Cosmos was a values-driven company, meaning that we factored our values into our decision making and actions at all levels of the organization. This manifested in many ways: we assessed candidates for values alignment during recruitment, we designed partner communications with values in mind, and we regularly held Values Congresses to continually evolve them, refine them, and keep them in our collective consciousness.

The values were originally defined to prepare for the onboarding of Cosmos’s first staff member, with the goal of balancing the inherent power dynamic between partners and staff. We chose to define a larger collection of values than most other companies so that we could precisely communicate the foundation of our thoughts and actions. There were several efforts made to distill the values into a smaller set, but each time the team decided to preserve the original collection.

List of Values

Value Description
Humility We respect the human condition: that in a deep and cosmic sense we all have the same lot in life; we ascribe to no species of pride other than the pride of becoming better versions of ourselves while maintaining our humility
Goodness We believe that a general sense of goodness is a principal component of the confidence that our partners place in us and that we place in one another
Trust We place a great deal of confidence in one another, and we believe that to trust someone in some capacity means to be confident that they're competent in that capacity and that they have your best interests at heart when exercising that competence
Uncompromising Integrity Each of us holds biases and prejudices, but strive to be morally sound, honest, and free from corrupting influences or motives; we always work toward the best interest of our partners and one another
People First We value the enjoyment of life and do not demand so much as to detract from one's relationships or leisure
Transparency We make our thoughts, feelings, and motives clear
Collaboration We celebrate the accomplishments of teams louder than those of individuals and work together to define and achieve our shared goals
Good Judgment We confront the absence or ambiguity of guidelines and criteria for making decisions with good judgment; we believe that good judgment means making decisions that are consistent with the values defined herein and questioning any decisions which are not
Written Thought We look to written thought as the great equalizer of communication and decision making; we celebrate the communication of ideas and perspective in written form; we believe that ideas and perspectives are subject to a great many influences, from the volume of one's voice, to the perception of one's power, one's inherent ability to communicate, their personality, or simply their process of thinking. We always place equal-or-greater weight in written thought as a means of discourse over its various other forms
Thoughtfulness We pause to contemplate ideas fully, always keeping in mind the overarching purpose and goals
Openness We seek out and incorporate new ideas; we are not determined or settled that our ways are perfect
Anti-avarice We seek wealth to the point of it providing liberty, not for the sake of its accumulation
Unbound by Convention We don't do things a certain way because that is how they're done; we critique every idea and process and adapt it to make it our own
Liberty We empower people to break free of their restraints and choose how to direct their energies
Creativity We foster creativity in every form and in general the universal power of imagination; we thrive in environments that nurture creativity, which we regard as one of humanity's greatest traits
Individuality We embrace the traits and ways of thinking that distinguish each person, as these differences create the diversity that is so crucial to our success
Rough Consensus We believe that we move forward fastest by reaching decisions that are amenable to everyone but not necessarily optimal, and do so by annotating feedback with whether the idea is 'acceptable but not optimal' or 'fundamentally flawed'
Learning We are endlessly curious, which leads to continuous learning about the world around us and the universe at large
Reading We embrace the written thought of those outside of Cosmos, as it allows communication through time and exposes us to new ideas and ways of thinking

Values Congresses

We thought of our values as a system, not a simple list of definitions. This system had two goals:

  • Goal | The values reflect the views of Cosmonauts
  • Goal | The values are incorporated into decisions and actions

The concept of Values Congresses was created to achieve these goals. Each Values Congress was a meeting where the entire team came together to discuss values and any topics related to those values. In the early days we came together for ad-hoc discussions about each value to reflect on how it related to our work.

Values Congresses became more formalized as the team grew — we assigned a Congress Conductor who was responsible for ensuring that a successful Values Congress took place, and they in turn were responsible for assigning a Subject Manager. The Subject Manager would choose a subject, create a document with topics to explore that subject, and then share it with the entire team a week before the Values Congress. This gave everyone a chance to reflect on the presented concepts and gather their thoughts. During the Value Congress we discussed topics and prompts, often breaking into smaller groups to ensure that everyone could share their perspective. Then, a Summarizer reviewed all of our discussions, created a summary, and proposed next steps to integrate our collective insights into our daily work.

This model was very successful because it provided a loose framework that enabled the values system to evolve over time. We ultimately held 24 Values Congresses between mid-2019 and late-2023 on topics ranging from the privacy of personal information discussed within Cosmos to the usage of the pronoun “we” in our writing to indicate that we’re writing from the point of view of Cosmos. This subject, coined the Cosmos We, is an apt distillation of the values system. It held us to a higher standard in our work and supported a culture of shared responsibility and cooperation, while clearly communicating when personal opinions and perspectives should be voiced.