Friday, May 13, 2011

My Personal Values start with Happiness

  • Happiness - the pursuit of happiness has equal weight to the rights of life and liberty
  • Knowledge - the progenitor of many others e.g. law, justice, fairness, virtue; one must 1st have knowledge
  • Imagination - the human animal is unique in its ability to imagine a future and then create it; imagination is required for compassion
  • Pragmatism - a balancing power, a moderator that accounts for context and operates within knowledge bounds
David's Personal Values were developed during a Organizational Leadership Master's program; publishing inspired by Luke Hohman of Innovation Games tweets on the companies values.  So why not publish my own value statements.

Happiness. The founding father's inshrined this value within our Declaration of Independence.  Giving the pursuit of happiness equal weight to the rights of life and liberty (Declaration of Independence). Recognizing that while the framers of the republic considered life and liberty an unalienable right, one does not have a right to happiness, just the right to pursue happiness.  The pursuit of happiness should not be allow to impinge upon other's rights.  Therefore an inherent requirement for just societies, for rules of conduct, and for many qualities found in other core values.

For over 200 years we Americans have been free to pursue our happiness, yet it is not evident that we are a happier people than our forebears.  There is no guarantee implied that we will achieve happiness.  In the business world which we have optimized our society for in these 200 years it is common to measure results.  One universal measure of success is the Gross National Product (GNP) of a country.  This measure focuses upon the total market value of goods and services produced by the nation in a period.  This measure has steadily climbed and become one of many finical benchmarks that we measure our wealth. GNP does correlate well with happiness in some studies. Wilkinson  (2007) states; "high levels of economic freedom and high average incomes are among the strongest correlates of subjective well-being" (p. 1).  Happiness and GNP correlate well at low levels of GNP, however there is an inflection point in the curve.  A point at which the peoples happiness does not rise at the pace of increasing GNP.  Implying that material wealth can satisfy basic needs but not necessarily make us happy. Measuring happiness is difficult, and somewhat subjective.  However many people, organizations and even countries are attempting to measure and increase happiness across their constituents.

Maslow described people having basic needs and once these needs are met they may will strive to fulfill higher order needs.  At the top of his pyramid of needs we find self-actualization  (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 176).  I would argue that this is just another term for happiness.  A person that is happy will have found an area that they can achieve self-actualization within.  This may be parenting, or athletics, or politics, or perhaps finance, but self-actualization, becoming more in-tune with what one desires to be, makes us happy.

At the forefront of the trend to measure and optimize a group of people's happiness is the country of Bhutan.  Their King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, instituted a policy and a measure of Gross National Happiness (GNH).  For His Majesty, "a GNH society means the creation of an enlightened society in which happiness and well-being of all people and sentient beings is the ultimate purpose of governance"  (Ura, 2008).  The reasoning behind this is sound.  Indicators such as GNH embody values of the people and their government, the indicators influence policy, they create a scoreboard in the imagination of the people, and most importantly they will drive society to change  (Ura, 2008).

Happiness may be difficult to define or quantify and measure, however, no more so than other phenomena that social science tries to model.  Yet, this indicator may have a much larger impact upon our daily lives than any other standard.  If I could optimize only one dimension, happiness or wealth, for example, I would certainly choose happiness.

Knowledge.  After happiness as a core value that I desire for my self, I choose knowledge.  There are many types of knowledge, empirical, systemic, semantic and logical for example.  Each of these types of knowledge is a claim of truth.  Something that we know to be valid.  How we come about that knowledge differs in these cases, but the commonality is that we have a belief in the truth of the claim.  Many times the truth may be verified.  Without some justification of the nature of the claim, it is not knowledge.

I believe in knowledge as a core value because knowledge is the progenitor of so many other values.  Values such as law, justice, and fairness must have their roots in the knowledge of actions and consequences and knowledge of right and wrong.  A value such as virtue, the behavior of high moral standard, can only exist if there is knowledge of a moral standard.  Without knowledge there is no virtue.

Knowledge along is not enough.  It is not a value that can easily stand alone.  One could learn to split atoms, thereby making terrible explosions.  That knowledge is neither good nor bad.  How it is used, the purpose the knowledge serves may be described as good or bad.  Socrates is quoted as saying: "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance"  (Socrates, n.d.).

Imagination.  I enjoy playing with young children, young enough that they still use their imagination as a central part of every moment.  I now have a nephew, age four, with an extremely active imagination, he is a pleasure to be around and consistently astonishes the adults with his imagination.  Entering his world of super heros, space ships, dinosaurs and monsters will exhaust the adult imagination in twenty minutes, but he continues non-stop all day long.  I worry that the education system will diminish this talent rather than encourage and cultivate it.

What does imagination do for the human, why did we develop a brain that was capable of creating space-men with blasters that didn't harm the blue dinosaurs but would kill monsters?  Humans may be the only animal that is capable of imagining a future and then creating that future.  Dr. David Suzuki  (2010) stated it well: "In our short time on Earth, we humans have emerged from a chaotic world, imposing order and meaning in myriad ways, imagining the world into being. That was our great gift" (¬∂ 1).  This ability to create from our imagination a world that we wish to live within, now powers much of our civilization. It has created increasing more complex environments, with as many problems as solutions.

Imagination powers the creative side of humans, but it is also at the heart of what it means to be humane.  When we act out of compassion for another person or even another animal we are using our imagination.  Our imagination powers the ability to read the thoughts of another, to place our selves in the mind of the other and imagine how they must perceive the situation.  This great ability leads to empathy.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, described in her Commencement Address at Harvard the power of empathy.  Rowling  (2008) said: "Amnesty [International] mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners" (para. 33).  In her speech Rowling describes how this very human value of empathy is derived from our imagination.

Pragmatism.  One last value that I hold is the balancing value of pragmatism.  This value holds that in every thing there must be moderation.  The moderating control is to measure against what is realistic within the context.

My bachelor's degree is in mechanical engineering.  In this degree of study, we learned that one can make the design of a bridge so very perfect given the materials and resources you have to work with, but that when built the true test is does the bridge function.  In the first year of study we designed simple bridges of various styles.  Then we watched a documentary of one of the most spectacular bridge disasters, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, nicknamed Galloping Gertie.  In the film the bridge is seen to be bouncing. Cars and people are being thrown around by the violent oscillations.  Later that day the bridge collapsed.  It is a sobering thought to consider all the energy that went into building the bridge and then a 40 mile per hour wind was its destruction.  To me this was an early lesson in the compromises that are the practice of engineering.  In this awesome failure, much was learned and bridges today are aerodynamically stable.

It was unimaginable in the 1930s that the bridge would be blown down by a slight wind. Its designers didn't have the knowledge that they would gain by the failure of putting their best engineering into practice.  Practical real world applications of our knowledge is important to validating that knowledge.  Some times the world is very different that we assume we know.  This is why knowledge alone is lacking, there must be a utility of purpose for the knowledge.  It is the pragmatic use of knowledge that we can increase our well being and our happiness.

Organizational Values I search for:
I work in a very young industry, it is one of the fastest growing and ever changing sectors of our economy.  The software industry is approximately 50 years old.  Robert Holleymam  (2009), CEO of Business Software Alliance stated: "The software industry is a remarkable engine for jobs and economic growth. The software and related services sector employed 1.7 million people in the US in 2007 in jobs that, on average, paid 195 percent of the national average. This sector contributed more than $261 billion to US GDP in 2007" (para. 3).  However the young industry has been plagued by poor project success rates.  The 1994 Standish Chaos report noted: "Only 9% of projects in large companies were successful" (p 3).

One answer to this industry aliment has been a movement to be more responsive to customers changing requirements, more collaborative in developing software and a focus on the outcomes of the development process.  This movement is called Agile, and is defined by the Agile Manifesto.  The values stated in the manifesto, are values that I strive to uphold in my organization.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan 

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
--  (Beck et al., 2001)

While these values alone will not change the industry, they have proven to be a wonderful start.  These operational values resonate with me, and are in alignment with my core personal values.  I and thousands of other software professionals have joined the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.  It is a movement to continuously improve and to deliver value to the organizations that use this philosophy.  I have been involved in the Agile transformation of software development shops.  It is truly a transformational process, requiring leadership. 


References
Beck, K., Beedle, M., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., et al. (2001). Manifesto for agile software development. [Web page] Retrieved from http://agilemanifesto.org/
Robbins, S. P. & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Rowling, J. K. (2008). The fringe benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination. [Web page] Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/commencement/the-fringe-benefits-failure-the-importance-imagination
Socrates (n.d.). Quotations by author: Socrates. [Web page] Retrieved from http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Socrates
Suzuki, D. (2010, January 8). Imagine a brighter 21st century. [Web page] Vancouver, BC: David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/about_us/Dr_David_Suzuki/Article_Archives/weekly01081001.asp
Ura, K. (2008). Explanation of GNH index. Gross national happiness [Web page]. Thimphu, Bhutan: The Center for Bhutan Studies. Retrieved from http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/gnhIndex/intruductionGNH.aspx
Wilkinson, W. (2007). In pursuit of happiness research: Is it reliable? What does it imply for policy?. Policy Analysis: Cato Institute, (590). Retrieved from http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8179
   
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