For the past while – months at least, maybe a year – I’ve been struggling with an idea. The idea is small and I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about it.

I know that diversity of ideas and opinions in a work team is a good thing. Research shows this. Despite this knowledge, I was getting very frustrated by some of the ideas of my team members that conflicted with my own. I didn’t understand how a good thing could be affecting me that way. My rational mind was telling me “It is good to have this kind of diversity, it balances out the team. Your strength in this area will balance out a similar weakness in others.”

I’ve had a number of lengthy conversations with friends about this topic and I kept coming back to the idea that some diversity of ideas is good and some is bad1. I just couldn’t figure out the distinction between the bad and good.

Recently I’ve figured it out: Values. My definition of Values is ideas that mean something important to a person.

If I split my ideas and opinions into two categories, Values and Everything Else, then my internal conflict makes sense. I can give myself a pass for not giving in on my Values2. I’ll give some examples.

First, an idea that isn’t a Value, at least for me. “High Fructose Corn Syrup is an awful invention that is making our world more unhealthy.” I fully believe that idea, but I won’t feel frustrated if someone I know drinks a Coke. Here’s another, “The Mac OS is far more stable and powerful than the Windows OS.” I definitely agree with this, but I don’t grind my teeth every time I walk by someone running Windows 8.

Now, an idea that is a strong Value for me. “The point of making things is to help other people, not to make money.” This idea resonates with me. Working in an environment with an atmosphere filled with views to the contrary leads to frustration. I am not a good fit for that environment.

So what are my Values? I don’t know them all, but here are a handful:

  • The point of making things is to help other people, not to make money
  • The best way to get more work is to deliver high quality work
  • Spend as much as you can on high quality tools
  • Be happy to pay for things
  • Ideas alone are worthless
  • The right technique or strategy does not deliver high quality work – doing the hard work does
  • Every being in this world is connected, and everything you do changes another’s life either for better or worse
  • You cannot compartmentalize your life or your mind
  • What you repeatedly do you will repeatedly do
  • You cannot multitask and the one thing you are doing right now deserves your full attention
  • Software should be designed for the user, not for the programmer

have different Values than I do. I am saying that a difference of Values between the people you see every day causes problems.

  1. My statement that “some diversity is good and some is bad” is highly context-dependent. I am definitely not saying that no one in this world should

  2. Not giving in on Values still does not make it OK to be a bigot.