top of page

Our Organizational Values Start With Jobs

But not in the way you think.

First though, let me make it clear that we believe values matter. Personal ones. Organizational ones. All of 'em. They turn the random chaos of life's choices into something with meaning and purpose. When we follow them they motivate and guide us to be the people we're comfortable seeing in the mirror, and the organizations we're proud to be a part of.

Without values? Nothing matters.

That's why Stokefire's blog is starting with values, even though that's not the focus of all of our work. By establishing what matters to us and why, our hope is that you'll begin to see how powerful a genuine value set can be, and that you'll consider putting in the effort to establish and implement your own, with or without our help. Failing that, we'll settle for just making our line in the sand public, so that we can be held accountable by ourselves and others.

As the title suggests, the first of Stokefire’s core values was inspired by "Jobs." Steve Jobs. But, apologies, it's still not in the way you're probably thinking.

Jobs was fond of using a particular phrase as far back as the early 80s when talking about his hopes for what would eventually become the Macintosh computer. He used it when trying to convince people to leave the safety and security of their current jobs to risk it all and work for him. The exact wording varied, but the core concept remained the same. It was always about...

‘Putting a dent in the universe.’

I get it. It’s inspirational and aspirational. It speaks to our desire to be remembered for something. It makes us want to be a part of it. It’s iconic, visceral, and memorable. The first time I read it (in his biography) I was struck by all of these great things..

But something else hit me harder. The phrase was so inspirational and aspirational that people wouldn’t see what would otherwise be a glaring problem with it.

Dents don’t help.

Regardless of what he might’ve meant, many people would not hear “dent the universe” as a call to make the world a better place. They wouldn’t hear it as improvement-oriented at all, and Apple's later marketing seems to confirm this. The goal was to be remembered. To cause chaos. To get noticed.

It was about, well... being (and thinking) different.

We've been fed a steady diet of messages like ‘Think Different’ and (relatedly) ‘Move Fast and Break Stuff’ for over a quarter of a century. Today's chaos can't be chalked up to youngsters being rebellious. This mentality is a part of our cultural psyche. There are people now approaching retirement age that spent their entire professional lives striving to think different. To make their mark. To create something not just better, but never seen before.

To put their dent in the universe.

That mentality can give 'em a lot of interesting results, but the odds suggest that lasting success is unlikely to be one of them.

So, why am I so convinced that denting the universe is bad? Sometimes dents can be comforting. They’re a sign that something was put to use, was well loved, or provided value to someone. It seems pretty clear that this was not how Jobs meant for his words to be interpreted. (“Come work with me and let’s make the universe feel more vintage” would not, in my view, have worked as well as a recruiting or advertising message.)

I don’t think that Jobs intentionally chose ‘dent’ for its damage-related connotations. More likely it was that ‘making your mark’ or being ‘remembered by history’ were too typical. He needed more. ‘Dent the universe’ was on another level entirely.

The fact that dents almost always make things work less well than they did beforehand clearly wasn’t a deal-killer. The universe-focused goal was audacious, incomprehensibly challenging, and inspiring, and it clearly represented what seemed to drive him. He was a master at keeping his audience focused on the big picture and talking points - on *why* something is great rather than what it is or how it was built. Perhaps he was counting on that to offset the problems with the phrase. We’re now about forty years past the first known use of the dent metaphor. As best I can tell, it’s been referenced about half a million times on the internet. People love it. It’s become a part of who we are.

But when it comes to bringing about growth or stability that serves others? It sucks.

When the stated goal is making a dent, does anyone think that the one who swung the hammer actually cares what happens next?

Think about it. Organizations are just groups of people, some portion of whom are swinging hammers at the universe. Successful slingers noticed and promoted, giving them control of teams, divisions, or organizations that they’re likely to leverage to swing even harder.

Logically, this isn’t sustainable. We’re taking huge risks in order to get noticed and remembered. Pushing teams to their limit and burning them out. Figuratively scrapping organizational and societal safety nets in order to buy and swing bigger mallets.

There are countless dents in the universe already. Our organizations, communities, and governments are riddled with them. Many to the point that their continued survival is in question. Think Social Security's looming failure. Think partisan gridlock. Think about the crumbling infrastructure of America's roads and bridges. The structural support that's held together our communities, organizations, and nation has been fractured.

We can’t fix the cracks by swinging harder, faster, or better. That’s a shortcut to more and bigger problems.

We need to start fixing the damn dents.

We need to establish and maintain a structure that can enable, support, and sustain us into the future. And we're not consistently doing that at any level in society, governance, or organizations. And we need to start, or everything falls apart.

And that’s a big part of what gets me - and I hope the rest of the Stokefire team - out of bed in the morning.

And it’s Stokefire’s first value:

Un-dent the Universe.

That's it. If you want to know more about what that means, I'm gonna share some details. Feel free to follow along. But if you came just looking for our first value, you're set. Onwards!

I admit that the phrase is maybe a bit too close to a bumper-sticker slogan to be deeply meaningful to anyone or intuitive to apply. So, let’s get a little more specific.

What are dents in Stokefire’s universe?

Let's get literal. A dented object has usually suffered a loss of structural integrity. Whatever it was designed to do, once it has a dent it tends to do that thing less well or less dependably than intended. The ‘objects’ Stokefire deals with are mission-driven organizations and the humans who work within them. The dents are the policies, structures, and practices that are out of line with the values or don't serve the mission of the organization.

How do we find the dents?

We use Linden’s Lens, a time-tested (circa 2008) diagnostic model that makes the hidden organizational misalignments that prevent mission fulfillment clearly visible. We'll be sharing much more about this on our blog, social media, and in workshops.

How do we remove the dents and prevent them from happening again?

By helping organizations identify and realign the processes and policies that conflict with their mission and values, identifying the root causes of the misalignments so they can be addressed, and providing regular assessments and guidance to keep them aligned long-term.

Whose dents is Stokefire looking to fix?

Our process isn't industry-dependent. We've applied it to resolve issues in tech, healthcare, governance, manufacturing, marketing, and dozens of other fields and markets. Our ideal client has (or wants) a mission focused on something greater than its own success or enrichment. We enjoy helping every client, but are drawn most strongly to seek out work with organizations looking to make the world a better, healthier, more equitable or just place.

Think your organization could use some un-denting? Get in touch through our contact form.

That's it! Thanks for taking the time to go down the first of Stokefire's five values-based rabbit holes with me. See you next week when we discuss the second!

P.S. - I think Apple and Steve Jobs are/were amazing. Most of the stuff they've achieved helped make the world a better place. It's the rest of us (and some limited self-interested initiatives at Apple) that could do with some un-denting.


bottom of page