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“Values are facts not descriptions.” (@matt_levine) is a succinct and fairly powerful observation about cultures: bloomberg.com/view/articles/…
The context is about corporate cultures and documents with the word Values literally written on them, but thought generalized more broadly.
The Constitution doesn’t define America; it’s written evidence as to what a group of Americans thought was Really Important to capture.
(With some legal effects, granted, but it’s status as a contract is slightly more than a Values doc is but lots less than a contract is.)
I think most companies are unaware of their deepest and truest values because nobody bothers stating things that are boring or obvious.
That’s true of most discourses on values; if you were to ask e.g. Catholics “Thumbnail sketch out your values” then there is a known list.
I will bet you that your interlocutor doesn’t mention “Preservation of the human race is a biggie for us” even though it is and must be.
For similar reasons companies don’t spend that much time on “Make money, seriously” or “Reproduce the internal logic of capitalism.”
With specific reference to the second I think you could probably find more Values documents explicitly repudiating than supporting it.
(This is another map-is-not-the-territory issue; maps have to look aesthetically pleasing/useful, geography knows no such restrictions.)
(For that reason, the most useful part of Values documents is either where they talk tradeoffs or explicitly contradict widely held values.)
That’s why “Move fast and break things” was once such useful signal, because “Things are generally better unbroken” is content-free default.
Now, in startupdom at least, “prioritize execution speed” is boring enough to round to whitespace unless you’re very specific re: tradeoffs.
A decent technique for identifying non-vacuous values, and for sales generally, is to allow people to genuinely disqualify themselves.
"We don't work with assholes" is the "We don't use outdated technology" of values; it doesn't actually expect anyone to self-disqualify.
There exist many non-vacuous statements one could make, though, where people of good will could reasonably select to either side of line.
Here's a good one: "We are enthusiastically compliant with legitimate authority" is something that is legitimately controversial in startups
You could find folks in the industry who'd say "Absolutely that describes my company" and other folks who'd say "Compliant? Is that ironic?"
Sidenote: some of the issues tech, broadly construed, has with the wider world are caused by values that neither side acknowledges having.
Here's a thing reasonable people can disagree on, and it underlies A LOT of discontent: "Technology is [more/less] important than politics."
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