Everyone is trying to “add value” to everything they do. It’s a near compulsion.  Many of us have even been groomed to have that “add value” mentality.  I hear it a lot.  Sometimes it is even advertised as a feature.  A hyphenated “value-added” term has been coined.  While adding value may sound applaudable, it isn’t always a good thing. Here’s a personal example.  I’m at a burger joint.  I order a single burger, no cheese, and a small fry.  It takes a little longer than expected to get my order.  When it does arrive, I’m told that I was “upgraded” to compensate me for the wait.  I received a double with cheese and a large fry.  This is not what I wanted, and the extra doesn’t make up for my wait.  Yes, they “added value” to the product, but they subtracted value from my dining experience.

Consider another example related to software development.  The software engineer finished coding the requirements a week early.  She continues to “gold-plate” the software for the next week by doing additional enhancements and adding in her desired “improvements”.  This doesn’t really make the software better, but it does use up another week of development time that perhaps could have been used better in testing.  Even worse, sometimes she does this when she is behind schedule and delays the project. The schedule is surely more important that this extra content.

Here’s another personal example. I was slated to give a presentation at a national meeting in front of a couple of thousand scientists and pathologists.  The week prior I was committed to a training course that I couldn’t reschedule.  Just before I left for the training course, I did a practice run in front of my department, including Top Management, who thought that the content of my presentation needed a little work. My supervisor was instructed to make some changes while I was at the training course.  There was a problem with my flight from the training course to the meeting and I arrived a day later than expected.  I had just a few hours before my presentation.  I got in touch with my supervisor who said he was making some last-minute changes.  His supervisor wanted me to run through it with him once before I presented.  I arranged to meet with him shortly before my presentation.  My supervisor finally gave me the file just a few minutes before I met with his supervisor.  Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t impressed with my presentation.  (I didn’t admit to him until much later that it was the first time I’d seen it since the revisions were made.)  The good news is that the real presentation went very well.  But did my supervisor really need to keep “adding value” up until the last minute?  It left me virtually no time to practice my talk.

I must confess that I’m guilty of this last example of value-adding bad behavior that I will describe.  This is why it really made the list.  You see, I often feel obligated add my two cents when I really shouldn’t.  Sometimes, I just really want to help.  Sometimes I just want to show that I know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes I just want to put the spotlight on my abilities.  This is not the right thing to do.  Let’s say my daughter just finished an essay that she is really proud and she wants me to read it.  Perhaps I think I have a better way to state the conclusion.  Do I really need to point this out?  It’s her essay, not mine.  I have to remind myself that I don’t need to add value to the essay because it could subtract value from our relationship.  Instead, I just need to tell her it is great and leave it at that.

The same holds true in business relationships.  Whenever someone finishes a presentation and I could add a comment at the end, I always try to ask myself if it is worth it.  Will this comment really contribute to more than just my ego? Am I really adding value or just trying to get attention?  Will it negatively impact my relationship with the presenter?  It is one thing if there really is a serious error that needs to be corrected or something left unstated that needs to be uncovered, but more often than not my potential comments are just blue on black.  This behavior runs rampant on social media.  The great majority of comments I see below posts are either nitpicky “you should’ve done a instead of b” comments or just ways to redirect attention to themselves so they get more likes.  You also run the risk of gaining the reputation of being an insufferable know-it-all.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I try really hard to not fall into this trap.  This is why I don’t offer my opinions on social media very often and am now a bit slower when deciding to add value.

Don’t add value,