: time, energy (including matter, which includes information), and space.
We create value by changing the amount of time something takes.
This could be saving time, by making something happen faster. All other things being equal (an important caveat), people will pay more:
- To get from A to B faster
- To learn faster
- To receive something they’ve ordered faster
- For their computer to boot faster
- To build things faster
- To improve things faster
- To have access to something – machinery, capital – faster
It can also be by making things last longer:
- Making machines, engines, clothes, houses wear out less quickly
- More holiday for the same money
- Helping people live longer lives
- Making the same amount of something go further is a way of making it last longer – fuel, sweets, food.
Energy covers a lot, and I’ve fudged a bit by including matter and information in this section – but I think matter technically is energy, and seeing as information can be embodied in matter, my guess is that in some sense, information is energy too.
Adding value by saving physical energy:
- The obvious – making energy efficient appliances and machines (which incidentally make the same amount of energy last longer
- By bringing things closer to people, we save the energy they spend accessing them (see ‘space’)
Adding value by adding or reducing matter
- Making something lighter – this can be a way of helping other things go further
- Or heavier. I find myself wondering if. say, pegging down a tent is using a few materials (pegs, string) as a lever to add the weight of the world to stop your tent blowing away
- Or by restructuring matter so that it goes further, is more useful, saves people time…
Adding value by improving the quality of information available, saving attention and emotional effort:
- This can be done by adding, removing or re-structuring information
- Good communication makes the most relevant and easy information easy to find.
- Indexing and search do the same
- Signposts add value by making it take less effort (time and energy) to find things in the real world
- Brands and review systems save energy by making it easier to know who to trust – so you can spend less time checking things out by yourself.
Adding value by moving things through space, or by ‘creating’ more space
*Quotation marks because we can’t actually make more space, in the deep sense. Can we?
- Transporting something something that you want to you
- Taking something undesirable (rubbish, pollution) away from you
- Smaller TVs are a way of buying floor space in your house
- Smaller computers (laptops, phones) are more easily moved, creating new possibilities in new spaces (e.g. a fully functioning office in a coffee shop)
- Clearing land to make it easier to move through, build on
- Enclosing land so that things can’t move through it
- By bringing people together at the right place, at the right time, so that something happens
Are these all the same thing?
It isn’t just time that costs money – energy and space are money.
And having written this, it’s clear that many of these things are overlapping:
- A package delivery service saves me time and energy by bringing the package through space
- The internet does the same by bringing data into my house – and google makes it take less effort.
- A well written text book saves me time, energy and attention in learning
The fourth dimension
Those are all pretty straight forward, and useful angles for thinking through how a product or service creates value. But what about quality – the thing that makes a tool a pleasure to use, or that makes prolonging an experience like a movie – or life itself – worth it.
Is ‘goodness’ is a species of information, or its own dimension?