Figuring the Value-Add
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People like to say that Angelenos are materialistic, but it's not true. Actually, we're far more sophisticated than we at first appear, and we deal in currencies far subtler than dollars or real estate or jewels. For example, we know the exact price of a wry look, a happy nod, a returned call, a moment in the sun. We know the precise rate of exchange for clout, juice, shimmy and, of course, lunch reservations.
It's not always easy to figure your own value-add. Some lawyers may charge $400 an hour, some execs may charge $4,000--but time itself often proves insignificant. How long does it take to pat the right back, place a word in the right ear? How much is that worth? Well, you have to know the word, and you have to know the ear.
You know you've really made it when you don't have to do anything, not even speak to create tangible value. When your mere presence in a room brings it monetary significance -- the mere rumor of your presence, the slight possibility that you might eventually appear.
Once my company was holding its holiday party in a restaurant, when we discovered that Jay Leno was playing the lounge. We asked the manager if Leno would agree to walk through the room on his way out. Not say a word, mind, just smile and wave en route to the door. It would require perhaps 30 seconds of his time. Word came back that yes, he would do it...for 10 grand.
And I thought, yes, that's about right.
If you're scrubbing floors, your time is supposed to be worth just 8 bucks an hour, they may say your words are worth nothing, and your physical presence may be a negative. Still, your work may offer high value to someone at the end of the day -- a child in the yard, a mother in Guatemala. And who knows, eight bucks might mean more than a visit from Leno.
Sometimes the calculations get too sophisticated for the Urban Man and sometimes I have a little trouble establishing my own value chain.
The other day I went to pitch a corporate VP, and I'd prepared some really gorgeous Powerpoint. Sometimes, that's all it takes, you know, gorgeous Powerpoint. Unfortunately, as I open my laptop, the VP says, "Tell me, why have you come this afternoon? I already know what your company does. And please don't show me any slides."
"Oh, okay," I reply. And yes, I have to pause a moment to shuffle metaphorically through my pockets for change. I have to make small talk as I paw through some mental filing cabinets. But lo, at last I come across an idea long lost beneath the sofa cushions of my mind.
Now, in L.A., ideas have the most mysterious value of all. On the one hand, we depend on a constant flow. On the other, everyone knows a mere idea is worthless unless it's attached to a budget, a name, or at least...a trend.
Still, being deprived of my Powerpoint show, I have no other penny to offer.
So I walk to the white board and I sketch out a new way for this VP to make money. And lo again, even as I speak, I see a light go on in his eye.
Of course, as someone who neither scrubs floors nor hosts a national television show, my own position remains uncertain. This VP hardly needs my help to execute my idea. And he certainly doesn't need the clever words, the cheerful nods, the personal presence or the lunchtime reservations of The Urban Man. In fact, as I leave, we're both aware that today I have transferred all my value-add, just as if I had passed him a crisp wad of bills.
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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