Creating value with the end in mind
According to Aristotle, the ideal end of everything we do is happiness. It is ultimately for the sake of happiness, that we desire all other objects or experiences. Thus, the quintessence of value should be aimed at achieving what the Greeks called eudaimonia, ‘human flourishing’ and prosperity. If this is the end we aspire to, then this should be the first step to understanding the true value of our possessions.
Here’s an example: an art dealer in San Francisco was approached by a young Italian client who had asked for an appraisal of a Rembrandt painting. After the appraisal, the dealer, assuming his client would be interested in selling it, assured him that he could get a very good price for it. To his surprise, however, the client responded that the painting had been in his family for generations and he had no intention of selling it. The question we could ask is, what value would that family gain by selling the painting and converting it to money, compared to the value they could lose if they kept it?
We have come to conflate the value of something with its market value. But, we all know that the law of supply and demand can be deceptive, often having nothing to do with real worth. An object of great personal value may be cheaply priced or vice versa. Making market value our beginning point, instead of our endpoint, is like mounting a bike backwards to move forward.
By viewing our possessions through the market’s extrinsic prism, we may lose other perspectives on true value. We risk becoming, what Oscar Wilde describes, as someone “who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Admittedly, putting a number on stocks and shares is no straightforward task, but when it comes to other possessions, such as real estate, art collections, antiques, jewellery and vehicles, the equation gets far more complex.
“We are in danger of valuing most highly those things we can measure most accurately, which means, that we are often precisely wrong rather than approximately right.” Sir John Banham, British business leader
Not knowing true value can lead us to become disconnected from the abundance of what we own. It can result in ‘wealth dyslexia’, something defined as ‘the inability to see or grasp the wider spectrum of one’s wealth’. In general, this can cause anything from a vague feeling of unfulfillment to a case of existential angst and at worst, poor estate management. So, how do we find a more truthful and holistic value for our possessions and, hopefully, a path to happiness?
Understanding true value starts in the details
In his book In Search for Lost Time, Proust says “The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. In reviewing the topographies of our assets, in search of value, here are three value-scapes, worth the voyage.
A vase, a house, a yacht, for example, all have intrinsic worth – a unique value inherent in itself, beyond its extrinsic market value. Existing ‘for its own sake’, or ‘in its own right’ – and as Kantian terminology would put it, ‘as an end-in-itself. We can access an object’s raison d’etre by tuning into it with openness and sincere curiosity. The aim is to access its essential, intimate core and properties, in order to create a dialogue between the owner and their belongings. We often take our possessions for granted, rarely stopping to look at what we own or to feel gratitude for having them in our life. This exercise in itself can reveal whole new terrains of our cherished possessions.
The term synergy comes from the Greek word συνεργία (synergia) from synergos and συνεργός, meaning ‘working together’. We experience synergetic value through understanding the hierarchy, relationships and co-influence between our possessions. Optimising these relationships creates balance and gives rise to a new whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Bringing the painting to the empty frame – so to speak. The items within an estate, regardless of quantities, their size or location, co-influence each other. Some of these might be undervalued or depreciate because other things take control, absorb attention or use resources disproportionately. Others can lay latent, forgotten or cluttered in storage, awaiting their fate. Good custodianship can be compared to an orchestra, where all instruments play in harmony under the conductor’s baton.
Today, private wealth owners are turning to digital asset management software, to see the overall summary and details of these assets. One of the notable forerunners offering this type of niche technology is Orca in Switzerland. Such overview is vital in understanding the size and scope of one’s wealth, the unique attributes and the relationship between the various assets. Additionally, seen from the synergetic value perspective, this type of assessment supports successful generational wealth transfer.
Subjective and mnemonic value
The subjective value is derived from the unique relationship the owner has with their things. This is based on emotional factors, which are reflected through our personal feelings, tastes, beliefs, values, culture and sense of Self. This actually a great starting point in understanding the true value of possessions, as we live in a very subjective universe. Possessions can act as psychological triggers, meaning they have a mnemonic effect. They can evoke positive experiences such as personal empowerment, joy, connectedness, security and identity. Think back to the young Italian gentleman with the Rembrandt, for example. Alternatively, these triggers can lead to a feeling of loss, anger, fear, unfulfillment or confusion.
Ultimately, the way we experience something is what determines its value to us.
It is here, within these intrinsic landscapes that we can look for true value. The type that leads to the eudaimonia of meaningful wealth, happiness and human flourishing. Keeping this end goal in mind, we now turn our attention to a unique process, which can help navigate the three above-mentioned value-scapes.
The scale of things
Imagine looking around the things in your home or on your balance sheet and knowing exactly why something is there, how it affects your life and what its true value is. Not only for you but possibly for those coming after you, too. By acknowledging the different value categories mentioned above, people can start to see beyond the monetary value of their possessions, reflecting their authentic relationship with each item.
To facilitate assessing the non-monetary value of possessions, a process called The Legacy Scale™ has been introduced by Inheritance Muse. By taking the three value categories mentioned above into consideration, this process encourages more meaningful asset management, good custodianship, estate planning and successful generational wealth transfer.
Sharing value and thriving across generations
The next generation seeks more authentic relationships with what they own and we need to put more meaning back into the ownership and inheritance equation. It is time to start asking questions that address the deeper strata, beyond ‘just owning things’. Through this, we begin to understand the true value of what we own, while ensuring longevity and creating meaningful experiences within our own legacy, which is worth far more than its market price.