Defining Value as a Consumer
After reading this piece and this response, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Lean definition of value. (For those who didn’t click the links, the first is an article from a NPR intern who claims to only have paid for something like 1% of her music library and the second is a response from someone who teaches about the music business discussing the damage of those choices.)
As a quick reminder, the “Lean” definition says that in order for a step to be value added the thing has to be done right the first time, physically change the thing, and be something the customer is willing to pay for. It’s that last piece that has me hung up lately. I have zero insight on the recording or distribution of music to understand how much the recording process qualifies for the first two. I’m also not specifically speaking to music, although it makes a great basis because almost everybody has an opinion on music.
My line of thought overall goes something like this: Doesn’t the consumer bear some responsibility for paying a fair amount for something that they value? How much responsibility does a consumer have? And who defines what a “fair” amount is?
Almost anybody who has ever been involved in business can point to something they were involved in that was done well, but died because nobody was willing to actually pay enough money or buy enough of them to keep it alive. In the case of music, does this mean that not paying for (or sharing or stealing, however you want to phrase it) has become so institutionalized in culture that we risk its survival? Or does this mean that those who make the music are being treated like temp labor with the knowledge that if they won’t make it for a low price, someone else will? Maybe it’s just an offshoot of the rest of a capitalistic society where only the best of the best do well enough to make a career out of it and the rest move on.
In the US where the popular notion is that we care about things like locally grown food, fair trade coffee, and what happens to the people that make our iPhones at Foxconn, I don’t think there is a lot of real thought about what is truly value added and how our behavior as consumers fits in. I’m not saying that I do (or should) care whether or not everyone who built my truck, for example, is a self-actualized human being who is prospering in an encouraging and happy auto assembly plant. Even I’m not as big of a dreamer as to think that could or should be a likely scenario. Heck, I’m barely convinced that most of the people that I give my money to for their music even really enjoy what they are doing and are fulfilled by it. I do believe that we, as “Lean” thinkers, can use our ability to focus on the definition of value a little better as both producers and consumers. Maybe these are the kinds of discussions we can have with family and friends to help shape the way they look at their consumption. I think our observations have to go beyond just pointing out waste and go towards quality feedback we could provide to the people we give our money to, giving them a better understanding of how to make their business work.