Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Implied Value and Actual Value

Past a quarter of a century, I think I've had some fairly decent life experiences to be able to justifiably start making some observations and claims which may hold true (aside from the fact that study and research is a profession I'm engaged in).

One of these aspects of life is value, or more specifically how others see value in you. Value leads to being desired, being preferred, and being attractive (not always in the sense of looking good - although that is certainly one form of it - but in the sense of garnering attention either because the attractiveness is an end in itself, or implies some other underlying quality).

Value is made up broadly of two things - implied value and actual value. Both are important in the long-term, particularly actual value, but sad to say, in the short-term and for immediate assessment purposes implied value is more critical and important. Humans are evolved to take cognitive shortcuts in many decision-making moments, especially when there is a lot of uncertainty, so they rely on heuristic cues and snap-judgments; indeed, people form first impressions rapidly and seldom waver from that first impression. If a person has high actual value but low implied value, nobody would give him the chance to demonstrate his actual value. Implied value is the gateway to demonstrating one's actual worth and substance.

I'm far from being a successful person, but I suppose my life so far has been rather charmed. I'm on a path towards something I'm passionate about, I have balance between various social domains ranging from friends to solitude to work to relationships, it's easy to build meaningful connections with people, and I'm handed roles and opportunities wherever I go from people who are confident that I can deliver. There is little else more fulfilling for a man to be judged as competent, or of value. Self-esteem is hinged on how much one is accepted and included in social relations, and male emotional and psychological well-being is highly dependent on being respected for his capability. I think I'm doing okay there.

I think this has a lot to do with how I've capitalized upon implied value so far in my life. Whether I learnt it somewhere along the way or was lucky enough to have reaped the benefits of putting up a strong front since young, I have known for quite a while that first impressions are critical for anyone else to give a damn about anything else you might have to offer. I think an interesting example of this is my ability, from a very young age, to juggle a football quite well. Football juggling, while fancy and perhaps implies good ball control, has little to do with actual field performance, such as being able to dribble past opponents or coordinate well with teammates. However, people still link good football juggling skills (very visible and easily executed implied value) with good football playing skills (requires longer term assessment of actual value), and as a result I have always been associated with being rather good at playing football and often got selected to make the team (the reality is that while I think I was an above average player in my younger days, over the years I never really fulfilled this promise). And boy, did I dedicate an obsessive amount of effort to perfecting the art of keeping a football in the air. The point is that these two levels of value require investment of time and effort towards, and it is woeful to neglect one over the other.

There are people who have far more implied value than actual value. In dating, these are douchebags and players who jack up implied mate value, such as by using suave lines, deliberately gaming the mating psychology of women using pick-up tricks, and utilizing social proof by surrounding themselves with lots of women, while having very little relationship building substance to offer in the long run. In marketing, these are products that have extremely gimmicky advertising and branding but are actually rather subpar in performance. In the office, these are office rats who do everything to look good, such as sucking up to the boss and doing things well only when their effort is conspicuous, but actually skive and slack off on projects when nobody's looking, resulting in loss of efficiency and productivity for the company as a whole. The reality is that a person can exploit a very high implied value so that the trust, reciprocity, and investment from others can be acquired because they fall for a shiny exterior believing that there is more to be gained back from the person having high implied value. A person using such a strategy can get away with it these days because our highly socially mobile world allows him or her to move on to others quickly. The fact that s/he has little actual value requires repeated interactions with the same people before they can catch him or her out on the bullshit.

However, on the other hand, there are people who have a great deal of actual value, but tragically have implied value that is too low for anyone to bother. In our fast-paced world, people gauge actual value from implied value, and as a result these folks with high actual value but low implied value get passed over.

People can do this unknowingly. There are nice, decent guys who think it is good enough to just work hard and that just desserts will come later. This is clearly not always the case anymore - girls pass over a guy who does all the hardwork of chasing her for relationship commitment, employers pass over an employee with years of valuable experience but who has a badly written CV, consumers pass over superior products with poor advertising and branding. It is unfortunate, but this is the reality of human nature.

On the other hand, people can also do this knowingly. I have little sympathy for this camp. People who knowingly have low implied value but do nothing about it often do so to uphold some kind of ideological stance, but the underlying justification is often somewhere along the lines of: "why should I bother, people should see me for who I am, I am fighting a just war against superficiality." This is plainly petulant and immature thinking.

Understanding that there are two levels to value provides hope for those who have high actual value but unknowingly have not been working on their implied value. It is surprisingly easy to increase implied value, and the rewards are immense. It is not difficult to be more presentable. Throw on some fitting clothes, hit a neighbourhood gym that does not charge exorbitant membership rates, go get a decent haircut. Image is the first step that people take to gauge whether somebody bothers to put in the effort. It is not difficult to be more interesting. Take part in a wine tasting event, sign up to learn a new dance, explore a new language, give diving or skiing a try, and/or travel. Even if you're not particularly skilled at the end of the day in any of these activities, having any experience at all in these other areas of life besides your 9-5 job gives people the impression that you potentially have more to offer, which makes you more interesting. It is not difficult to seem competent (which is just another way of saying implied value). Walk straight, do not slouch, maintain a confident poise, be bold, dare to talk to people, listen with a keen ear, and have something interesting to say in return (which is therefore dependent on trying out all those other experience-building activities). People follow when you take the lead.

If in the unfortunate circumstance you realize that you have high actual value but low implied value, you are now a knowingly low implied value individual already by definition. There is then no longer any excuse to not work on being presentable or interesting. It should be a personal responsibility. Your life quality will increase with this, and everyone else who would now bother to access your actual value will gain too from what you can offer. To lament the superficiality of this reality is to cop out. Do not allow that. Take active and positive steps to enhance implied value, while quietly working on your actual value in the background so that you can return on the trust that others have given as a result of being attracted to your implied value.

These are two critical aspects to being of value to others, and implied value is often tragically neglected, either knowingly or unknowingly.

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