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Quick: Which do you value more?

Salmon that was caught in the wild or raised in farms?

(This is not a post about nutrition. Promise.)

Me? I like my orange-colored seafood wild, baby. When I think of farm-raised fish, I imagine crowded pools, dirty water, and less nutritious meat.

This distinction may or may not be true, depending on which culinary expert you ask. But that’s the story I’m buying today.

Look, I couldn’t taste the difference, wild vs. farmed, anyway. And I couldn’t tell by looking at it either.

I just have my story.

End of the day? The true value of the fish is subjective

wolf fish

Where you place value is a result of your experiences and the stories you tell yourself about them.

We know this. When you accept that everyone has their own version of reality, it’s no stretch to understand that what you consider valuable could be different than what I consider valuable.

But humans are social creatures who band together with commonalities as the adhesive. The group determines where value lies.

If all the members of your tribe think elongated necks are drop-dead gorgeous, you probably think so, too.

longneck village

Value can be imbued on something that may intrinsically have none

As long as your peops say it’s so.

Seems easy to understand when you’re looking at what other cultures have defined as valuable.

But let’s look in the mirror and see if we can pull out some hidden truths.

As you probably heard, a Silicon Valley startup named Diamond Foundry, backed by high profile investors like Ev Williams and Leonardo DiCaprio, has created a process for growing diamonds.

In a garage.

diamonds made artificially

Here’s the thing. They look the same. They feel the same. And down to the atom, they are the same.

But are they? Do they have the same value?

As reported in Quartz,

“…if it was identical to a natural diamond down to every last atom … what does it even mean to be the real thing?”

“Was this not as real as a natural diamond, forged in the depths of the earth, spat toward the surface by an ancient volcano? And perhaps even ethically superior?”

Just look at it. They’re really something.

diamond from diamond foundry

But is it a d i a m o n d? I mean, do you think it’s got the same value?

We’re in some questionable territory.

Most of the time, we use abductive reasoning, otherwise known as the duck test.

If it looks like a diamond, swims like a diamond, and quacks like a diamond, then it probably is a diamond.

You know what I mean.

ducks crossing the road

But if you know your rock was generated in a plasma reactor – if you know it’s not a diamond as we’ve come to know it – does it have the same charge? The same zing?

We have, collectively, imbued value on something and it’s become common wisdom

But why?

As the Quartz article points out, DeBeers – maybe the most famous diamond company in the world – has been committed to

“…making consumers believe in its greatest asset, which isn’t actually diamonds, but rather the idea of diamonds.”

“The company explicitly defined the “diamond dream” in a 2014 report: “The allure that diamonds have for consumers, based on their association with romance and a sense of the eternal, and the fact that they are seen as a lasting source of value.”

In fact, 75 years ago, on the heels of the Great Depression, they hired an advertising agency, N.W. Ayer, to make them a cultural touchstone.

“As Edward Jay Epstein chronicled in The Atlantic magazine in 1982, the ad agency focused not simply on sales, but what it called “a problem in mass psychology”—its mission to make the diamond engagement ring “a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services.”

It worked. In just three years, between 1938 and 1941, N.W. Ayer helped increase De Beers’ US diamond sales by 55%. Far more importantly, the agency planted the powerful idea in the American psyche that a diamond was an essential step in romantic courtship—and its size was directly proportional to the love, worth, and prowess of the man who offered it.

Nobody thinks diamonds are glorified gobs of granite. We can agree that diamonds are something to behold.

engagement ring as pan lining

But it took a new story – a new perspective, generated by an ad agency! – to make diamonds the symbol of eternal love they are today.

In other words, we imbued immense value on something based on an idea

And that idea is reinforced every time our newly engaged friends show off their new rock. Because now, with this new collective point-of-view, only a diamond engagement ring could be the real thing. For most people, anyhow.

Consider the different ways we imbue value

Clothes make the man.

That sentiment’s been around since the 1500s. Clearly some believe that fashion sense is valuable.

You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him. – Leo Aikman

Some think communicating with respect and generosity is valuable.

And then some people think actions speak louder than words.

Emerson quote

Each perspective is true for the ones that hold it.

We imbue value subjectively and define value collectively

Yes, we each hold certain things dear. Some are more universal – like a kiss from your squeeze or ice cream on a hot day.

Some are more… unique.

many roofs one building

So go ahead. Propose away with that polished pebble ring. I think it’s totally sweet.

But will she like it?

Depends where your honey imbues value.

leaves that look like lips


Photo credits: Featured via The Chive | DailyNewsBlog | National Geographic via YouTube | Diamond Foundry

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