Potential is Not Value

While most of the immaterial implications outlined seem likely to be logical errors, the overloading of potential and value is more of a fallacious instrument.

Very often in discussions over proposed solutions there are arguments made that approach Foo will enable additional value Bar. Sometimes such arguments go further to suggest that Bar has long been desired and that Foo will finally scratch that itch. While alternative solutions offer different benefits, it is important to track that any proposed potential benefits are in no way equal to delivered value and should be weighed accordingly rather than being lumped together with primary value.

The dangers of not distinguishing potential from value is that it can drown out the ability to actuallly track the costs and returns from the approaches taken. Often such discussions may involve upfront costs, and incorporeal hopes for the future are unlikely to be a prudent path to amortizing those costs. Generally such future plans may not pan out for any one of a number of reasons, or the envisioned state may not match how things are ultimately realized which may lead to a poor fit or additional reworking.

Aspiration is a key ingredient for progress, and reconciling this position with working towards a better future state may seem difficult but there are some very simple practices to make sure that progress is not only made but is not illusory. The first is to simply to make sure there is a system to track return on investment. Such a system in itself is a cost and so its weight should be proportional to the costs and risks for the decision being discussed; though something should likely be in place to collect data over time as possible issues accrete and the environment evolves.

A more direct and complementary action is simply to lead with the promised value. Going back to the terms in the initial paragraph: start delivering Bar. Build out a working example that is ready for wider use; if that can’t be done now then why would it be expected to be able to be done later? While assessing solutions there is a stark contrast between one option that may enable some added value down the road and one that is forfeiting value which is immediately available; if the value is reified the decision is pushed from the first fuzzy force into the second clear one. Through a wider lens any larger efforts become supported by the prospect of magnifying proven value rather than tilting windmills.