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Are your values living or dead?

Your company motto might have been groundbreaking when it was first devised and a choice set of words on which to base the foundations of your brand. But are those values still relevant?

Are your values living or dead?

It’s written in thick black ink in my notebook: •ARTEFACTS DIE•

The kind of mysterious note-to-self that I’ll read in years to come and wonder what in tarnation it meant. Except, in this case, I was canny enough to add some extra context around it – we’re talking about two related talks given one after the other at 1st Conference last week, in the session between morning tea and lunch on the first day.

At the conference to bring the culture of agility to the business world, Douglas English talked about building a culture of innovation in the workplace, and Catherine Hills talked about service design.

English, CTO and co-Founder of Culture Amp, gave us a spray about the importance of the trinity of alignment, autonomy and accountability in creating the best possible culture for your workplace, as well as installing hiring practices that focus on building employee brand and underscoring diversity of mindset. And making decisions about who’s best placed to make decisions when decisions have to be made about making decisions. (That last bit gave me a fair amount of trouble when I encountered the extensive lunch spread on offer afterwards.)

Hills, UX and Service Design Director at RMIT Online, went into a great deal of detail regarding the process of involving cross-functional teams in the process of determining mutually beneficial outcomes for creators, customers and users when designing tools. Her core message is that we should be speaking to users for better outcomes, and as a way of limiting risk in the long run.

And somewhere between these enlightening lectures comes my note: •ARTEFACTS DIE•.

It was almost a throwaway line – I can’t remember who said it, and it’s printed on the page exactly at the point where my notes from each speaker meet, under a doodle of a bloke with a sideways lightbulb for a head. But it’s applicable in both cases.

If you write down your values with your fanciest pen, Blu-Tack them to the wall and gesture broadly towards them whenever someone asks about your foundation for doing business, you’ve really just constructed a false idol to appease. It’s an artefact. Values should be something that you live each day, not something you carve Moses-like into tablets then try to live up to with a valiant struggle against your own primal will, like a Google exec straining against the desire for evil.

Same goes for the assumptions you have about who is using your products and for what. You can’t do an initial survey of the market and use that as your eternal baseline, without doing regular pulse checks or finding out if your assumptions remain valid over time. Placing your hand palm-down on the steadily yellowing documents that have underscored your strategy and tactics since time immemorial is a bad idea.

Because, as any hack archaeologist will tell you, •ARTEFACTS DIE•.

They probably won’t put the cool circles either side of it, though.

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