How to Identify Your Core Value Using the Click-Down Technique

Photo by Smit Patel on Unsplash

you ever feel like your work or life doesn’t fit with who you truly are? Most of us do at times, but often it’s a vague cognitive dissonance without anything particularly actionable.

Identifying your core values is an essential step towards addressing this vague feeling with actionable data.

We all have many different values driving our motivations but what is a core value?

I like this answer by Dave Logan:

“A core value is a principle without which life wouldn’t be worth living.”

That probably sounds a bit dramatic; most of us are relatively unaware that, one, a core value even exists, and two, that it is responsible for most of the meaning we glean from our lives.

If you accept the above, it’s quite important to flesh out what exactly our core value is. Fortunately, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

There’s a technique I found a few years ago that has worked quite well. It’s called the Click-Down technique. Dave Logan (quoted above) created this technique in his book Tribal Leadership.

I’ve simplified the technique a bit and here’s how it works:

  1. Start by asking a high-level question. Something like “What do I enjoy doing the most?”, “Why am I building project X?”, )
  2. Then you start “clicking down” by asking an another “why” question about the answer.
  3. Once the answer becomes repetitive, you’ve hit the bottom, and that answer is the core value.

Here’s an example of what that might look like if we were going to click-down on Batman; seems risky but we’re going to go for it.

Clicking down on Batman. Note the blue “links” are what you want to answer around.

So Batman’s core value is justice. No surprise there.

You can even click-down on your motivations behind specific projects which is quite useful especially if you’re struggling to stay motivated on said project.

Here’s a somewhat contrived example of the click-down being used to identify the underlying core value for my side project, TiltMaps (a website for creating nice map posters of anywhere in the world).

A mysterious voice from the void clicking-down on my side project, TiltMaps.

In this example, you can see that, toward the end, my answers become similar and repetitive. That’s when you know you’ve found the core value that’s driving the project.

In this case, leaving something that lasts (aka a legacy) is one of the core reasons I’m motivated to build TiltMaps (this is true for many of my other projects as well). The project core value may differ from your primary core value, but it should at least relate to a value that is important to you.

If you do this on a project and can’t identify any underlying value, you 1) should not do this project, 2) figure out a way to “spin it” towards a value you care about.

Go Click-Down Yourself

The click-down technique is even more effective if you have someone who understands how to use it ask the questions, but it works well enough solo if you’re moderately introspective.

It’s also fun (🤓) to click-down on others once you’ve learned the ropes.

If you found the Click Down technique helpful, I’d love to hear the details (if not, keep that to yourself, OK?). You can find me on Twitter.

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Web designer, developer, and teacher. Working at the cross-section of learning and technology. Co-Founder, CTO of Pathwright. Launcher of side projects.

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Mark Johnson

Web designer, developer, and teacher. Working at the cross-section of learning and technology. Co-Founder, CTO of Pathwright. Launcher of side projects.