How to Create Real Value

December 11th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

As a follow-up to the last article, let’s tackle the question of how to discern whether or not you’re creating and delivering real value.

The simple answer is that you know you’re creating value when you can see tangible positive changes in the world as a result of your creative output.

Weak Value

Suppose I post a new article, and lots of people send me feedback such as, “Great article, Steve. That was awesome! Thanks for posting it.”

Does that mean I created real value? Well, maybe I created some. I can see that some people felt good, but is that a tangible positive change? I would say no, not really. The impact will probably be short-lived. I can’t say I delivered much real value.

Lots of bloggers write articles that generate this sort of feedback. You might read such articles and think to yourself, “That was a cool article.” But a week later you’ve totally forgotten about it, and nothing in your life has changed. The only value you actually received was perhaps a moment of entertainment or distraction. There isn’t much evidence of tangible positive change.

So even though this might seem like positive and encouraging feedback, I would interpret it as an indication that I provided weak value. Weak value is better than no value of course, but if this is all I was able to do, I’d probably be struggling financially.

Take note that I receive this type of feedback every day. For any given article and any given reader, there usually isn’t a huge amount of value being transferred. And that’s okay. Creating impactful articles is very challenging. I don’t always know what will deliver strong vs. weak value.

The value received depends on the individual reader and the circumstances of their life too. Some people receive tremendous value upon re-reading an old article that previously didn’t mean much to them.

Strong Value

Now suppose I’m walking around at a conference, and someone recognizes me and says, “Steve, I’m so glad to finally meet you! I have to tell you our story. Earlier this year my brother and I read your article 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job. That article convinced us to quit our jobs as corporate engineers and start our own business this year. Now we design and sell inspirational T-shirts. We’re loving it. And our customers are digging the T-shirts too. Thank you so much for the work you do. We’re so much happier!”

This is followed by a squishy hug. :)

That new business is something real. This is a tangible positive change. That article obviously delivered more than just momentary entertainment value. It had a lasting effect.

This was a true story by the way. I was speaking at a conference in October, and I met Drew and Caroline Yacu at their vendor booth. This brother and sister team started a business CREATING and DELIVERING T-shirts with inspirational messages on them. The twist is that the messages are printed backwards.

This means that whenever you see yourself in a mirror, you’ll instantly read the message, so it works as a positive affirmation.

However, when someone else looks at your shirt, all they see is backwards writing.

Drew and Caroline gave me a free T-shirt at the conference to thank me for helping them get started on this path. I was delighted to see how happy they were. The backwards message on my shirt is, “I am a creative genius.”

Whenever I wear that shirt and see myself in a mirror, it always makes me smile. Since I can wear the shirt again and again, the value Drew and Caroline CREATED keeps getting DELIVERED. It’s not just a one-time thing.

I’ve also noticed that when I wear this shirt in public, people will stare at my chest trying to read the backwards writing. It invites people to walk up and connect with me. I always get comments about the shirt. So the shirt provides even more value by acting as a social opener.

Drew and Caroline said they quit their jobs in January, so they’ve been going for quite a while. And they still remembered the article that helped tip them over the edge. That’s another factor I’ve seen repeatedly. When real value gets delivered, it’s usually memorable.

Am I claiming credit for launching their business? Certainly not. They did all the work. That business is fueled by their creativity, not mine. My article was just a catalyst, perhaps one of many.

Most of the feedback I get is on the weak value side, but I give the strong value feedback a lot more weight. An article that helps someone launch a new business is a lot more significant to me than an article that generates hundreds of “cool article” emails.

Aim to Create Strong Value

These days it’s pretty easy for me to write something that will generate plenty of positive “cool article” feedback. I can consistently deliver weak value without much effort.

Lots of other bloggers have reached the point where they can consistently deliver weak value as well, and that’s where they stagnate. They keep getting “cool article” feedback on every post, but they still aren’t getting the results they want. They wonder what’s missing since the feedback seems to suggest that they’re doing great. The problem is that these bloggers never make the transition from weak value to strong value. They don’t raise their standards to the point of creating impact instead of just entertainment.

The Internet is already overloaded with weak value. You could spend the rest of your life soaking up the weak value that’s already been posted — reading blog posts, watching videos, etc. It’s endless. But ultimately it’s nothing but info-crack.

If you pump out more and more weak value, you aren’t helping much. Hardly anyone would care if you stopped since they have plenty of other sources to turn to.

If you can figure out how to create strong value though, you differentiate yourself. You’re no longer part of the herd pumping out feel-good drivel. Now you’re actually doing something real. I hope you grasp this point because it’s an important distinction to internalize.

It is very challenging to create and deliver strong value. What can I say or do that could permanently change someone’s life for the better? The answer isn’t obvious. But you can reach this point by becoming a prolific creator AND by seeking to continually increase the value you’re creating. Put a lot out there, and gradually figure out what matters and what doesn’t.

Tangible Positive Changes

Here are some other examples of feedback that represent tangible positive changes:

  1. My father lost 70 pounds this year after I forwarded him your series on the raw food diet.
  2. I finally got a girlfriend after reading your article on soulful relationships.
  3. I moved to Las Vegas after reading Living in Las Vegas, and I’m loving it here.
  4. I had my first lucid dream after listening to the podcast on Lucid Dreaming. It was amazing!

These are all examples of real feedback I’ve received.

The commonality is that we can see some kind of evidence that positive change has occurred. Some sort of shift has happened. Someone having their first lucid dream is a positive change. Someone going from no relationship to having a girlfriend is a positive change. Someone moving to a new city and beginning a new chapter of their life is a positive change. All of this goes beyond the “cool article” type of feedback.

It isn’t enough to hope that you’re creating tangible positive changes. You need to see evidence that you’re having this effect. One of the simplest is that people will tell you how your creative work has affected them. Are you seeing any evidence that your work is producing tangible positive changes?

Some changes are small and subtle. Other changes are big and create massive ongoing ripples.

Note that the value you deliver to the world doesn’t have to be earth-shatteringly huge. It could be something small and simple. You may do something that only benefits a single person in a small way. That’s terrific.

Over time you’ll learn to deepen the value you’re able to share. A song can have a deeper impact than a few minutes of distraction. A comedian can do more than entertain. A T-shirt can do more than clothe you.

Get Started

How do you figure out how to provide strong value?

You get started by creating stuff that provides little or no value. Then keep experimenting. Keep trying different things. Look for ways to improve. In this manner you’ll progress to weak value and eventually to some strong value.

With practice you will calibrate. You’ll learn to provide more value.

I’ve written more than 800 articles now, and I’m still figuring it out. It’s still hit and miss a lot of the time.

But I keep writing. I keep trying new approaches and angles. And every once in a while, I manage to put out something that delivers strong value for a lot of people. I constantly make new distinctions. I deepen my understanding of what works and what doesn’t. I learn by doing.

The ability to create strong value is the result of high creative output. The more you create stuff, the faster you’ll figure out how to create something good. Every creator has to pump out a lot of crap before getting good.

Do More Than Nothing

The dumbest approach you can apply is to sit still and create nothing. Stand there and whine, “I don’t know what to do!”

That’s just lame. I’m sorry for being so blunt, but it is.

If you can’t get a clue as to how to get started creating and delivering some value to people, you must be blind.

Go outside for starters. Walk down the street. It shouldn’t take but a few minutes to find someone you can help.

If you made an all-out effort, could you make a difference in the life of one person today? Could you create even a little bit of weak value for someone somewhere? Have you ever tried?

If you’re really, really clueless, then volunteer. Go help people in need. You’ll learn quite quickly that if you have a pulse, you can provide value to people.

If the only benefit you think you can offer is body warmth, then go hold crack babies for a few hours a week. This will help get you out of your head and get into action.

I don’t know what to do is simply not a valid excuse. That’s just fear and cowardice talking. You know you can do better than that.

Seriously, if the Three Stooges can create value, why not you? Were they geniuses? Perhaps not. But they took a lot of action.

If you really, really don’t know what to do though, simply go outside and walk around. Don’t go home until you’ve figured out something you can do to take a stab at creating value.

This isn’t rocket science. If it takes you more than an hour to figure out something you can do to create value, you’re being way too anal. And the whole time you’re creating nothing. You have to figure this out by doing, not by sulking.

If you think you can sit at home and compute the perfect value-creation formula and then begin taking action from that place of perfect insight and understanding, you’re delusional. You’re suffering from the delay tactic known as perfectionism, a word derived from the Latin wimpus maximus.

You’ll figure out how to provide strong value when you’re in motion. Only the act of creation will enable you to figure out how to create strong value. You’ll figure it out as you go along.

Your first guess at how to create value isn’t going to be perfect. Please rid yourself of the myth that if you just come up with the right idea, you’ll be a high-level value creator from day one. It just doesn’t work like that.

Each time you create weak value, it serves as a learning experience. Every time you hear feedback like “cool song” — or worse… maybe cricket sounds — you can learn from it. You can say, “Well… that sucked. I’ll have to try something else.”

This is how you calibrate.

Beginners Always Suck

If you want to see a good example of calibration at work, go back and read my very first blog post. It’s only three paragraphs long. I’ll wait.

That was a true masterpiece, wasn’t it? It’s obvious from that first post that I would go on to have a massively successful blog, right?

The truth is that I feel like such a chode for having written that. It’s three paragraphs of absolute drivel. It doesn’t even come close to providing real value. It announces a book that I eventually decided not to write (canceling that book was the right decision though). I didn’t even get the basic “cool article” feedback for that one. But hey, it was a start. It set me in motion. I could only get better from there.

My second post was a little better. At least it has some substance to it, although it was weak value at best. It wasn’t particularly creative. As mentioned in that post, I was mainly rehashing other people’s ideas. It’s a big improvement from the first post though.

The first blog post I wrote that provided even a small degree of strong value was probably Dealing With Difficult People. That was my 27th post. And the next one didn’t happen until about 2 months later — How to Discover Your Life Purpose In About 20 Minutes.

When I first started blogging, it was a challenge just to create weak value. Creating strong value was quite rare and usually accidental. Over time I gradually improved. Notice that I didn’t improve by sitting around thinking about how to write impactful blog posts. I got better by writing lots of crappy posts and figuring out what not to do. And I’m still figuring it out. Give me another four years, and I’ll probably be embarrassed by what I’ve written today.

So here’s the rule to follow: Create more than nothing.

That’s it really. The only way to totally screw this up is to sit around sulking and feeling powerless. That’s the only way to fail. Doing nothing is failure. Creating nothing is failure. Creating something, however crappy it may be, is success.

I know I’m right about this because I have the T-shirt to prove it. :)


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