How Much Are Your Words Worth — Literally?

Everything is measured by some standard of value. When we are considering buying a product, we measure its quality, usefulness, or other features that might indicate its inherent value to us. We commonly do the same with non-material things, for instance weighing out the cost-benefit that a certain path or course of action may have for our lives, or even considering whether a particular relationship is worth our time. We try not to trade our valuable time for things of little worth. But what about the value of our very words? We speak, write and generally share these words through multiple channels every day, sometimes without a second thought to them once they are ‘out there’. The saturation of our available channels, as well as the fast-paced nature of today’s world, has arguably led us to take for granted the importance of the content of our communications. This is, however, to our detriment; as articulated by poet Pearl Strachan Hurd, “words have more power than atom bombs”.

But no need to test that theory — let’s agree that, yes, our words are important. The question is whether this is reflected in our modern communications. Things like contracts, news briefings, blogs and even tweets all carefully measure and take account of every word used. But why do we not pay the same kind of attention in our everyday interactions? Especially with regards to corporate team communications, the impact and value of words can go far beyond the moment they are shared, or indeed the medium used to share them. For those like Google, the value of our words and digital interactions is viewed through the lens of their potential monetary value for advertisers (the lion’s share of $75 billion in 2015), which is why the Internet giant monitors and analyses our words, searches and general online behavior on its sites including Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.

Services offered to us by Facebook Inc., Google, Microsoft and the like may be nominally free, but they survive on the words and ideas generated by our digital footprints. For the US government and intelligence agencies, our words and messages are worth a potential breach of the fourth amendment. If they haven’t yet, these points should put into context how, far more than we tend to realize, our words have a value beyond what we think — or write. Overlooking this reality means we are missing out on one of our most important resources, especially as companies or team leaders. For example: do you know how many words or potentially valuable ideas are exchanged by your team on a daily basis? Could you even gain access to such information if you wanted to — save getting everyone to Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V all of their individual communications into Word documents and then adding them all up? Finally, how much of your team correspondence — essentially, your team’s time — is being read and actively engaged with, and how much of it is left to wallow aimlessly in cyberspace?

I myself both use and work at Nested, one of the few communication services that appreciates the distinct value of words, empowering its users to directly tap into that value. Not unlike a ‘Dropbox for your words’, it’s all about storing your communications in the right, consistent place. This intuitive messaging platform values your words in the same way that we usually do with, for instance, files and documents. Far more than the stuff of mere threads and forwards, words and communication are what keep the wheels of your team spinning — and we need tools that understand and complement that reality. It’s also important to recognize and utilise the value of our words in-house, rather than letting others decide and invariably exploit it. With today’s information overload, data mining and novelties like the proliferation of digital representations of our thoughts and preferences, we’re constantly encouraged to treat our words and ideas as fluff, advertising fodder or selling points for others — unless we are willing to pay. Microsoft Outlook is one of the most commonly used business messaging services, and it charges something like $1.30 per month per user for advertising-free communications. Do you think that’s a reasonable price for your words — or would you forego this service fee and rather give yourself as the product?

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