In an event attended by a few dozen 10th grade high-school students, the facilitator asked the participants to think about their core values and write them down. As the kids did their assignment, I realized that in 52 years I had never asked myself that question. It didn't take me long to figure it out, though. I live my life by the value of "give more than you take." I used this phrase many times in different contexts, but that night I realized that this single value had more meaning to me than it's pure social, charitable value. It has business, financial, employment, and economic implications as well.

Give more than you take--the social value

Serving on a large school district board of trustees, one of my core values is to raise a generation that gives more than it takes. Whenever I'm asked what I meant by it, I use the example of our service men and women, who put their lives on the line for the safety and security of ours. They definitely give more than they take. You could make smaller sacrifices than that, though, and society would be a better place if its members gave it more than they took from it. Typically, this is where the meaning of "give more than you take" ends. But I found deeper meanings to it, in some unexpected areas.

Give more than you take--business implications

As a for-profit business you create, market, and sell products or services. When you adopt the "give more than you take" value in your business, you focus on the value that your product or service creates to the customer when you price it. Pricing a product or service based on the cost to you means that you take (price from customers) more than you give (cost to the suppliers). But when you base pricing on customer value, you shift your focus to giving (value, as experienced by the customer) more than taking (price from the customer). Adopting this value in business means that your focus is on the value to customer and not on cost. Furthermore, you would focus your giving (value) on real value to the customer, and not perceived value that disappears once the customer realizes the product or services was not as valuable as they thought it was, or as you made it seem to be. Businesses who deliver less value to customers than the price they charge for it do not last long.

Give more than you take--employment implications

An employee is really a business. Think of yourself as a sole proprietor, owning your own business, exclusively contracted to one customer (your employer). You may ask for a compensation package (what you take) as a function of your cost of living (what you give). Again, this would mean that you take more than you give. But, if you focus on your employer, than you would work hard to give (value to the employer) more than you take (compensation). That kind of focus on "what value do I generate to the company?" makes for more engaged, productive, and creative employees.

Give more than you take--economic implications

Finally, our economy generates a product. Call it the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or by any other name--we are a producing economy. We are also a consuming economy. We consume what we produce (or what others in our economy produce). We may consume (take) more than we produce (give), which over time means that companies close, and we increase our debt (personal, and national). Alternatively, we may produce (give) more than we consume (take), which will eventually reduce our national (and personal) debt, and increase wealth in our economy.

So, what's your core value?