Why “What’s In It For Me” Can Kill Value Creation

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I live in India. Many Indians suffer from the “What’s in it for me” syndrome, which could be a manifestation of the results of poverty and deprivation, latent selfishness or self-centredness, or it could be just suspicious thinking…what is this person trying to get from me? It could also be a sign of poor self-belief and self-esteem that someone can take away my importance by offering or asking for something. For some it is an inbuilt filter to look at new requests or change.

I am not implying that people are selfish, but this could be the first test they use on a new idea or suggestion or request or anything new. “What’s in it for me” is a natural tendency for people. But when it becomes a defence mechanism, a way to say no, a closing of one’s mind, then we have to work on it and create value for people guided by this question.

This is not to say this (“What’s in it for me”) is not a worldwide phenomenon, but there seems to be, in many societies, an openness and curiosity to listen to something new, and perhaps develop it somewhat more. Maybe that is why we in India look for developed thoughts that we can use right away.

This could explain why our development of new technology is limited and our spending on R&D is low. Perhaps this is a phase that emerging nations go through. But this leads us to look at giving and taking.

I deal with many people. Many are takers. Others are willing to give so that they can take. Fewer are just givers. I come across givers, and they do not seem to have a “What’s in it for me” attitude. This could be because that is their nature. Or that they have developed from being givers and takers to just givers. I would imagine I would fall into the latter category, as compared to when I was much younger.

Most companies and most of us give so that we can take, or extract. There is nothing wrong with it as long as you do not just take without giving or giving a proportionate amount.

Companies and people have to give so that they can get something in return, to create something so as to extract a reward. You give something to a customer or an employee and hopefully take away more than you give (which is profit).

When “What’s in it for me” is accompanied by a giving attitude, it can be positive and create value.

The message business gurus such as Robert E Quinn state is to have a purpose.

Having a purpose can alleviate the “What’s in it for me” thinking.  It can make you more efficient in looking at new propositions and ideas, reducing wasted time. The more you think your time is wasted the more you will hide behind the “What’s in it for me” thought.

Garrett Gunderson says the same thing and adds do not play to win, and he says in Forbes, Purpose = Value and Value = Profits. Stop playing to win is the start of giving first and not taking first. When you do this, you stop asking “What’s in it for me” as the first question.

Giving and not thinking of taking is a cornerstone of Value Creation. In my life many people have given help and support to me without any expectation…I do not want to single out anyone because I will miss many who did the same. All of you can remember those who gave to you, their time, their advice or other things, ungrudgingly and generously.

Faisal Hussain, CEO of Synechron Inc. in Huffington Post discussed why an exit-only strategy kills creation of value and that is why he said no to a $250M buy-out.

That is why many start-ups and their investors learn to give (and bleed) so that they can eventually take.

Ask, for example, what most business lawyers are taught to do. They tend to take or extract for their client without much thought of a give and take. Business people have to step in to do this. I had a colleague and a lawyer, John W. Conway when I worked at Continental Can. He thought of give and take and not just about extraction and that is why he became a successful businessman and Chairman of Crown Cork and Seal.

Reduction of the “What’s in it for me” syndrome could be through education (educating to think beyond oneself) to change attitude; it could be incorporating a learning culture, a culture of awareness and anticipation, and one of sharing. It is overcoming the curse of knowing it all or knowledge that prevents people from learning and creating value.

What we find is that most people who transcend the “What’s in it for me” syndrome are value creators. Leaders for example start as managers and problem solvers, but as leaders, while they continue to solve problems they have to come up with better methods and culture to not worry about the self or to put self interest ahead of the common good. An example is a CEO who knows he will be rewarded based on quarterly results. He is safe with that. But when he ignores that to seek long term gains for his company, he maybe chastised by the owners.

For us to create such value we have to assume our customers have a “What’s in it for me” syndrome, and get to answer that question and how their wellbeing can be enhanced by our offering or how our offering can create value for them. People seek value for themselves and answering the “What’s in it for me” question creates that value. Focus on not only their wants but their true needs, and what will benefit them.

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