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The Future of the Future:
Core values steady the course in a volatile world

Succeeding in the global knowledge economy demands leading, innovating, learning and adjusting at breakneck speed on a sustained basis. That means being able to stay focused on doing the right things in the right way. Often, turbulence creates a sense of panic that causes organizations to deviate from the principles upon which they were originally founded. You can see this in the many news stories and documentaries about thriving enterprises that have been ruined by lapses in ethics and morals, usually brought about by the temptation of shortcuts to easy riches.

Our tightly networked and transparent world has become very unforgiving. As we reinvent the enterprise, we need to bring core values front and center. We have discussed in previous articles the importance of having a clear mission statement, a concise set of goals and a well-planned strategy. In much the same way, every enterprise needs a clearly defined set of values-based criteria for making strategic and tactical decisions in a manner consistent with the legal, moral and ethical principles under which the organization operates.

Rather than getting into a long discussion on the definition of values, it would be better to list a few that we have found to be useful in providing clarity for navigating a complex and often confusing business climate.

Core Value #1: Focus on value, and the way in which that value is created and delivered.

If the recent financial meltdown has taught us anything, it should be that wealth isn’t simply the amount of money you’ve managed to acquire. Rather, wealth is a measure of the value you create, the value you deliver, the value you receive and the value you keep and grow.

The growth in the use of value analysis and value networks reinforces the notion of value exchange as a key driver of commerce in the 21st century. Use those tools to mine your social network—your brain trust—for intellectual assets that are hidden, overlooked or underutilized. Keep in mind that whatever the value, the way in which it is created and delivered is just as important as the monetary component. No amount of money is worth crossing legal, moral or ethical boundaries.

Top-level decision criterion: Are you creating genuine value in a way that’s legal, moral and ethical?

Core Value #2: Honor your commitments.

Whether verbal or written, a contract is a contract. The old system of British common law remains the legal foundation for doing business in many countries as well as international law governing cross-border transactions. The basis for that legal system is simple: "Do everything you’ve agreed to do." In a world of instant global communication, the response to not honoring a commitment may be swift and furious. In many ways, the social networking system can mete out punishment far more severe in terms of loss of reputation (which directly translates into loss of revenue) than any government judiciary.

Top-level decision criterion: Will you be able to deliver as promised?

Core Value #3: Time is precious; treat it as such.

Just about any type of resource you can think of—money, human capital, raw material—is free to move anywhere. One of the few exceptions is time. In the enterprise of the future, time is the great equalizer. It is evenly allocated regardless of one’s location, age or place in society. In a world of instant communication, time is the one resource we cannot afford to waste. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Whoever masters the discipline of setting and adhering to priorities will have a distinct advantage in the global marketplace. That means being able to carefully discriminate and pick the right things to do and the right way to do them, and delivering the desired result in the most efficient manner.

Top-level decision criterion: Are you making the best and most efficient use of your time and resources?

Core Value #4: Eat your own cooking.

Most of us are already familiar with this expression. Actually doing it is another matter. Remember the reputation thing we mentioned earlier? People have little tolerance for someone saying one thing and doing another. If it’s not good enough for you, why would anybody else want it?

Top-level decision criterion: Are you practicing what you’re preaching?

Core Value #5: Always make a positive contribution to evolution and growth of the individual, organization and society.

We are well aware of the serious challenges and exciting opportunities we face as a society. Human potential is truly unlimited. Everything we do should move us closer to a better world, one in which we can continue to achieve new breakthroughs on a sustained basis. Stagnation, the status quo and "business as usual" are all unacceptable to anyone wanting to be a serious player in the global knowledge economy. As the size of our networked brain trust stretches into the billions, the world’s body of knowledge will expand at an ever-accelerating pace. Every enterprise, from the single knowledge entrepreneur to the mega-conglomerate, should be making a positive contribution to the growth of the human race and the environment in which we live.

Top-level decision criterion: Are you consciously putting people in positions in which they can continually learn and grow?

This list is by no means complete. You may certainly add to it. You are limited only by your imagination. Be bold, but brutally honest at the same time. In an unforgiving world, core values are the GPS of the 21st century enterprise. 

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