He gave the class an assignment: Write “What is value?” on a card and post is somewhere you will see it everyday. Answer the question differently every time you see it.
It has turned out to be one of the most important inquiries of my professional career.
There is no one right answer here, rather the value of the exercise lies in performing inquiry itself. An economist might glibly answer “scarcity,” but they would be missing the boat.
I highly encourage you to do this exercise yourself before reading on.
Value is something that enables a human being to move toward greater free will. Food and water are the most basic and valuable of resources, because as animals we are basically a slave to their acquisition. Any process that allows us to spend less time foraging, and more time… reproducing for example, is inherently valuable.
Value is something that is socially constructed. Human beings will naturally value what others human beings value. Clothing, or any luxury commodity is a perfect example. Beyond basic functionality and simple aesthetics, items do not become any more valuable. So why is a Ferrari so much more expensive than a Mini? Because once a basic need has been met, manufacturers can focus on creating social value rather than functional value.
Value is based not on scarcity, rather cultivation. Unless we are talking about diseases, the more rare something is the more valuable it is. Economists refer to this as scarcity; however scarcity fails to encapsulate the true nature of value. Value describes something that requires effort (or energy) to produce. Truffle Mushrooms and athletic ability are two examples. These items are not scarce. One grows abundantly in France, and the other is available to nearly every healthy human baby. But only those with trained pigs can find the mushrooms, and those with good coaches become talented athletes. These things require cultivation, and are therefore valuable.
The essence of entrepreneurship is this: create something valuable, then share it.
[Originally posted 21 Monday Nov 2011]