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What If It’s Too Late?

by Dan Robles on March 24, 2013

My greatest doubts about The Value Game stem for the evidence that our scarcity based competitive economy is so deeply rooted in our being, that we would be unable to extract ourselves from our self-inflicted wounds.  What if we have crossed some unknown threshold and it is too late to turn back, to learn, to improve our understanding of the impact of social value?  This thought crosses my mind more that I am willing to admit.  I am afraid.    

I have spoken recently about our work deploying The Value Game to the construction industry where we have been contracted to replace the plumbing in an occupied high-rise condominium building.  Here is a recent post discussing the work

Keep in mind that this is only the beginning and I am just probing the environment for pulling together a broad and comprehensive Value Game.  So far, it seems like this will not be easy.  I struggle with deep internal distrust among many of the key players.  Trying to get them to share more information with each other has been very difficult. 

When Players Don’t Trust Each Other – it’s called gambling

The construction management firm that I am using has a deep, almost obsessive, fear of litigation.  They are paralyzed by the possibility of getting sued.  They are very careful to not take on any liability, to distribute liabilities among other people, they keep secrets and seal up their contracts, while also brisk to collect as much money for themselves as possible.  They will not submit themselves to audit by anyone.  In doing so, they create a distrustful environment with me.  

Fully 2/3 of the contractors that I encountered heard the word “Condo” and immediately declined my invitation to bid on the project.  But they did not stop there; many proceeded to tell story after story about failed governance of condos, litigious attorneys, flaky bankers, and years of their lives wasted fighting over pennies.  The emotion in their voices told a story of anguish and resignation that I have never heard.  They don’t trust their fellow citizens.

The back stabbing among contractors is fierce.  Everyone seems to have worked for everyone else at some point in the past.  They know each others’ financial situations and problems and they are willing to throw each other under a bus. I tried to contact the material manufacturer, and the wholesaler stepped in and curtailed my discussion – presumably to protect commissions and territory.  The distributor railed one contractor over an old debt. They don’t trust their collaborators.

The homeowner’s association is very lucky to have a wise and strong leader guiding the project; other than that, there is no great social fabric the community.  Like most HOA’s meetings can often devolve into arguments or chaos and uninformed members feel left out by others who are forceful.   People are certainly cordial, but largely indifferent to the project and the impact it will have on each other.  There is no great urgency to get involved or deep curiosity about this important project.  They don’t trust their shared asset community.

I called several Real estate agents to see if they would like to place their advertisements on the website in exchange for touting the new remodel project; I have not received any calls back.  Vendor interaction has been sparse and stingy. They don’t trust any process other than their own. 

The project is taking the form of a strict and linear monetary transaction.  That means that no social value is inferred or implied by the participants and that value not articulated by money does not exist, or it is intangible.  They Dollar extracts trust form the community.

Reality Check 

We are performing a full re-pipe of the drinking water system of an occupied structure.  Water is a life source. People will be asked to leave their homes for short periods of time, we will be tearing up walls and corridors, and bathrooms in order to replace plumbing.  The entire structure will be completely shut down to water service for several hours at a time many times for almost a year. This project will cost each resident over $10,000 dollars each.  This is serious disruption to happen without trust.

The opportunity to create social value is immeasurable, but nobody sees this.  Nobody sees a huge shared asset.  Nobody sees mutual best interests.  Nobody sees market value responding to social value.  Instead, they see a  collection deeded cubes in the sky sandwiched between hypothetical concrete walls.  They see that they need to go to work everyday to find dollars in order to pay the HOA dues.  They see the day before and the day after the project – but not the process of engagement itself.  

Social value lives in the present – it lives in the moment of discourse and engagement; when people feel a shared emotion, a shared condition, a shared asset. Social value then opens up opportunities to not work so hard, to laugh more, to be treated better, to have friends, to love.  It would be a shame to let this opportunity pass without extracting the social value that these magnificent people owe to themselves.

I would lying to say that I did not consider at many times that our society was beyond saving – that distrust of each other has reached a point of no return.  Mutually assured distrust seems to form a stasis in time when people just endure their life rather than live it; “to take it like a man”. The opportunities to engage each other and to build resilient communities pass us by without a wink – and we let it.  Life is a game – it is fun, why would anyone squander that!

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