The Essence of Value

Mario Pricken is a bestselling author and has been working in creative industries for over 17 years.
Mario Pricken is a bestselling author and has been working in creative industries for over 17 years.

The Essence of Value

What makes a product, an object, or an event valuable? Why are people willing to pay a lot of money for designer furniture or a car? Those were the questions Mario Pricken asked himself and wrote a book about: “The Essence of Value.”

In his search for answers, the bestselling author, who has worked in creative industries for over 17 years and advises international corporations, design companies, well-known agencies, and television stations on creativity strategies and innovation, carefully analyzed the entire product cycle of more than 300 products, objects, and events. He came up with 80 parameters that can be identified in valuable products, objects, or events. They include elements such as creation myths, uniqueness, scarcity, or the influence of time.
InteriorFashion talked to Mario Pricken about his book. To simplify matters, the following refers only to products.

IF: Mr. Pricken, how did the idea for the book come about?
Mario Pricken: As part of my work, I have been organizing innovation workshops and creativity training programs for 14 years. We always place value on practical experience and work with current projects or the tasks of companies or advertising agencies. In the past years, we have noticed that many products or objects have a big problem: They lack a USP and singularity. The actual catalyst was a trip to Asia, where I observed a Buddhist ceremony. Seeing it from a cultural distance, it was a riddle to me how a piece of wood, which was, of course, the statue of a saint, could be revered so much. With that impulse, I came back and tried to find out what makes objects valuable from a monetary perspective. In the available literature, I could not find any conclusive answers. And then I did what I always do when I don’t get answers to my questions: I answer them myself. By the way, that is the way my other books came into being as well.

IF: How did you proceed?
Pricken: For one thing, I tried to be thorough. I wanted a collection without omissions. And I looked at and analyzed the entire life cycle of the individual products, objects, and events from their creation to their end.

IF: When is a product valuable?
Pricken: Basic principle number one is: What is valuable leads, it does not copy. Luxury and premium always mean being a leader in certain areas. It is not the amount of something that counts, but rather the quality.
Furthermore: Valuable things are always
rare. That is true across cultures all over the world. So it is always important to limit the production numbers, with limited editions or special models, for example.

IF: Doesn’t that often conflict with our current economic system with constantly rising sales figures and sales growth?
Pricken: That is indeed a problem. Lots of companies in the luxury sector, which were founded by enthusiastic people, have been sold to large corporations. Now they are on the stock market and have to show growth every quarter. And that is a paradox in itself that cannot be solved.

IF: In your book, you mention the creation myth as the first value parameter. What do you mean by that and what importance is attached to it?
Pricken: Let’s take a look at the creation myth of the Coco Channel label. Before she was really successful, she brought out several collections that failed. Those are stories that people tell each other. In today’s mass markets, we are all looking for something authentic, for something with roots. Products that have a creation myth, that are authentic, that carry a history with them and can tell us about it are valuable products. Then there is no need for advertising agencies that have to invent a history either.
I believe that invented stories found in advertising versus authentic stories is a very big topic. Today it is certainly possible to find out where a product was made and under what conditions, with what materials – and even who might have suffered from the production. Many companies have to hide the origin of a product in particular. In contrast, the Austrian chocolate producer Zotter handles that in a completely different way. It is so proud of the origin of its raw materials that it talks about them constantly. And there are regular factory tours. They are real events with a lot of participants. When people think and act that way, stories are created that seem worth telling because they come from the product itself.  Then no young creative types are needed to invent anything. The majority of advertising tells stories that are far-fetched and have nothing to do with the product. And people are rather tired of that.

IF: What exactly is the function of luxury?
Pricken: I differentiate between bling-bling luxury and luxury in the sense of intrinsic value, meaning that there is measurable value in the product itself. The most important function of luxury or premium products in general is creating status. When people come together in a group of more than four persons, group dynamics come into play and create hierarchies. So symbols are needed to define them.
But for me, the creation of status is not so important for discussion. I am much more concerned with intrinsic value. With the actual value that is in an object in the sense of longevity. But also with the question of whether that value is crisis-proof so that it will not change if the world around it goes through fluctuations. And that brings us to the second function of luxury, the satisfaction of one’s own aesthetic sensitivities and the gratification of thinking and acting like someone who is really responsible. While I was working on the book, I didn’t realize that yet. In fact, I learned it from the feedback I received.

IF: What new insights have you been able to gain?
Pricken: It might sound crazy, but premium, sustainable products also have something to do with dying. There are a few possibilities to attain immortality. For example children or a great work, whether a work of art or a company. But I believe there is another possibility. And that it has to do with the objects we leave behind. If a person surrounds himself or herself with objects that have no value, meaning they do not seem valuable enough for people to keep or at least sell, then there is relatively little that remains of that person. Individualized, personalized objects that have been adapted to meet a certain taste, that are very valuable and durable, will certainly not land in the trash. They will at least be sold, and if they are crazy and valuable enough, they will land in a museum. In any case, they will remain connected to a name and a person, so something will remain of that person. And that, of course, is completely in contrast to the current consumption cycle of buying, using, throwing away.

IF: I would like to cut in here. You have an alternative to the consumption cycle you have just described.
Pricken: That is true. This is what I suggest we do with products: select, explore, order, wait, buy, use, care for, repair/service, use, and then pass them on. That cycle is an expression of a standard of living in a family and its immediate environments. I would also see it that way for furniture, because it does not have the strong outer effect of creating status, but rather works in the inner circle. You don’t have to dazzle, but you can express what you stand for – a responsible, intelligent person.

IF: Can a product be imbued with value subsequently?
Pricken: Of course. Take a look at the entire life cycle of a product in the book. It begins by acquiring the materials to be processed. Let’s stay with the topic of furniture. You could consider, for example, what factors make logging unique. You already develop something in the origin of a product that is worth telling and creates singularity, because singularity generates a USP and the USP makes something worth telling about.

IF: In your book, you talk about the 4D innovation process. Please explain it to us.
Pricken: To do so, I have to go into a little more detail. The fourth dimension of a product cannot be immediately experienced through the senses. The functionality of the product recedes into the background and there is more focus on the dimension of meaning and value, which becomes that fourth dimension. The 4D innovation process has the entire life cycle of a product in view. In a company, that could be the job of an innovation agent. Whenever a new product is developed, that agent would have to start the 4D innovation process. And he or she would do that by asking one key question at every step of the entire development and production process: Does this create value? And if that isn’t the case, the next question is: What has to be done in order to create value? That doesn’t have to be everywhere and all the time, of course, but it is interesting to ask that question in terms of creativity and innovation. In that way, you can always stay on the ball and discover chances and possibilities again and again.

IF: One last question: That all sounds very plausible. I buy the book and look to see what parameters I can transfer to my product and it becomes valuable …
Pricken: Of course it is not quite that simple. The parameters give an indication of the direction, in which questions could be asked. But the questions have to be answered with creative ideas. In that way, something new can be created that provides a story that is worth telling that comes from the product. And with that, we have come full circle again.

IF: Mr. Pricken, thank you very much for talking to us.

The article has been published in the InteriorFashion issue 2|2015.

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