Charting the Landscape of Value Theory / Understanding Value Maps

I love to travel by train, particularly in European countries where rail transport is integrated.  I was delighted when recently purchasing a train ticket for travel in Germany. On the Deutsche Bahn website I was asked not only about the origin and destination cities of my journey, but the specific addresses of the hotels between which I was traveling.  DB sold me an all-inclusive ticket for point-to-point travel (with all bus, subway, regional and intercity train connections) between two Cologne and Berlin addresses.  As an American, I was astounded!

Purchasing train tickets for European travel is a good analogy for value management.  I need to understand several things for a successful train journey overseas.  How broadly am I traveling?  What specific towns do I want to visit and get to know?  How do I make connections along the route?  Will I be understood in the places I am traveling?

In other words, I need to chart the journey.  I need a map.  But how big / comprehensive a map do I need?  Where am I going?  How do I get from where I am now to where I want to be in the future?  Similar issues confront executives when trying to manage value on an integrated basis across their respective organizations.  Without a map, planning such a journey is confusing and making the journey will most likely prove disorienting.

“Mind the Map!” / Cognitive challenges understanding value theory

As a PhD candidate at the University of Bath, I was similarly confused and disoriented when researching the concept of value in management.  It felt as is I had been figuratively plunged into a vast ocean of value literature where definitions didn’t match and everyone was speaking a different language.  I needed a map!  Fortunately I learned about the concept of ‘mind maps’ from Dr. Paul Cousins, my research supervisor.  A ‘mind map’ visually portrays the interconnections between subtopics describing a broader subject area.  The beauty and power of a topical ‘mind map’ is that it uncovers the breadth and depth of the foundational thinking for a given subject, for example, the concept of value.

In my PhD thesis, I published the following ‘mind map’ for value:


The map highlights several important points when discussing value theory (and subsequently value management and value chains):

  • Interconnectivity and systems-view: Subtopics are not connected linearly, rather they are interconnected.  Academic disciplines (the shaded areas) cut across subtopics and intersect / overlap.  Value theory requires an intellectual synthesis / systemic-wide integration of multiple disciplinary theories.
  • Boundary spanning: The map could continue off the page ad infinitum. All maps are bounded geographically – they only portray limited areas.  Similarly mind maps are constrained and bounded.  For my PhD research, I only needed a mind map for the particular research questions I investigated.  There will always be areas omitted by a map (e.g.. note the literature limitations listed in the above value map).  One needs to determine the scope of a problem when determining which map to use.
  • Depth: Some disciplines have more subtopics than other disciplines. Greater expertise in particular academic disciplines will be required based on the research questions asked or the business problems faced.
  • Multidimensional: One discipline appears to “wrap” around the map. Economics appears at both the top and bottom of the mind map.  My mind map of value theory is actually three-dimensional.  The number of subtopics and their interconnection determine the number of dimensions characterizing a particular mind map.  Multidimensional maps are more challenging to read, understand and explain.

My train trip was from Cologne to Berlin was relatively short (from a US perspective).   A longer intercontinental train journey would have been more complicated, requiring a more comprehensive rail map.  Paradoxically, undertaking such a trip — trying to follow the historic route of the Orient Express for example – would have required several country-specific maps or a single map both broad and deep.

Broad and Deep / Age of the Granular Generalist

Like a map for a large complex journey, working in the 21st century economy requires a globally comprehensive understanding of multiple areas / subjects AND a functionally deep understanding of a few specialty topics relevant to your business.  Multiple authors describe a new “type” of career.  Author Andrew Sobel cites Warren Bennis as originating the name ‘deep generalist’.  Mikkelson and Martin (2016) label it the ‘neo generalist’. When I was with McKinsey & Company, the firm advised its consultants to develop a professional ‘T’ consisting of a set of broad management / business skills with a ‘spike’ of one or two functional / industry competencies.

Integrated value management is similar.  In order to manage value holistically, executives need a ‘meta’ definition of value applicable across functions and disciplines.  They equally need a process to translate, coordinate and align the multiple definitions of value across their organizational boundaries.  Simultaneously, they need expertise in value creation in areas where their organizations achieve – or seek to obtain — competitive advantage.  The Integrated Value Process (IVP) enables executives to manage value holistically across their respective value chains in order to maintain competitive advantage and let value flow.

Please see my additional posts on value at  Kindly email me at if you’d like to discuss value theory / definitions, value chains /streams, value management, and collective intelligence.  I’m passionate about these topics.

See my other articles:

Integrated Value Management: “Mind the Gap!” (04 March 2019)

Business Management: “Tongue-tied by the language of value” (03 March 2019)

(Digital) (Knowledge) (Mgmt): “Mind your words!” (02 March 2019)

“Value-added Knowledge Management (KM): Whose value anyway?” (01 March 2019).


Mikkelson, Kenneth and Richard Martin The Neo Generalist: Where you go is who you are.

Swan, Andrew.  An Empirical Framework for Evaluating, Implementing and Managing a Value-based Supply Chain Strategy (available from ProQuest publication number 3121355)

About the Author

Andrew Swan, PhD is a multidisciplinary and cross-functional integrator of strategy, processes, and information technology. His focus and expertise center on helping executives increase value creation and optimize value flows in business. Dr. Swan holds four degrees in Management, Accounting & Finance, Information & Knowledge Strategy, and Computer Science from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business,  the University of Bath School of Management, and Columbia University.

He frequently publishes articles on value chains, value streams / flows, and Integrative Value Management on his website Dr. Swan created the Integrated Value Process (IVP) Framework to help companies optimize the flow of goods & services, funds, and information across their respective value chains for multiple stakeholders. He can be reached at or at +1.773.633.7186.  He lives in Chicago.

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