Value and Impact

Doing things that have value for you and impact on others.

Impact is how your actions affect other people. Value is how your actions affect you.


I might value exercising or playing music just because I like it. It has zero impact on others, but I’d still do it because it has value for me.

Value is a necessary and sufficient condition to do something.

It’s sufficient. If you value playing soccer, there’s no reason not to. You don’t need to feel guilty about spending hours kicking a circular object into a rectangular net.

It’s necessary because if what you’re doing has no value to you, why are you doing it? It could be positive – like working because you like to, or negative – like working to avoid your boss yelling at you. But it should be there.


Impact has two dimensions – scale and intensity.

Scale is the amount of people you can affect. Intensity is how much effect you have on them.

In my previous role, a single change I made in a credit risk model would impact over thirty million people. Their eligibility and pricing for a loan would be influenced by the model.

Most of them wouldn’t be aware anything had changed at all. A few hundred might notice a slight increase in the interest charged or their eligibility for a loan. They might not care too much about it though – they could always borrow from somewhere else.

That is high scale, and low intensity. Like an individual developer at Amazon or Facebook – his work affects billions of people, but perhaps not very significantly.

I think most jobs after college are like that because you’re one part of a huge system (exceptions – where you deal with people directly, like sales and HR). It’s unlikely you can significantly shake things up – an organization would fall apart if every person had that power.

And it’s also unlikely you’ll work at a very micro scale because most large firms became large because of their ability to scale. If they couldn’t scale up the solutions they offer, they wouldn’t be where they are.

Whereas, in a lot of roles in government, you do the exact opposite. You could solve one person’s problem – maybe restore his land to him from a powerful person occupying it wrongfully. It’s high intensity because it can change that person’s life.

It doesn’t have the glamour of scale because it’s one isolated incident in one scattered district in a huge country. Here there’s intensity without scale.

Scale v/s Intensity

Why are actors paid so much more than doctors and engineers?

There was a time I used to wonder about this a lot.

The answer isn’t simply “because that’s how the market works”. That’s a very superficial way of looking at it. It’s like saying the square of the sum of two numbers is the sum of their individual squares and twice their product because that’s the formula for (a+b)^2.

If you look at the impact an actor’s actions have on most individuals, it’s extremely tiny. A couple of hours of recreation. Compare that to a doctor who could literally save your life – the value he offers an individual is far more. If the value the actor offers you is X, the doctor’s could be a million times X.

But the doctor treats one person at a time, and the actor entertains millions of people at a time. When you multiply the value per person (impact) and the number of persons (scale), probably the actor comes out on top. This is not to justify the inequalities – I don’t necessarily “agree” that it “should” be this way – but just to understand them.

As an aside – another reason is that the actor takes more risk. An average actor earns far less than an average doctor, it’s only at the top the inequalities skew in the actor’s favour. For an average person, being a doctor is more remunerative. So the total money going to doctors and actors might be equal, but it’s just more unequally distributed in case of actors.

Scale seems to trump intensity when it comes to impact. The founder of a large firm or NGO will always get more attention than someone doing work closer to the ground. You only seem to become famous when you scale; otherwise you remain an unknown.

It’s why the CEO of an organization is often implicitly assumed to be more capable than those under him, or a President more so than a local Mayor. Scale equates with fame which equates with merit. You see it in new start-ups bragging about their millions of users.

So both socially and economically, scale seems to outweigh impact.

Which probably means – if you want to be rich or famous – then don’t do a lot of good per person for a few people. Do a little good per person but do it for a lot of people.

There are some exceptions but these are the result of large numbers of people collaborating and perhaps luck. Take Google. It has both scale and intensity. Billions of people use it, and they benefit a lot from it. Ditto for Amazon. It offers a lot of convenience to a lot of people. In government too, health insurance schemes, or digitalization reforms offer huge benefits to huge numbers.

Though I don’t know if you can say this for the individuals who work on these things. Together, the team might have scale and intensity, but it’s possible the individuals engaged in them have only one.

So maybe a developer at Amazon or a ground level worker in a large government scheme might possibly just feel like a small cog in a big machine rather than someone operating at scale and intensity both.

The Value Impact Intersection

I don’t think value and impact are completely separate.

Venn Diagram Symbols and Notation | Lucidchart

It’s like an intersecting venn diagram.

A – Things of value without Impact.

Value means it affects you positively. No Impact means it doesn’t affect others much or at all.

I think leisure usually fits here. It’s the stuff you like to do just because it’s fun even though it doesn’t serve any other purpose. It’s like what Yossarian from Catch-22 says about Olympic medals: They signify you did something of no use to anyone else more capably than everyone else. Kicking a circular ball in a rectangular net or hitting it in a rectangular box doesn’t really “benefit” humanity but we still like to play football or tennis.

And that’s fine.

B – Things with Impact without Value

This would be obligations you might feel compelled to do.

No Value – so it’s not something you’d do if left to yourself. Impact – it affects other people, which is probably why you’re doing it.

Essentially it means doing things unwillingly for someone else – family, friends, country or whoever. Maybe traveling only to impress others or marrying only because you think you have to.

C – Everything outside the two circles

It has neither impact nor value.

So neither does it do anything for us nor does it do anything for anyone else. It’s hard to think of what might fit here. It’s something like leisure, except it’s leisure that doesn’t give any pleasure. Like watching TV shows or playing video games you hate.

D – Both Value and Impact

It’s A ∩ B, the intersection of A and B.

Something you do because you like to and it has a positive effect on others. How does anything come to have both value and impact? There are two ways of getting there.

The first is when you start off with value and you get to impact later. The best examples of this are probably in innovation and R&D.

Someone asked Faraday, “Of what use is electricity?” It might have seemed like a pointless toy of an eccentric hobbyist at one time but no one doubts its utility today. A lot of things like that don’t have any visible pay-off, but people pursue them anyway. The impact comes later, and it’s often here where the impact is huge – when it’s achieved unintentionally.

The other way to get both value and impact is to start off with impact. Impact itself can have value for people. Maybe a volunteer might not care about running a shelter or cooking food for the needy, but love the outcomes it creates. In that sense, it’s the impact of the work that has value.

Cooking itself is irrelevant here – he probably wouldn’t cook for a restaurant if you asked him to. And he’d agree to do something besides cooking if it produced a similar impact.


Nothing I’ve written about here is prescriptive.

There’s no reason to listen if someone tells you to seek impact rather than value or vice versa. It’s a choice individuals should make based on their own preferences.

If you choose value, you don’t need to feel guilty for choosing to “enjoy” life and for prioritizing yourself over others. Especially if you’re working, you don’t need to worry about it either because you’re probably creating some impact somewhere, no matter how small – even just paying taxes is impactful.

If you choose impact, you might want to think about the scale-intensity trade-off and how you want to move along it. It’s also a good idea to see that you get some value, because I think you can create more impact if you get value in the process. You’re unlikely to do something that you don’t like well enough to make much impact.


Sweta Tripathi

Sir have you read about existentialism its a really amazing philosophy towards life .And Sir your writings are both valuable and impactful in my life so thank you so much for sharing so generously your thoughts…


Pardon me if you have already answered it but could you please apply the same idea to your new job (IAS) vs the previous one. Would love to see your POV.


It’s actually the reverse – the idea came from the nature of the jobs.
I’ve traded scale for intensity for some time; it’s too early to say how it’ll turn out.


An IAS currently has huge opportunities to scale as well in the fag end of his career. Though I feel it might reduce in the next 20-30 years when we see more and more specialist hires.


I observed one thing ,sorry for asking because it’s individual choice but most of the cases ,if any candidate select in cse exam then they want to famous in several places mainly among the students you never talked about related to job it’s mean (how to crack exam or how to get rank)and all your Block related to life and in thought process. what is your ideology behind it?

Shobhit Raina

I had a conversation with one of my friends regarding this article and while discussing the various sub-ideas presented, we came up with 2 very interesting observations:

A) When you talk about creating an impact, how would you justify the life of Kafka, Thoreau, Vincent Van Gogh, or even Nietzsche for that matter whom you are a big fan of. They didn’t create any impact while they were alive but it would be foolish to say they choose the wrong means to live life. What if they choose to be someone impactful according to the then qualified definition of being impactful, maybe we wouldn’t even know about any one of them. My friend made the assertion that ‘All you have to do is to know thyself and impactful you shall be’ but I don’t necessarily agree with this assertion. When we talk about authenticity, do you think it’s something which we are gifted with, certainly Beethoven seems to be that way but are we not also indoctrinated to believe certain things based on the videos we watch or the culture we live in and we thus believe that it is our passion or ‘I am gifted at this’ or ‘This is what I was born for’

B) When you talked about Olympic Athletes.

It’s like what Yossarian from Catch-22 says about Olympic medals: They signify you did something of no use to anyone else more capably than everyone else.

Kicking a circular ball in a rectangular net or hitting it in a rectangular box don’t really “benefit” humanity.

We do know many athletes who have had a huge impact on people’s lives and they are not always people who want to go into sports. Let me elaborate this more mathematically.
x = Muhammad Ali, y = A budding Boxer, z = A product manager at Amazon, P = Set of Boxers, and Q = Set of Product Managers
According to the article, P has no impact, and Q had an impact.
As P has no impact => x and y and all boxers would be impactless. But z lies in Q because x existed and if x didn’t exist, z probably would not be in Q and might be in a ‘non-impactful set’. => x indirectly created impact via z or x created impact which would be a contradiction because P was supposed to contain all non-impactful elements.

So, would love to know your thoughts about these 2 ideas.


I think you read it but you didn’t really “read” because you were looking at it with only one idea in your mind, which is whether things like art, sport (judging by the examples) are useless or not.

Because I had the same idea in my mind and you’ll see that all those examples you gave – Kafka, Nietzsche, Van Gogh – fit in D and not A.
I wrote that there are two ways to get both value and impact, and The first is when you start off with value and you get to impact later”
I used the example of Faraday but you can replace him with any of the names above. I doubt any of them, and especially not Kafka, ever cared much about impact, or at least nothing compared to the value they derived from what they pursued. Impact comes incidentally when you’re that good at something (and that something can be nearly anything if you’re good), and you almost always need to value what you do to become that good.
Btw – the example of Faraday is science/tech related, the others are art related but again, I doubt there’s a clear dichotomy. Science has art and art has science. Just replace the names if that’s the issue.

And there is no right way, you can only join the dots in hindsight, not as you go along. You could be a million things; you’ll never know if you chose the thing you’ll be the best at.

The answer to B) is also there in what I wrote above.
Though I personally think that you overrate the role of a boxer in creating a product manager. And deny credit and agency to the product manager in shaping his own destiny.
Inspiration and role models have a tangential impact at best; you still own your own destiny. They don’t get the credit for it and they don’t share the blame for it.


Waiting for one blogpost on Nishkama karma. For me it is difficult to understand. Only few commentaries available. Mostly they are repeatative without real practical description. (Its a request)


I’ve written about it in detail in my book Beyond Human. And it’s already written about extensively. For those two reasons I haven’t written much about it here. Maybe I’ll touch on it tangentially.


Ok, thank you. May be my lacunas causing it to lack of understanding it properly. Have read beyond human thrice. Awesome book, loved it. I’ll revisit the topic there again.

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