An invitation from leadership coach Lee Chalmers FRSA enticed me to a very enjoyable launch event for an interesting research report by the Office for National Statistics and the Barrett Values Centre on the UK’s national and community values – including the UK’s very high – 59% – level of ‘cultural entropy’, a measure of dysfunctional values.
what would a private detective think about your values if they followed you around for six months?
But it was the way the event really engaged its large audience at London’s Conway Hall - a historic centre for free thinking – that particularly impressed me.
An exercise to decide on, and then discuss – in pairs – our own values, beliefs and behaviours did indeed seem able to ‘help you meet someone more deeply, even if you’ve worked with them for ten years’, as one audience member put it.
The exercise had three steps:
- Please choose three values that are important to you in your life
- What are your beliefs that support this value?
- What behaviours do you exhibit that support this value?
We were offered 70 suggested values to help us with the first question – everything from job security to wisdom.
You can download the guidance page for the Values exercise – and use it to generate a revealing discussion at your own meeting or event. (A less cluttered version of the exercise sheet is here – though it offers fewer examples of values to choose from.)
The UK values report – ‘cultural entropy’ in the UK
The Office of National Statistics/Barrett Values Centre report itself revealed that UK citizens value meaningful, close relationships and operate with a strong sense of integrity. Top personal values included caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust.
But, when asked about the values of the nation as a whole, a rather depressing picture of the UK’s values emerged: bureaucracy, crime and violence, uncertainty about the future, corruption, blame, wasted resources, media influence, conflict/aggression, drugs/alcohol abuse and apathy.
Some people will quite rightly point out that our espoused values can all too often tend to be rather more uplifting than the values we in fact exhibit in our day-to-day behaviour.
The audience was encouraged to look candidly at whether we are really living our values: ‘what would a private detective think about your values if they followed you around for six months?’
(An automated values analysis of the texts of Matthew Taylor’s Twenty-first century enlightenment pamphlet and the RSA’s Purpose, Vision & Strategy is here. It uses a version of the ‘Hall-Tonna values inventory’, a precursor model to Richard Barrett’s).
The current controversy over how best to work with values for effective behaviour change: two models at loggerheads
For me, the most intriguing – and crucial – argument around values at the moment is between Pat Dade’s Maslow-based ‘Values Modes’ approach (articles and a free ‘Values Modes’ assessment are here) and the approach outlined in the WWF’s 2010 report ‘Common Cause – The Case for Working with our Cultural Values’.
They are both very influential amongst numerous organisations seeking behaviour changes towards more sustainable, environment-friendly behaviours – but each believes that the other approach contains a fundamental flaw which will derail its hopes to enable behaviour change.
Common Cause warn that the Maslow-based ‘Values Modes’ approach is wrong to encourage strategies which dress up eco-friendly actions so that they can also appeal to status-conscious – dare I say selfish? – ‘Outer Directed’ people. Rather than satiating that level of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – and thus prompting people move to new more globally compassionate, caring needs – they will just strengthen the values of selfish consumerism, they argue.
Pat Dade, by contrast, warns that Common Cause’s advocacy of deeper green language – that his research finds appeals particularly to a narrow subset of the population called ‘Concerned Ethicals’ – will just alienate many, perhaps even most of the UK population, who don’t enjoy the feeling of being lectured in worthy-sounding Guardian-esque language, and rarely if ever change their behaviour as a result of it.
One attendee at the RSA’s recent Social Entrepreneurs Network meeting – who had worked for a leading environmental communications agency Futerra Sustainability Commuications – told me that while her radical heart would love Common Cause to be right, for effective communication and behaviour change, she would always opt for Values Modes (which have in fact been used in recent work the RSA has done in conjunction with The Campaign Company).
- The United Kingdom Values Survey – Increasing Happiness by Understanding What People Value (pdf)
- UK Values Alliance
- Barrett Values Centre (their free values assessment is here)
- Plainer version of personal values exercise worksheet (though with fewer suggested values)
- Action for Happiness
- Cultural Dynamics/Values Modes (includes free values assessment)
- Common Cause
- ‘We shouldn’t simply try to change people’s values when it comes to the environment‘ [Blog in The Independent by recent RSA speaker Tony Juniper on the 'Values Modes' approach ]
- Common Cause’s critique of Tony Juniper blog about Values Modes
Occasionally it can feel as though there are a thousand and one ways of making sense of the world. That is, of understanding why people think and behave in the way that they do and of knowing what can be done to help people live the lives they want to lead. Not a month goes by without the publication of another book telling us about the most important thing we need to know if we want to solve our problems – be it the importance of willpower, the power of ‘influencers’, the art of taking things more slowly, or of the significance of ‘group-identity’ and belonging.
While some of these ideas are no doubt useful, it can be a struggle to keep track of all the lessons that are supposed to help guide our day-to-day actions. Indeed, many end up competing with one another for our attention, and often it is the salient ones that triumph over the most important. Hence the nod to Malcolm Gladwell’s work on ‘influencers’ just now.
To find our way out of this maze of different concepts, it can be helpful to take a step back and try and view the whole picture. In practice, this means drawing upon a set of ‘meta concepts’ through which to make sense of the world. These aren’t lessons or rules as such, but more ‘lenses’ that can be applied to view different issues more clearly.
At the RSA, there are a few lenses that are either dominant or emerging. Here’s a brief summary of three:
Cultural Theory tries to make sense of problems by viewing them in terms of the different ‘cultural understandings’ that are at play. First conceived of by the anthropologist Mary Douglas during her studies of different communities in Africa and elsewhere, Cultural Theory suggests that there are four dominant understandings that can be found (to varying extents) in different groups and areas: egalitarian, individualist, hierarchical and fatalist.
Whether these different cultures are present depends upon two different criteria: Grid and Group. Grid relates to the importance of rules and structures, whereas Group refers to the importance of collective control and consensus. Where there are high Grid and Group orientations, we find hierarchical cultures. Conversely, where there are low Grid and Group tendencies, we find individualist cultures.
The message at the centre of this theory runs as follows: efforts to address challenges need to draw upon and broach all of these different cultural understandings if they are to effect change. Since every community contains some element of Grid and Group, efforts at tackling problems are unlikely to bear fruit unless they accommodate each perspective. We need a mixture of rules (Hierarchicalism), norms and community values (Egalitarianism) and incentives and support structures (Individualism). Matthew Taylor recently used the example of cash-in-hand work as one particular challenge that could be better addressed by applying the lens of cultural theory. To date, we have an overtly ‘elegant’ hierarchical approach (through sanctions and inspections), at the expense of egalitarian (nurturing tax fairness) and individualist ones (tax/benefit incentives).
The notion of mental complexity was developed by the Harvard professor Robert Kegan some years ago. Mental complexity refers to how we know, not just what we know. Kegan identifies a number of stages of mental complexity (or ‘adult development’), each of which offer people greater scope to see things objectively rather than subjectively. See the graph below.
This ‘subject-object’ relationship is important. When we take things as subjective, they ‘have us’, whereas when we take things as objective, we ‘have them’. The difference is between being caught in the grip of something with your blinders on, and being able to take a step back and get some perspective. Kegan uses the analogy of the scriptwriter vs. the actor. The actor follows the lines and is caught up in the minute-by-minute action, whereas the scriptwriter views things from afar and is able to edit the script as they see fit.
In short, higher levels of mental complexity give people a greater awareness of their emotions and attitudes and allows them to take more measured decisions. When applying this lens to view different issues, it prompts us to think about whether people are mentally ‘up to the task’ of undertaking the behaviours and actions we expect of them.
One example of where this has been used to make sense of an issue (beyond the territory of organisational management) is the RSA’s work on the Big Society. Our argument, published in a report earlier this year, is that the Big Society presents people with a ‘hidden curriculum’ of emotional and relationship-based tasks that require a certain order of mental complexity – the ‘self-authoring mind’ – which the majority of the population do not hold.
The concept of Values Modes suggests that there are three main value groups: Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers. Where you fall within each of these groups depends upon the extent to which you are ‘sustenance driven’, ‘outer directed’ or ‘inner-directed’ (there are sub-groups to each of the main three). Settlers, being primarily sustenance driven, like stability and security; Prospectors, being outer-directed, look for things that confirm their identities and boost their self-esteem; and Pioneers, as mostly inner-directed, seek out the new and novel.
Two of the foremost proponents of Values Modes, Chris Rose and Pat Dade, argue that used in the right way, it can be an invaluable tool for understanding how different policies and initiatives are likely to affect people’s behaviours. For example, one of their key arguments is that you have to tailor initiatives and messages to fit different value groups. You can’t expect to heavily influence a Settler’s behaviour by showering them messages about new trends. Highlighting social norms would be more appropriate, but then this wouldn’t do as much to shift the behaviour of Pioneers who are less concerned about what other people are doing.