Category Archives: Pirsig

Finding Meaning Beyond Money in Your Startup

How do you find meaning and happiness beyond money in a company you started and got funded on the  single premise of making the most money?    Who can say?

Only you  can, because as the owner, you are not only alone at the top, but you and you alone, are in charge of balancing the mix of return on dollars invested between ROD (financial return of more dollars) and ROM (return of deeper meaning of life).

You need the ROD for your company to matter to you and your investors, and you need the ROM for you to matter to yourself.  If you make tons of money and are not deeply happy with your life, what’s the point?

I was able to crack this conundrum for myself as a young man with help from Copernicus, who inspired me to write this founding principle for my first company 40 years ago:

 Who can say what can’t be done, 

When all we have is time and thought, 

To stretch us ‘till the race is won,

With bold ideas that can’t be bought. 

©Robert Joseph Harris

This founding principle has worked well for me all my life and continues to guide me. It generated the first advertisement above that I wrote, designed and produced to promote my company, and it brought in my first new client 40 years ago that ended up being the first to offer Internet domain registration.  See the story  of how the recent eclipse reminded me of how this founding principle came to me.

Think of the marketplace as an  ocean. The frenetic activity that happens on a daily, quarterly, or yearly basis are all mostly near- surface activities with just hints of long range consequences from the deep. The surface is where near-term ROD lives along with a fleeting ROM deep below the surface.  Most spend their life on the surface and not below.

Regarding ROD and ROM,  I later discovered that I needed  both, and found the mix that was my personal sweet spot. I acknowledge that meaning and dollars are rarely used in the same sentence, and appear to be in contraction with each other; however, I maintain that these two words are deeply intertwined by the ineffable concept of value, which ultimately leads to happiness that we all desire.  

Today’s world operates primarily on surface value, which is usually thought of as what someone will pay for something at the moment, subject to many factors like popularity, scarcity, novelty,  and utility .  This is a proximate and temporary notion of value that comes with high uncertainty and tends to fluctuate rapidly in time and place.

A more stable notion of value is that defined by Robert Pirsig as a deep and enduring value defined by a persistent need and desire for attainment of truth that makes life meaningful and worth living, or happy.  This sense of deeper value is also dynamic, changing with time, space and experience, but changing slowly and growing by building on itself gradually accumulating an increasing “net worth” of meaning and happiness.   I  also discovered  that my founding principle implied a simple solution to having both ROD and ROM.  If you have no interest in ROM, read no further.

However, If you do,  the simple answer is you have be the prime participant by investing in both ROM and ROD, starting with investing in value of meaning first, which drives the value of dollars:

Give the most meaningful value to your customers and save the extra you learn as ROM insight for your company; Spend less to satisfy your customers than you get paid and save the extra as ROD net worth for your company. 

To do both ROM and ROD at the same time is very hard work because it means you have to understand: both the philosophical AND economical sides of “value” in terms of what you provide to customers and the ensuing risk; how you create value, and; how your customer interaction becomes a valuable experience for both you and your customers.

Think of the marketplace as an  ocean. The frenetic activity that happens on a daily, quarterly, or yearly basis are all mostly near- surface activities with just hints of long range consequences coming from the deep. The surface is where near-term ROD lives along with a fleeting ROM deep below the surface.  Most people spend their life on the surface and not below.

To  provide more value you have to go deeper in the ocean to examine the nature of deep currents of change that are working to affect the surface waves of supply and demand.

Whether your customers want ROM or not, if YOU want it (or need it) you have to cost it into your plans to have it.  Then you will have it for your inner self, as well as to use for building a better quality of life for yourself and love ones along  with your customers.  Those valuing your added value will pay a premium for it to keep it coming in, thereby, providing a virtuous cycle of growth in both ROD and ROM.

This approach tends to  screen in high mutual-value relationships and screen out low mutual-value relationships. I  personally think this is the “secret” of Warren Buffet’s success, the sui generis investor of our time, and perhaps, of all time.  He seems to be the truly happiest billionaire in the world!

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