Simple Math?

Axiology teaches us the difference between composition—adding something to make a thing more valuable—and transposition—taking something away and thereby making the thing less valuable.

For the last 20 years, I’ve been studying a science called axiology—the measurement of value. There are several important concepts contained within this science. The first is an awareness of focus and clarity. Focus asks the question, “What are you paying attention to?” Clarity asks, “How well do you understand it?”

Each is a crucial concept. What if we are focused on something but don’t understand it very well? It’s like trying to improve my putting but never learning anything from each bad putt. Or understanding everything about putting mechanics—that’s focus —yet never taking the time to apply it to my own putting. The two are critical to creating high performance and impact in anything.


Another valuable thing axiology teaches is the difference between composition and transposition.

Composition happens whenever you take something, add to it, and make it even better or more useful or more valuable. Transposition occurs whenever you take something away and thereby make the thing less valuable.

For example, I take several pieces of wood, add my skills as a carpenter (something I learned from my father and grandfather), and turn it into a case for a grandfather clock. This is an example of composition. The actions I took upon the wood created greater value.

On the other hand, I take a chair and break off a leg for no other reason than to break off a leg. This would be an example of transposition. My actions upon the chair made it less valuable. Why? Because the chair will not be as easy to sit on, so it fulfills less of its purpose or concept. It is, if you will, less good.

This idea applies in other areas, as well. What researchers have discovered is that, in general, people are more focused on transposition (which is negative) than composition (which is positive). We are more attracted to news stories, for example, that tear down than news stories that build up. We are more attracted to gossip than to praise.

Our fall sports season is just over. Some of the teams and individuals we follow excelled, while others did not. What do you hear most often as people attempt to explain the reasons for a loss? Is the other team or individual praised for being better prepared, more strategic, in better shape, or better able to execute on a given day? Are they honored for their achievement? Or is the explanation filled with excuses and perhaps criticism of the opponent—perhaps with hints of cheating—or comments about the officiating? One is composition, the other transposition. Can you figure out which is which?


How does this apply to training and performance improvement? These two ideas help us realize where we will gain the most value as we coach and train. Do we spend more time “catching people doing things right” (as Ken Blanchard would say) or tearing into them for what they’ve done wrong? What is the value to be gained from criticizing or correcting someone in front of others rather than in private? And what would my motivation be for doing such a thing?

Since I started writing Trainer Talk, I’ve ended my article with the phrase, “Until next time— add value and make a difference.” That phrase has its roots in the idea of composition versus transposition. I want to encourage us to look for and celebrate the good. I want to challenge us to solve problems, not complain about them. I want to equip us to build people up, rather than tear them down.

What would the value be to you and the people you live with and work with if you spent just five minutes a day this next month focusing on what you could do to add value to the lives of people around you—including those you train and coach?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can write me at If you’d like to know more about the practical application of axiology, send me an e-mail with “Axiology” in the subject line.

Until next time—add value and make a difference!

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAESpeakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Expert’s Guide to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to Training.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.