What Principles Do You Use for Value Decisions?

Here, in the US, we’re trying to open schools at all levels, play professional sports, and open as much of the economy as possible. We want it all. Now.

And, we’re having problems. Some elementary, middle-grade, and high schools have closed because they have too many virus cases. Several universities only opened for a week or two. They’ve stopped their in-person classes. Several schools have sent the students home.

Yes, the virus caused these closures. And, we caused it, too, because we are not making systemic value decisions.

We tried to say Yes to everything. That means we didn’t say No to anything.

Except, since we’re “rolling back,” we are saying No now.

This is the same problem as an organization that has trouble managing its project portfolio. Except, I suspect we choose “everything” because we have not articulated what’s most valuable to us. That’s because each of us sees different value. We haven’t discussed what’s most valuable to us as a society.

So, yes, I’ll wade into these discussions.

My Ranking by Value

Here’s how I value these various openings:

  1. Daycare. (Some of which has been open all through the pandemic.)
  2. Elementary schools. I want younger children to be able to attend school in person. I don’t see how young children can learn effectively remotely.
  3. Middle school. One problem to solve: kids move classes during the day. Kids need to move. And, I wonder how you manage this with social distancing.
  4. High school. The class movement problem is even worse here.

I am quite iffy about organized sports between schools. I suspect there is a way to do sports inside one school. However, I am not sure. I don’t know enough.

After schools, I do want to see outside eating at restaurants. I wonder if there is also a way to allow more people to participate in gyms and other socially distant physical activities.

Notice that universities haven’t made my list at all. Or professional sports.

I realize universities have a vested economic interest in getting students back on campus to pay for classes. Maybe universities will start to rethink who they serve and how. I’m pretty cynical about the cost of a university education vs the value of it right now.

Pro football is spending about $75Million on tests. I do not value pro football (or any other pro sport) more than our children’s education. I don’t. I understand that pro football and other pro sports have lucrative television contracts. I realize that’s part of the economic equation. I do not understand how we—as a society—think that football is more important than our children’s mental and physical health.

I also realize I can’t make the football league spend that money on children or teachers.

My Principles for my Value Decisions

One thing that stands out about my ranking: I rank the people with the most to gain and the least political power first. I do this because I see education as a significant way to help us all create a better society.

Given that, here are my principles for my ranking:

  1. We can’t open everything all at once. We need to choose what to do and when. That’s why we need to exercise our adaptability and resilience as we work through these issues.
  2. I start with the people who have the most to lose. In my opinion, the younger the person, the more they have to lose by delaying a good education.
  3. The more we can get younger children into school, the more easily their parents can work. That helps the overall economy.

I am sure you don’t all agree with me. That’s why we need to discuss these questions. (If you rank differently than I do, please explain your principles in the comments. I am sure I don’t have the full view I need.)

The more we discuss, the more we can articulate our value decisions as a society. That’s why the discussions are so important before we decide. With discussions, we might also address preconditions for the “best” outcomes. (We haven’t done that, either. If we had, we wouldn’t have discussions about wearing masks.)

As a country, we jumped to the ideal outcome: “Open everything.” We get to “everything” by carefully choosing a plan and assessing the results. Then, changing the plan as we practice our adaptability and resilience to achieve our goals.

We rarely achieve anything useful directly. We must more often head towards a goal. We take one step, assess the reality, and take another step. We zig towards the goal. We zag away from it. We continue this zig-zag until we do achieve the goal(s) we want. (I recommend you read Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly.)

I don’t see how we can agree how to “open” the country—and succeed—without discussing what we value and why. Full and frank discussions. I might not like the discussions. However, I can then choose how I act to manage my risks and my community’s risks to support the goal.

That’s the question this week: What principles do you use for value decisions?

2 thoughts on “What Principles Do You Use for Value Decisions?

  1. Karlo

    Hi Johanna, thank you for the post!

    I would like to comment your statement:

    “I do not understand how we—as a society—think that football is more important than our children’s mental and physical health.”

    Here is my opinion.

    It is not about importance, but about entertainment. All sports is fun for large amount of people. Many people pay small amount for this entertainment (cable or pay per view), but that adds to large total amount. And yes, this is free market invisible mechanism, same mechanics that pays for public schools.

    Regards, Karlo.

    1. Johanna Post author

      Karlo, thank you for the reframe. You are right. We do need entertainment, especially in these times.

      I guess I wish the rest of us had access to many tests with quick turnaround. I should have thought “and” instead of “or.” Thanks for the nudge to rethink.

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