Vectors of value

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.

Time

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

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.

Space

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?

More from Mill

More from Mill on diversity (see Hybrids). It’s a longer quotation than usual, but it’s great.

In short: diversity and mixing allow new “good things, which did not before exist.” – hybrids.

It will not be denied by anybody, that originality is a valuable element in human affairs. There is always need of persons not only to discover new truths, and point out when what were once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new practices, and set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better taste and sense in human life. This cannot well be gainsaid by anybody who does not believe that the world has already attained perfection in all its ways and practices. It is true that this benefit is not capable of being rendered by everybody alike: there are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already existed. If there were nothing new to be done, would human intellect cease to be necessary? Would it be a reason why those who do the old things should forget why they are done, and do them like cattle, not like human beings? There is only too great a tendency in the best beliefs and practices to degenerate into the mechanical; and unless there were a succession of persons whose ever-recurring originality prevents the grounds of those beliefs and practices from becoming merely traditional, such dead matter would not resist the smallest shock from anything really alive, and there would be no reason why civilization should not die out, as in the Byzantine Empire. Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex vi termini, more individual than any other people–less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character. If from timidity they consent to be forced into one of these moulds, and to let all that part of themselves which cannot expand under the pressure remain unexpanded, society will be little the better for their genius. If they are of a strong character, and break their fetters they become a mark for the society which has not succeeded in reducing them to common-place, to point at with solemn warning as “wild,” “erratic,” and the like; much as if one should complain of the Niagara river for not flowing smoothly between its banks like a Dutch canal.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chapter 3.

Hybrids (1)

By most accounts, hybridity is a good thing. Cross breeding animals and plants can result in stronger, healthier populations.

John Stuart Mill argued that diversity of ideas makes us societies stronger too. 

That mankind are not infallible; that their truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good, until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognizing all sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men’s modes of action, not less than to their opinions. As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions of customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, chapter 3.

Unlucky for some

No post on the 13th. Actually, it was a scheduling error. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ll pay a bit more attention next time I schedule a post.

But we’re ahead overall – this cheeky little number is post 25.