Using Values as common guidelines for action in complex ecosystems
by Christine Locher

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Values as first principles that are shareable

Your values are some of the core things that make you YOU. When they flourish, you flourish. When someone steps on your values it hurts. A lot of the drive to make bigger changes is fuelled by that pain. Values can point us to something bigger, beyond our own little lives. They sustain us when the going gets tough.

Drucker Forum 2019

People share values and that creates a deep connection we can start building on. This transcends what can separates us like cultural background, gender, religion, company or political affiliation, race, class, education level. Values allow us to bond over things we share as fellow humans, like a deep respect for craftsmanship, a sense of justice, a love for family, a drive to excellence, an urge to learn and improve. We need to have those deeper conversations, to explore, to connect.

Values particularly guide the “how”: The way we go about something and the way we want to be while we go about it. Values are a lot less about the “what-exactly”, a specific technicality, although they provide a useful backdrop to developing these, too, as practitioners go about their craft. They also help us choose who to collaborate with and what this might look like. This makes them a particularly suitable “glue” to gather and align the kind of mixed multitude of collaborators that make up an ecosystem. Each will bring their expertise and agenda to the table to bring about positive change, often across lines of traditional competition. In coalescing ecosystems, values can play the role of “first principles”, holding the grouping together in the absence of direct, hierarchical controls.

Values as support for action-focused practical decision making

Particularly in complex situations and when dealing with wicked problems, values as first principles are useful as orientation. We don’t need to know the full picture to be able to take meaningful steps towards it, we understand this won’t be straightforward-linear anyway. Probably not everyone will be in full agreement. And the speed of change in the environment is unlikely going to slow down enough to provide full overview and certainty, so we might as well stop waiting for that. Using a set of shared values to start from can help keep things going as you iterate a way along a series of shifts and more togetherness.

As you explore options and next steps while shaping this new territory of ecosystems through your activities, ask yourselves: Does this lead us towards more fulfilment of the shared values and bigger goals we are working towards? Or does it lead away from it? Or is it neutral? If all other criteria fail, use: ‘Towards’, ‘neutral’, ‘away from’. Go with ‘towards’ if you can, or at the very least keep it ‘neutral’. The big thing is to keep it moving. As you work on this together with other members of the emerging grouping and build deeper levels of trust and experience, watch shifts happen as better decisions and deeper conversations start rippling out. And then keep building on that.

About the Author:

Christine Locher FRSA FLPI ( is a coach and consultant who works with individuals and businesses to make change in line with their values; and is the author of “Values-based: Career and Life Decisions that Make Sense”

This article is one in the Drucker Forum “shape the debate” series relating to the 11th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Power of Ecosystems”, taking place on November 21-22, 2019 in Vienna, Austria #GPDF19 #ecosystems

One comment

  1. I’d love to agree but I think it’s incorrect assertion. The connection doesn’t come from shared values as such but rather from a shared view of what behaviours are seen as reflecting the value either positively or negatively. Research by Macdonald, Burke, and Stewart clearly shows that social cohesion within groups comes from a shared view of what behaviours the groups sees as representing one or more of the universal values of social cohesion as part of the values continua. Honesty, Love, Respect, Trustworthiness, Courage, Fairness are all shared values critical for social cohesion, however, what that looks like differs widely between groups and that the conflict, not different values.

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