Friday, August 10, 2012

Create Value in Relationships

I'm fascinated by Tim O'Reilly's idea: "Create more value than you capture." It's a business model focused on the long-term. I want to posit that it is also a good way to think about relationships.

My wife and I have been together for twenty-one years, married for seventeen, have two children and a dog, carry a mortgage and pay bills, and have had our ups and downs. There have been times when our relationship has been stretched almost to breaking. We have hung on due to a combination of love, stubbornness, perseverance, and dumb luck.

I've needed to do more of the learning in our relationship. I am two years older but have never been as mature as my wife. Stephanie has long been mature, centered, serious, and good with details. I'm often the opposite of these things. I have other strengths, but have needed to learn some of the bigger lessons.

Things are much better for us when I create more value than I seek to capture in our relationship.

Let's put it in simple terms: the giving of a gift. Say I get my wife a pair of boots that she'll look great in but am looking to capture value. In this model, she needs to squeal with delight and throw herself into my arms. But that's not the woman I married. She is deeply and quietly grateful for things, but not exuberant, and so I could not capture the value of the gift and so gift giving was often disappointing.

Turn it around. I give the same gift, she reacts in the same way, but instead of looking to capture value, I'm trying to create value for her. She puts the boots on, tells me that she loves them, and stands before a mirror feeling the beauty she radiates. She knows that I bought them so that she could feel good and because I thought she would like them. There is no obligation to wear them at any given time, no required reaction, no reciprocation necessary. Because those things are not an issue, good things happen. By not expecting to capture value, I am even more the recipient of it.

Now, what if she doesn't like the boots or they are the wrong size. If I expect to capture value, her return of the boots is a slap in my face. However, if I'm looking to provide value to her, it's my joy to return them and get the right size or style for her.

There are other areas of relationships to which this applies. From doing laundry and cooking to the complicated worlds of sex and intimacy. Create more value than you capture is the model for personal relations.

Wouldn't it be great if more businesses had as their goal to develop relationships and not just to extract cash from a victim. It would be a lot like writing a blog that doesn't carry advertisements. The idea is to create value and build relationships. The idea is to write on.