Things That Matter: the Only Bedrock That Works

Part of the beauty of “Things That Matter” is the simplicity of the phrase. Everyone just “knows” what it means and can powerfully engage without deeper reflection. But what is the underlying power that people are intuitively tapping into and harnessing? Let’s find out.

The concept of “Things That Matter” is the bedrock of Value Management.

As we explain, Things That Matter are:

…anything and everything that constitute Value: Value firstly to end customers, and then – from there – Value to your organisation, your employees, your stakeholders and your partners. The Things That Matter are therefore the currency of Value.

Everything in Value Management flows from surfacing, capturing, understanding, aligning-around, making measurable and progressing the Things That Matter, with this relentless focus on Value being the only effective response to today’s complex challenges:

  • Value is the ultimate goal and reward of all that we do.
  • The Things That Matter are what inspire, engage, motivate and mobilize people, leading to change.
  • They are the anchor in times of turbulence and uncertainty; they clarify priorities; they drive decision-making; they foster organic collaboration.

Part of the beauty of the “Things That Matter” concept is that people intuitively know all this, and the phrase therefore immediately makes sense, has power and relevance for them, and encourages engagement – after all, who doesn’t want to be focused on “Things That Matter“? And who wants to be focused on things that don’t matter?

Who wants to be focused on things that don’t matter?

But, as with any high-level concept, we need to consider three “risks”:

  • That it might almost seem “too” obvious, leading to a “well, obviously…” that makes it harder to grasp what’s behind it.
  • That someone can import something of their own meaning into it, which may then be different from what other people have imported, leading to invisible divergence.
  • That there may be pushback on the grounds of “OK, but what does that mean in practice?”

With this last “risk”, I’ve already described at length what Things That Matter actually look like, and we’ve also exhaustively set out what working with them looks like in practice – our Three Steps to Value process is a key distillation of how to get started.

In this piece, I’m going to deal with the first two “risks” by pinning-down and articulating the richness that people sense behind the simple phrase “Things That Matter“, and that means showing you how the concept of “Things That Matter“:

  • Is all-embracing and all-encompassing.
  • Covers all “types” and “stages” of “mattering”.
  • Reflects, balances and harnesses the fundamental ways in which we think and operate.

We will then put this all together to see how – precisely for these reasons – these two “risks” are dissolved: the richness of the concept is confirmed, and it is inevitably what people are intuitively grasping, without scope for misunderstanding and divergence.

We will then not only have a fresh and deeper appreciation of why the Things That Matter matter; we will also understand even more about how and why they work, and – ultimately – why, with Things That Matter as its bedrock, Value Management is the only way forward.

An All-Embracing and All-Encompassing Concept

The power of the concept of “Things That Matter” begins with how all-embracing and inclusive it is, and there is a world of richness behind those three simple words – both in the phrase as a whole, and in its individual words.

To begin by taking the phrase as a whole, “Things That Matter” are things that are important to people; even more than that, everyone has things that matter to them.

So, whilst a major application of Value Management is between organisations, ultimately what matters to organisations is what matters to the people served by, and in, those organisations.

The “Things That Matter” concept is personal, and therefore immediately understood, immediately engaging and immediately inclusive – its first source of power.

Next, each individual word in the phrase “Things That Matter” has its own specific power that contributes and adds to the power of the whole.

Let’s start with “Things“, and just think what a versatile word it is (“she’s got a thing about…“, “the thing is…“, “first things first…“, “one thing or another…“, etc, etc). “Things” can be:

  • Literally anything (any-thing)…:
    • Important issues and topics, and their constituent core elements or factors.
    • Goals and outcomes.
    • Physical items and objects.
    • Concepts and ideas.
    • Principles, values and practices.
    • Interests, preferences and passions.
  • …and anywhere in the spectrum of “perception”:
    • Towards-the-positive: goals, targets, values, etc.
    • Away-from-the negative: risks, issues, concerns, etc.
    • “Neutral”: often requirements driven by external factors.

Nothing (no-thing) is off the table: there is no constraint as to what a valid “thing” is, nobody’s “things” are “wrong”, and everyone and everything can be included – true inclusivity.

But next we have “That“, which immediately starts to ground and focus us by putting attention on the here and now:

  • There is no further qualification (“things that DID matter“, “things that MIGHT matter“, “things that WILL matter“, etc).
  • That” directs us purely to what does matter now, which nobody could dispute as an essential “constraint”.

And then we have “Matter“, which comes in to further (1) control and constrain scope, and (2) ensure absolute relevance – immediately qualifying in what matters and qualifying out what doesn’t, making the concept:

  • Empowering: as we already noted, who wants to be focused on anything that doesn’t matter?
  • Even more inclusive: if it matters, it’s in scope – regardless of why it matters, or to whom.

As well as in their combination, then, each of the individual words therefore makes “Things That Matter” a concept that encompasses and harmonizes all kinds of polarities – objective and subjective; concrete and abstract; “positive” and “negative”…

…and, most of all, it does so by powerfully and effectively combining and resolving the overarching “polarity” of open-endedness and relevance.

This is the first thing that people are intuitively sensing and harnessing when embracing the concept of “Things That Matter” – the unlimited richness of “what” things are in scope, for all the people to “whom” they matter, and the focus of “when” they matter (now).

But the concept of “Things That Matter” also goes further, fully encompassing “why” a “Thing That Matters” matters, and how it came to matter.

The Types of “Mattering”

Fair warning at this point: this is about to get pretty abstract…!

I therefore want to stress that there is no “requirement” to explore, understand or know this stuff to harness the power of “Things That Matter“, and if the previous section has already convinced you, just skip to the last one.

However, if you want or need to see the depth and congruence of the concept before fully embracing it, we will now delve deep into “why” every “Thing That Matters” matters, and that is because each one is at – and represents – one of three “stages” or “types” of “mattering”:

  1. Emergence and Materialization
  2. Establishing Consensus
  3. Recognized Significance

Together, these stages constitute a “flow” that describes the genesis, evolution and acceptance of a Thing That Matters in collective and individual consciousness – at each “stage”, the thing in question “matters”, but it is very different in its nature and very different in the nature in which it matters.

1. Emergence and Materialization is all about the conceptualization and/or physical manifestation of a thing that matters – its “beginning”:

  • This is the domain of new ideas, innovations, or goals and is about bringing something new into existence – whether a tangible “product”, a new idea, or an ambition to realize.
  • This “stage” is characterized by creativity, invention, and the transformation of abstract concepts towards concrete realities.
  • What defines the “mattering” at this stage is placement on the spectrum of abstract to tangible.

2. Establishing Consensus is then where the thing that matters – the idea, concept or “object” – interacts with individual and collective consciousness and responds to changes there:

  • This is where the value, significance, or meaning of the thing that matters is negotiated and established through to a consensus.
  • This “stage” is therefore all about the individual, societal and cultural processes that determine how a new idea or concept is perceived and integrated into the broader “fabric”.
  • What defines the “mattering” at this stage is “constructs” and perceptions “about” the thing that matters.

3. Recognized Significance is all about what happens when “mattering” has been established, developed and then “consolidated” over time:

  • This is the domain of the “status” of, and the norms and daily practices around, the thing that matters.
  • This is where personal and cultural values interact with practicalities and necessities in terms of guiding decisions, behaviors, policies, processes and proecedures.
  • What defines “mattering” here is the relationship between what we can summarize as “culture” and “utility”.

And so we have a three-stage “lifecycle” of “mattering” for every Thing That Matters:

  1. Beginning to exist and therefore to “matter” (which can be literal with something physical: it becomes “matter”)
  2. Establishing its “agreed” place in its context in how it is perceived and understood as “mattering”.
  3. Performing its “role” in its context, and what it “means” to that context – why it matters there.

Overall, this flow reflects a dynamic process where new Things That Matter are born, shaped by individual and collective perception, and ultimately solidified into something accepted and understood.

It is a continual cycle, reflective of the ever-evolving nature of human thought and interaction, where what matters is not static but continually redefined through a process of creation, “negotiation”, and eventual integration into the fabric of everyday life and consciousness.

Most of all, this flow or cycle is again all-encompassing, and this is the second thing that people are intuitively sensing and harnessing when embracing the “Things That Matter” concept: everything that could ever matter is somewhere within it, and it covers every possible “type” of mattering.

But there’s even more, and that’s how the concept of “Things That Matter” naturally reflects and harnesses the ways in which we think about and process what’s around us.

Reflecting, Balancing and Harnessing How We Think

Having just looked at the “journey” of a Thing That Matters through how and why it “matters”, we now circle back to the people that “Things That Matter” matter to.

And that’s because the “lifecycle” we have just described in terms of the Things That Matter themselves in turn mirrors the most fundamental aspect of how we operate – the structure of our brains and how they work.

As we explain in more depth here (where we acknowledge and endorse the work of Iain McGilchrist in particular):

“…it has long been recognised that the brain’s two hemispheres are distinct:

  • The left hemisphere primarily deals with order, consolidation and the familiar: its focus of intention is action.
  • The right hemisphere is more about inspiration, creativity and discovery (the source of “innovation” that is so often called for): its focus of attention is the context for action.”

The two hemispheres of the brain therefore contribute very differently to our perception, understanding, and interaction with the world.

And when we then apply this insight to the “mattering” lifecycle we saw above, we see how the three “stages” entirely reflect this hemispherical dynamic, including the all-important interaction between the hemispheres:

  1. Emergence and Materialization (Right Brain Bias): this “stage” of conceptualization and creativity for a Thing That Matters therefore aligns with the right brain’s propensity for the big picture, intuition, innovation, holistic thinking, and synthesizing new concepts.
  2. Establishing Consensus (Right Brain / Left Brain Integration): this “stage” of establishing or “negotiating” the “placement” of a Thing That Matters therefore reflects where the holistic, empathetic view of the right brain “meets” the analytical, detail-oriented perspective of the left brain – balancing creativity with practical application.
  3. Recognized Significance (Left Brain Bias): this “stage” of utility and “procedure” for a Thing That Matters aligns with the left brain’s strengths in language, logic, and analytical thinking that categorize, structure, solidify, codify and institutionalize.

As we’ve said before, the problem with conventional approaches is that “…they are almost entirely biased to the left hemisphere attributes“, which clearly neglects crucial “types” or “stages” of mattering, with serious consequences.

In contrast, we now see how “Things That Matter” seamlessly encompasses the entire spectrum, and in particular in how “Things That Matter” are expressions or “nominalizations” that operate at the crucial point of interaction between Left and Right Brain, maintaining “balance” between them.

As it stands, familiar aspects of business are all too often treated purely as nouns, when they are at least as much (and often primarily) verbs, e.g.:

  • “Trust”: something foundational in relationships and in systems, and the noun indeed describes the concept of reliability and faith in someone or something, but “trust” is at least as much an active and emergent process – a verb.
  • “Collaboration”: a common rallying cry today, and the noun describes a state of working together, but collaboration is at least much a process of shared focus, mutual understanding and shared experience.
  • “Communication”: underpins all human interactions, and there can be “communications” (nouns), but communication is at least as much an activity – a process of sharing, interacting about and understanding information: a verb.
  • “Negotiation”: essential to collaboration and trust (and where communication is central), but seen as a “thing” to do, or a specific lifecycle phase, rather than an ongoing and continuous process of deciding on what the Things That Matter are to different parties, establishing alignment, managing difference and agreeing what good looks like: all verbs.

This leads to mistakenly treating all of these as static and concrete “things” to create, manage and control – missing that they are primarily dynamic, that they emerge (or fail to) as a result of underlying actions and processes, and that they are therefore instead to be facilitated and encouraged.

In contrast, “Things That Matter” successfully balance and harmonize verb and noun forms:

And this is therefore the third thing that people are intuitively sensing and harnessing when embracing the “Things That Matter” concept – it is fully holistic, naturally all-encompassing and integrating what has previously been separated (and much of it often significantly neglected).

Putting It All Together: Value Management – the Only Way Forward

We first saw that behind the phrase “Things That Matter” is a concept that is all-embracing and all-encompassing in scope and inclusivity, but which is also completely precise in terms of relevance and focus.

We next saw that the concept covers all the different “stages” or “types” of “why” something matters.

Together, these two things would already be enough to explain why people are intuitively drawn to “Things That Matter” and “know” what it means, but we then further saw how “Things That Matterfully encompass, perfectly balance and harness how we naturally think.

We can now return to the two “risks” I said that I wanted to deal with in this piece, and by now I trust you’ll agree that we can be more than justified in saying that:

  • The richness of the concept has been more than substantiated for anyone that responds to it with “well, obviously…” – “Things That Matter” is clearly no vague, empty phrase or buzzword.
  • Precisely because (1) the concept clearly and inevitably leads into the richness we have explored, and (2) it reflects the most fundamental ways in which we think, there is no danger of misconception and divergence – intuition naturally leads to what we’ve seen.

But we can go even further with our claims for the concept of “Things That Matter“, because it is:

  • Complexity-aware: in today’s highly complex, unpredictable, volatile and ambiguous commercial environment, “Things That Matter” ensures the dominance of what matters in making decisions, and focuses on the ever-changing “now”.
  • People-centred: at a time of growing recognition that businesses thrive best when they put people first, “Things That Matter” is all-embracing to achieve true inclusivity, it reflects how people think, it prioritizes entirely what they say matters to them, and it motivates and empowers them to act.
  • Value-led: as realization grows that value is far more than objective and financial, “Things That Matter” is all-encompassing, it actively embraces the subjective, and it embodies the entire lifecycle of value.

No other concept achieves all this, and no other concept can simultaneously engage, motivate and achieve change regardless of where people engage on the spectrum between (1) “Things That Matter” being “just” a phrase that they intuitively understand, and (2) grasping the fully worked-out framework described in this article.

We therefore not only see how and why the concept of “Things That Matter” works so well; we can also conclude that “Things That Matter” is the only concept that can work.

And that is the foundational reason why – with this concept as its bedrock – Value Management is the only way forward.