A Fixed Point of Reference by primusboy


									A Fixed Point of Reference
So often in life questions are answered in relation to other information.
Is a man standing two meters high short or tall? What if this individual
is compared to a basketball player that is 2.4 meters tall? What if he is
in a crowd of people, none of which is taller than 1.7 meters? If a man 2
meters tall marries a woman of equal height, is it possible that he is
average and she is tall?
In reality, there are two ways to answer questions. One way is with
relative information-making a comparison of the item in question with
something else. For example, this company proved to be highly profitable
this year in comparison with other companies in the same industry. The
second alternative is with absolute information-factual, non-negotiable
data. Once again to illustrate, this company had 12% net profit this
year. These two categories can be labeled as being relative or absolute.
Both relative and absolute terms are of benefit in various scenarios.
Recently my wife and I were trying to determine what paint we would use
to paint our baby girl's room. We had long been in agreement that we
would paint it pink. On our several trips to the hardware store, though,
we continued to debate which of the shades of pink would look best. We
examined what matched the baby's bedding, what would be ideal when having
such a large area painted pink, how it would coordinate with the color of
the furniture, etc. Comments such as "that one is pretty, but I feel this
would be a softer pink and more appropriate for a baby," were shared in
various forms and with attention to various adjectives.
While we were seeking the "perfect" pink for a baby girl, we actually
agreed on the one that was the best relative to all of the others we had
seen. We were looking at multiple shades of one brand of paint. The
quality of the paint was the same. The price was the same. The eventual
deciding factor was a feeling or relative comparison that we liked one
better than all the others. It would have been impossible for us to go in
and find the absolute perfect pink. One pink was not actually better than
another. There was no way to eliminate all of the bad pinks until we
arrived at the right one. Instead, we worked through a comparative or a
relative process to make a selection.
In other scenarios, people naturally desire an absolute answer. In
dealing with people looking to start new jobs, I have yet to find an
individual that will agree to work for an employer that promises a "good"
or "desirable" wage. Each person wants to know precisely what he or she
can expect. Telling an individual the pay is good is a relative
statement. This is a belief that the employer holds, but the potential
employee is unable to process this adequately. One must wonder, "Is your
interpretation of "good" pay the same as mine?" If the person hiring
tells the same individual that the monthly salary is US $1000, then the
potential employee can evaluate this portion of the package. Now the
employee might think, "Based on the culture, benefits, cost of living in
that city, etc., is this sufficient salary to compensate for my efforts
with this company?"
Relative and absolute can function as more than just answers to
questions, they can serve as viewpoints or paradigms for interpreting
information. One example of this is the paint selection process my wife
and I experienced. We were trying to envision a painted room with varying
shades of pink. Another common example of this can relate to leadership.
There are numerous leadership definitions and principles that are
absolute and unchanging. For example, a leader has influence. This is
widely accepted as being true. There are other aspects of leadership that
are relative. For example, a leader in this company should have an
"appropriate" number of direct reports. Appropriate here may mean 5 for
one person and 50 for another based on their leadership style, their
position, their experience, or some other factor.
A third possibility is a combination of absolute and relative factors.
One instance of this is a style of leadership that has gained influence
in many cultures-"situational leadership." This is an absolute model that
is fixed upon relative situations. If the scenario is type "B", then the
leader should respond in "X" way. If situation "C" exists, then approach
"Y" by the leader is appropriate. The success of this model relies on the
leader being able to interpret the relative scenario and then properly
apply the fixed type of response or interaction. Another way to view this
is that the leader must be aware that circumstances are relative, but the
ideal way to respond is absolute or fixed in accordance with the
So how does all of this fit together for an individual or a company to be
successful? In order to answer this question, an individual or company
must first answer a more basic question-What is success for me? This
question must be answered concretely if a company is going to be able to
measure any level of success. The most basic element of the defining of
success must be contained in values. These values must be fixed.
One clear example of fixed values is in the car industry. Volvo set out
three values for their company in 1927. More than 70 years ago,
management made the simple observation that "cars are driven by people."
Because of this, Volvo's founders selected quality as the top value of
the company. Volvo's management could not envision long-term success that
did not revolve around keeping people or families safe. This has affected
the design of their cars, their marketing, their budgeting, etc.-all the
way through to the current day. As a result, Volvo has established a
reputation and history of being a leader in safety design and
implementation. Another high-end car manufacturer, Porsche, also adheres
to a set of values. Their values include tradition, innovation, and
emotion. Anyone who sees, rides in, or drives a Porsche vehicle can feel
these values in motion.
Both Volvo and Porsche with more than 70 years of history have seen
remarkable changes in time, taste, culture, economics, technology, etc.
In spite of time's relentless march, their respective commitments to who
they were did not change. Their values were absolute and unchanging.
On various levels, there are opportunities to compare and contrast these
two companies. In the 1980's, Volvo was introducing antilock braking
systems (ABS). Meanwhile, Porsche was introducing a new transmission
system that could function either manually or automatically. It is
important to note that Volvo would not have designed ABS without
innovation, but innovation is not a stated value for Volvo-though it is
for Porsche. Instead, for Volvo, innovation is assumed as necessary to
further their commitment to safety by building incrementally safer
Porsche, on the other hand did not set out to design an unsafe vehicle at
any point just because they did not make safety one of their values. They
did and do, however, place more emphasis on speed, transmissions,
cornering, design style, etc. This fits with their values of their
tradition, innovation, and emotion. Evaluating what they desired to
deliver to their customers, setting out values that would give clear
guidance in delivering their vision, and continually executing based on
these values have brought both companies brand recognition and loyalty,
quality staff, tangible profits, etc.
For an individual, the same approach is essential for success. A person
must take the time to evaluate what success looks like for them. They
must ask hard questions of themselves about where they want to be in 10,
20, 30 years and beyond. For example, does an individual desire to be
affluent in relationships, riches or recognition? How important is
advancement if it calls into question integrity or vice versa? What will
bring me long-term fulfillment and meaning? At this point it will be
helpful to observe the lives of others to determine what a model life
looks like or perhaps what it does not look like.
After determining what he or she desires, each individual would do well
to set out a clear, short set of values by which they will live.
Generally, this short list will consist of three to six values. The
reason for this is if a person or corporation has much more than six
stated values it becomes difficult to live them out. Instead of being
absolute, unchanging values through which decisions are made, they become
a list of good ideas that one thinks highly of, but does not embrace in
an absolute manner. If values have been extensively thought through;
evaluated based on desired long-term success; examined in light of
positive and / or negative models; solidified into a short, livable list;
and made into core elements through which decisions will be made, then
these values will assist the individual in making decisions that direct
their life toward the desired vision of a life lived well.
In short, values are absolutes that will guide a life. Whether a person
selects their values wisely or not-consciously or unconsciously,
methodically or haphazardly-combined with the necessary desire to make
decisions based on these values will determine the future success of the
individual. Selecting values and the resulting pursuit of their life
vision will have a profound effect on the individual's quality of life,
of relationships, and his or her personal fulfillment.
Brit Boone is the president of GHP in Russia. A professional development
firm, GHP develops organizations and leaders. With programs ranging from
career development to International and Executive MBA offerings, GHP
serves a range of current and future leaders. Additionally, the firm
provides a number of resources for professionals, MBA students and

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