Dave Kerpen | If You Have More Than 3 Core Values, Think Again
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If You Have More Than 3 Core Values, Think Again

If You Have More Than 3 Core Values, Think Again


That’s how I felt when my recent business idol, Marc Lore, told me I had too many core values. I had just proudly shared with him that after painstakingly working with our leadership team for two years, we had a set of five core values at Likeable Local that we were really proud of.

“Too many,” he said. “Picking three forces you to get to the root of who you really are and what you stand for.”

If that sounds bold, it’s not surprising. Marc Lore is the brains behind the new e-commerce startup Jet.com with both an extremely bold vision (Taking on Amazon.com in a Costco-of-the-internet shopping-club concept that’s already raised $80 million in seed capital) and an equally bold launch plan (Giving away 100,000 in stock options and 100,000 free memberships). So that Lore is so bold when it comes to core values isn’t really surprising at all.

“People too often confuse core values with traits or culture fit,” Marc told me. “At Jet, we have a set of 10 traits that we look for in the people we hire, and that’s important. But when it comes to core values, most companies have a laundry list, and it’s too many.”

“Your core values should be the few things that make you unique,” Marc continued. Use this pressure test: Are you really living these values the way other companies aren’t?”

Jet.com’s three core values are transparency, trust and fairness. But more important than those specific core values, Marc Lore’s words really got me thinking: Does Likeable Local have too many core values at 5? Does Likeable Media, our first company, also have too many core values at 5? There are hundreds of thousands of companies with 5-10 core values, do all of them have too many?

It even got me thinking about personal core values: How many people have 3 core values they stand for above all other things, and how interesting would it be if we all embraced a process of defining our 3 core values?

The process of changing our company’s core values would be long and time-consuming, and would involve our entire leadership team at Likeable believing in the worthiness of changing or eliminating core values. That’s a potential project for another day. But based on Marc’s words to me about Jet.com’s core values, I decided to undertake an experiment to come up with no more than three personal core values.

I started by listing out every possible core value I could, brainstorming for myself in a nothing’s-wrong-sort-of-way: transparency, listening, storytelling, authenticity, gratitude, likeability, kindness, humor, excellence, achievement, love, God, honesty, balance, family, loyalty, innovation, entrepreneurship, adventure, positivity, passion, courage, and persistence.

Wow, it was easy to come up with a long list. But then, the hard part came: reducing this massive list to just 3 core values that best describe how I live and work. After hours and hours of debate with myself, I came up with the following 3 core values for myself:

Likeability: Do unto others as they’d like done to them. Build Likeable businesses.

Family: Put my family first, and build family in our organizations.

Persistence: Keep at it, always: If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Teach this value to others.

It was a great, worthwhile exercise, and while obviously all of the core values I wrote down are very important to me, choosing just three made me really focus. Perhaps, like Jet.com, my company will do this exercise next, and go from five to three core values.

Now it’s your turn. What are your 3 core values? What are your organization’s core values? How seriously does your organization take its core values? What do you think of Marc Lore’s “No more than 3 core values” mantra? Please let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below, and please share this post with your network. Let’s get the world’s largest list of core values going!

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