Negative Core Values: Using Your Worst Traits to Find Your Best Self.

Defining your values can be tough. But not defining them can be worse. Leave the decisions to organizational entropy and you're really in the soup.

I was first introduced to Patrick Lencioni’s Accidental Values by one of my all time favorite brand strategists, Micah Jones (he also happens to be our VP of Creative, but I promise I’m not partial). 

The idea really resonated with me and we developed our own perspective around what we’re calling Negative Core Values—and they make a heck of a great tool for refining the Core Values Jim Collins introduced us to in Built to Last

Patrick’s accidental core values essentially refer to what happens through organizational entropy, malicious compliance, perverse incentives, and just plain getting it wrong and suffering the consequences. 

One of the big challenges of defining your organization’s core values in the first place is getting away from the phone-it-in, pay-to-play, politically-correct, public values. One of the easiest ways to dig deep and find the genuine values you want to foster is to look first at the gross things that have taken root by accident

The process of taking inventory of your worst organizational characteristics and defining the opposite is what we refer to as Negative Core Values. We like math over here, and maybe this name is too clever for our own good, but we essentially “negative the negative”, creating a positive. 

We start with a negative value, then we negate it to land on a positive, usually pretty specific, meaningful, and impassioned core value. As long as we’ve been using this tool, we’ve yet to come up with “Integrity.” As many others before me have found, reframing can do a lot of good.

Here are a couple examples of what this transformation looks like. 

Problem: Everyone is busy all the time. Employees wear their “busyness” like a badge of honor. 

Negative Core Value: We focus on achieving goals, not filling time. 

Problem: Employees have started putting a premium on “winning” over everything. Internal competition has turned nasty. 

Negative Core Value: We prize collaboration over competition. 

Next time you’re struggling to define meaningful core values, values you can live by, hold people accountable to, and that will help you achieve your true purpose, give this a try and let me know how you like it. 

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