Core Values Are Earned Words
Core values are at the heart of everything we do here at OSI. I’ll talk about our specific core values in future posts, but the term means different things to different people, so I’ll begin with what it means to us.
I first encountered the phrase “earned words” in Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull’s exceptional book “Creativity, Inc.”:
Earned words aren’t meaningless proclamations (“We’re excellent”), and they’re much more than aspirations (“We want to be excellent”). It’s easy to make empty statements, and it’s easy to want desirable outcomes. It’s hard to invest the considerable time, effort, and focus necessary to earn them.
Catmull says it beautifully:
Core values must be earned words. If they aren’t earned, they mean nothing.
Core values are calls to action. They name the things we work relentlessly toward achieving, and for which we agree to be held accountable.
Core values reveal what matters to us. Not in the abstract sense of what we find appealing, but in the concrete sense of what we’re compelled to become.
Core values express our purpose. They define us by what we hold most dear—the things that give our lives meaning. They’re the scale against which we measure our performance and the value we produce.
Core values convey important things about us: why we’re here, what we’re trying to achieve, and—crucially—what we expect of ourselves.
We think about everything we do in the context of our core values. We base personnel decisions on them. We compose teams with them in mind. We build employee reviews and improvement plans around them. They form the foundation for our technical, project management, client relationship, and business decisions.
Perhaps most importantly, we count on them to guide us when the light is the dimmest. Our core values illuminate the way when the right decision is hard to see.
Catmull’s observation is revealing: “To ensure quality, then, excellence must be an earned word…” He doesn’t simply say: “quality must be an earned word” or “excellence must be an earned word.” Instead, he connects the desired outcome with the discipline that must be embraced in order to achieve it.
Core values are the disciplines we embrace in order to achieve the outcomes we seek.