Kiri and


How do you measure value?

April 3rd, 2014 (by Steve)

Forgive me for a moment as I digress from talking directly about our trip and instead focus on a subject that I’ve been learning about as we travel. Productivity. An output-based measure of value. It’s purely by chance that there’s a BBC news article today with the headline “Move over, GDP: How should you measure a country’s value?”

One of the questions that I’ve been pondering as we’ve travelled around, is “why are we doing this?”, often followed closely by “what am I hoping to achieve through this trip?”. In other words, what will our output be from the journey around Europe? I was part of the first year group to sit key stage 1 SATs at school (most of the class ended up in tears) and ever since then, I’ve learned that output is what counts. It’s coursework and exams that are marked at school. At work, there’s measurement against SMART objectives. I think that’s fair enough. Where I’m questioning my thinking is whether it’s a good measurement against my use of free time.

Steve enjoying the beach

I’ve never been one to sit in front of the TV for hours on end (well, maybe if I’ve got my laptop on my knee and I’m writing code); I’ve always had a project on the go and I get enjoyment through producing things, setting myself deadlines and benchmarks. The flip side of this is that I end up feeling guilty if I’m not in the process of producing something; am I wasting time? When travelling, there’s a lot of time spent covering ground, there’s a lot of time spent sightseeing or playing games or reading books. Productivity? Almost nil. And this is the place that I’m in when I ask myself why we’re travelling. I could be earning money to provide for my family… I could be producing code to help make some process somewhere more efficient… but I’m not. Does that mean that this lifestyle holds no value? That’s a silly question – I just have to reflect on how much we’ve learned and been inspired so far to see the value.

I’ve come to the realisation that I’ve got too much of a focus on productivity in my home life. Is it productive to play with my neice + nephew? Is it productive to go for a walk with my wife? Is it productive to sit on a hillside, marvelling at the beauty of the countryside? Is it productive to grapple with deep philosophical questions that have no answer? No, no, no, no. Yet each of those things are so precious (well, the last one may be a little self-indulgent). Maybe I haven’t got my priorities straight. There’s a story about two women called Martha and Mary that touches upon this subject, that I really could learn from.

So this Lent, rather than giving up something like chocolate (or plastic, as we did last year), I’m trying to shift my focus away from productivity and towards fruitfulness; where growth is the most important thing rather than output.

7 Responses

Now that was a really deep and thought provoking piece Steve. The only thing I can assure you about the questions you posed is that this particular 64 year old still asks them in one form or another on a regular basis! To me it is the unpredictability of the answers I come up with and how much those answers change almost day to day that keep life interesting.

As for measures of activity/productivity/output etc well in my working life I must have been ‘measured’ by at least a dozen systems – in fact I once did some time and motion type measurement. Not one of those systems proved to be of any real benefit to anyone except the bean counters and the company or individual who sold them to the various businesses I worked for. It was all such a waste of time in the end that I can’t even begin to be cynical about it. Perhaps that is one of the answers – never mind the numbers just be a good person and play the game fairly. Here endeth my lesson for today.

Hope you and Kiri are keeping well. Jane and I are planning a Germany/Denmark trip in late May for about 6 weeks, are you two anywhere up there at that time? Kiel Regatta week at the end of June is, I’m told, well worth a visit. Happy travels……Paul

“Iā€™m trying to shift my focus away from productivity and towards fruitfulness; where growth is the most important thing rather than output.”

That’s not a SMART target, how will you know whether you’ve completed it?

Thanks Paul – good to know it’s not only me! I like your answer šŸ™‚ We may indeed be in Germany or Denmark around that time… but our plans are subject to change! Would love to meet up with you again if we coincide.

James, you’re right, but does it matter that it’s not measurable?

Hi Steve. Great post. I asked myself the same question and doubted myself sometimes, trying to be productive through writing blog posts and books, and working to improve my photography skills. In the less demanding parts of the trip, I felt as though I were just dossing.

Back into work now, my feeling is our travels did produce something. It produced growth in the both of us, our characters and approach to life. This is of course immeasurable, and what this growth might also contribute to us and others in the future is also not measurable.

Happy travels mate, Jason

Thanks Jason; I always appreciate your take on a subject, as I know that you’ve done what we’re doing… good to hear that you count it as worthwhile. I certainly feel like I’m growing from this trip! Thanks again and all the best with selling your van (if anyone is reading this comment, why not splash out and buy Dave – you won’t regret it!)

Hello Steve! I have questioned for as long as I remember. All four Beatons tend to. One of the things I have come to at my grand old age is that many of the most important things in life are not measureable. I think of my long time in teaching and the fact that the things which stayed with me and were of value were nothing to do with marks on paper. I think of your Mum’s lovely birthday celebration at Penhurst in November and the powerful feeling I had there of strong and important values which connected the people there. How do you measure that? Keep travelling and thinking!
Lots of love from Jean xx
P.S. I still need to ponder on Martha and Mary.

Hi Jean. I think you’re spot on. You really can’t measure the important things in life… you just have to savour them and cherish them. All the best with your pondering

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