A Wealthy World
by Ralph Perrine
We’ve pretty much figured out the formula for individual wealth. Now how about the formula for a Wealthy World? Redefining wealth could take human achievement to a whole new level. It’s more attainable than we realize.
- A Wealthy World
- CHAPTER 1 Hungry and Smelly
- CHAPTER 2 Beetles, Seeds, and Big Questions
- CHAPTER 2 – You and Utility
- CHAPTER 4 – Up Juniper Creek
- CHAPTER 5 Consumer University: Your education continues
- CHAPTER 6 The Economy of an Impoverished World
- CHAPTER 7 A Pause
- Part II – The Wealthy World Economy
- CHAPTER 8 Understanding Poverty
- CHAPTER 9 Understanding Wealth
- CHAPTER 10 A Different Kind of Economic Engine
- CHAPTER 11 Choosing our values deliberately
- CHAPTER 12 Confronting the Reality of Limited Time
- CHAPTER 13 What specifically do I need to change in my own life?
- CHAPTER 14 Nine Great Ways to Start
- 1. Keep learning.
- 2. Make a list of businesses that support your values.
- 3. Join a nature or conservation effort.
- 4. Start a Nature Guide or Journal for your Neighborhood.
- 5. Plant native plants in your yard.
- 6. Teach your children to treasure the wealth of nature.
- 7. Learn and leverage the power of systems thinking.
- 8. Write an app or start a startup.
- 9. Start a Share Group.
- CHAPTER 15 From Here
CHAPTER 1 Hungry and Smelly
Go way back in history – somewhere before the time of the Pharaohs. Most of us would still fit in the hungry/smelly category. Very few of us had figured out how to increase our possessions and personal security. Fewer still had figured out how to do it without resorting to plunder or some form of bullying. After a few thousand years we start taking baby steps toward democracy and free enterprise. This continues over centuries of fits and starts, and now today people like you and me can follow a fairly well-defined path to educate and equip ourselves for a lifestyle which includes a comparative abundance of food, heated homes, multiple modes of transportation, wonderful gadgets and tools. Today we can enjoy a level of personal comfort and empowerment that rivals and probably surpasses that of most medieval kings.
Not bad, but its not the end of the progression. This progression up to now has been missing something.
It has been focused only on one question: What does it take to make a wealthy individual?
It overlooked the bigger question: What does it take to enable and sustain a wealthy world?
When we ignore this bigger question, we’re focusing on only part of the equation. When we focus on only part of the equation, we end up achieving “good” things that cause great damage. We temporarily raise the short term quality of life for some of us, while permanently lowering the longer term quality of life for all of us.
Our focus on individual wealth has enabled a relatively small group to become consumers and collectors of enormous amounts of stuff, but at great cost to the rest of the world and at great cost to the future generations. We have focused on our own personal bottom line: What have I done to increase MY wealth? We should be asking: What have I done to add to the wealth of the world?
Why don’t we think this way? Let’s look at that question in a little more detail…
CHAPTER 2 Beetles, Seeds, and Big Questions
In our neighborhood we have our share of wildlife: Rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and a dazzling array of songbirds. But the one life form that has captivated my children the most are the ladybugs that occasionally show up on our back porch. If you examine one closely, you cannot help notice its high-gloss exquisite intricacy and the precision fit of its moving parts.
Ladybug Standard Features:
- It can walk, fly or swim
- Climbs vertical surfaces
- Navigates almost any obstacle
- Self maintaining
- Self perpetuating
- Compatible with multiple energy sources
- Locates its own energy sources, which happen to be non-polluting and sustainable.
Think about the engineering and manufacturing costs, if a company attempted to design and develop a completely functional duplicate of one of these creatures. The cost would easily run into the millions of dollars. Think about how much it would cost if your kid wanted one. How much it would cost to repair it if it were ever damaged? Yet you and I have these freely available in our back yards. If I let one crawl around on my hand for a few minutes and then let it go, it will take care of itself, feed itself, and reproduce itself. It will even remove pests from my garden for me. All at no cost to me.
Consider though, our regard for the ladybug in contrast to our regard for manufactured goods, like let’s say, automobiles. We take for granted, stomp on, flick off into the bushes an amazing non-polluting, exquisite highly miniaturized creature that is currently still beyond the reach of even the most advanced multi-billion dollar innovation project. But we hold in high regard and pay top dollar for an automobile – a manufactured item that in comparison to a living insect is crude, oversized, incredibly inefficient, cannot fly, requires an expensive and environmentally devastating set of asphalt roadways and is notoriously incapable of self repair.
Seeds offer the most amazing return on investment I can think of. A single tiny tomato seed can spawn a plant that is many times larger than the original seed, provides beauty and enjoyment and ultimately grows more tomatoes. Planting seeds for trees and gardens can transform a place from a dead zone to a living, highly enjoyable place that provides multiple kinds of value. Including a higher resale value. Seeds provide food, beauty, desirable social settings, places to observe and study nature, not to mention the therapeutic value so many people find in their plants and gardens. Yet again, we choose to spend our time and money on far less impressive things, most of which cannot be thought of as “investments.”
Seeds, ladybugs, and millions of other living things like them, are exquisite manifestations of the living, sustainable wealth of the earth. How did we get to the point where we place very low value on a class of things that are exquisite manifestations of the living sustainable wealth of the earth, yet place a very high value on an another class of things that incrementally impoverish and pollute our world? As it turns out, we have a skewed – and severely limited – view of utility.
CHAPTER 2 – You and Utility
Economist use the term “utility” to describe the value that a person places on a given thing or service. Price seems to relate in an occasionally consistent way to the utility of the thing, or at least its percieved utility. Let’s think this through: why do we de-value the exquisite and place high value on manufactured stuff? We have engineered a global economy that relies primarily on percieved utility to define the value of things: If people percieve that a given thing has utility for them, then they will be willing to pay for it. If they see other people paying for the thing, they’ll be even more likely to pay for it. If they see other people getting it free, they’ll want it free too.
There’s a big problem with this: It turns out humans aren’t always so good at judging the utility or value of much of anything.
Ever had buyers regret?
Buyers regret not only happens to individuals but also groups – like companies for example. One company buys another company. Inside, the recently merged business units and product lines don’t gel as well as expected. The stock price plummets. Shareholders get angry. A few short years later the company gets sold to another company.
Our global economy recently experienced a recession that was a large scale form of buyers regret. A lot of things were sold (houses, securities) that seemed very exciting at the time. Later, it turned out that these things actually did not have the value that the buyers originally perceived.
An even larger case of buyer’s regret is playing out. Over the last five centuries, the dominant industries and governments of the world chose to mine and exploit natural resources that were not replaceable. We get to use these natural resources once. After that, they are gone, or have been turned into another substance – like trash or pollution.
You and I – playing the role of the willing consumer – enabled this chapter of history, buying our way toward oblivion. But now most of us are beginning to feel a sense of buyers regret. We are beginning to sense that the short term benefits we’ve been getting are ultimately not worth the price we and our children will be required to pay for them.
Buyers regret happens when we judge the value of something using the wrong criteria. We use subjective criteria that is ultimately not very unreliable.
Here are some examples of subjective criteria we use, and the problem with each of them:
- “How will this make me feel?” (You don’t know how you’re going to feel in the future, nor can you predict what factors will be impacting your feelings.)
- “Will others think this is cool or enviable?” (For how long? Is that ever truly quantifiable? and does it really even matter?)
- “Will this make me happy in the future?” (By now most of us should have realized that we have no idea what will make us happy in the future.)
If these are the only questions we ask, we won’t make very good choices. How do we begin to change this? How do we change ourselves and start to spread the change? I had to go up Juniper Creek before I got a glimpse of the answer.
CHAPTER 4 – Up Juniper Creek
I will never be able to forget the sad and puzzled look on the face of my son, then just four years old, when I told him about the cypress stumps I found while kayaking up Juniper Creek with a friend of mine. Juniper Creek – a small tributary of the Waccamaw River in the coastal swamplands of North Carolina – is choked with fallen logs and overgrown brush. When we decided to kayak there, friends and locals told us to expect a tough time. And it was tough in places. But as we went further up the creek we realized we had gotten lucky. The recent rain had pushed the water levels higher and made it easier for us to get further up the creek than we’d ever anticipated. We stopped for lunch at the confluence where Honey Island Swamp Creek merges with Juniper Creek. We stood in a small sunny clearing and eating sandwiches and drying off a little in the February sunlight.
After that, we made our way north through tangled vines and branches following the east side of Honey Island Swamp Creek. We saw bear poo but weren’t too worried about surprising a bear, given the noise we were making in the dry leaves. We discovered a huge raccoon sleeping up in a tree, rolled into a big ball.
We were in an overgrown forest made up primarily of species of oak and sweetgum maybe 50-75 years old. Many of the trees appeared to be diseased.
Then we began to notice them. Massive cypress stumps, frequently taller than we were. Here was one. Then another there, and there. Everywhere. We also began to notice the cypress knees – now orphaned – everywhere we looked. These cypress stumps and their orphaned knees gave silent evidence that this was once a very different kind of wilderness. A forest where cypress giants stood rooted – not in dry leaves – but in water!
A quick glance at any good topo map showed canal lines crisscrossing the region. Someone had drained this swampland, then made a killing, cutting down these huge trees and turning them into boards. But where was that wealth now? What lasting impact had it made? What did we have to show for it now? We were standing in one the most economically challenged counties in North Carolina. The positive impact had been short lived. The negative impact continues.
The Quick Hit Economic Engines of the Past
The economic engines of the past have often taken us toward a world that is not increasingly wealthy, but a world that is increasingly impoverished. A world that consumes its resources in an unsustainable, irreversible way. These economic engines can only enable the temporary wealth of relatively few individuals. In other words, a temporary, “quick-hit” kind of wealth that has limited benefit, and ultimately costs us more than its worth.
This approach operates like a wasteful combustion process: its only lasting impact is an accumulating mix of damage and unwanted byproducts. This kind of quick-hit wealth steals, yes steals – the term “borrow” isn’t accurate – from the economic potential and quality of life of both current and future generations. To have a truly wealthy world we need a different kind of economic engine.
What kind of economic engine would lead to a wealthy world?
On the long drive back home from Juniper Creek, we got to talking about the environment and the economy. “So how do you set up an economy that doesn’t devastate the environment but still allows everyone to prosper?” I asked. My friend ponders this for a little bit and says, “Well I think it has to do with values.” Of course that took us down a whole other direction and kept the conversation going strong as we drove back to Chapel Hill. It really got me thinking. And writing. Which is how this book came to be. Where have we been getting our values?
CHAPTER 5 Consumer University: Your education continues
We’re more educated than we realize. For years we’ve been taking miniature classes, continuing coursework, all part of an ongoing education program we don’t even realize we’re enrolled in. That’s because commercials, ads, marketing or PR campaigns are forms of training. They are designed to create strong perceptions that ultimately shape our values and behaviors. Remember music appreciation class? For most of our lives, we’ve been enrolled and immersed in “Material Goods Appreciation Class” and other similar offerings from Consumer University. Thanks to this extensive education, we have developed a highly refined ability to absorb and retain perceptions about manufactured goods. We then allow these perceptions to shape our priorities and choices.
The Other Mercedes
Say “Mercedes”, and most people think “luxury car.” Strictly speaking its a 4 wheeled vehicle. We’ve been trained to think that its a luxury car. We’ve been conditioned to believe that images of shiny metal zooming along blurry roadways and paternalistic male voiceovers using vague terms like “luxury” and “performance” equates to good reasons to pay tens of thousands of dollars extra for a 4 wheeled vehicle.
What if we said the word “Mercedes” to a person living 200 years ago – or to any currently living person who hadn’t been exposed to Western advertising? The phrase “luxury car” would not come to their mind. Instead they might recall the face of a relative or friend.
When I hear the word “Mercedes” I think of the wrinkled weathered smiling faces of Pancho and Mercedes. This elderly couple had been friends to literally generations of my wife’s family down in Baja California. No one knew how old they were. I had always heard about them, and then in 1998 had the privilege of meeting them a few years before they both passed away. We – cousins aunts uncles and kids – piled into several of the family’s 4x4s and drove inland for quite a while over bumpy dirt road back through the wild hill country of Baja. At one point we came over a small rise and a cougar ran up the other side of a gully. Finally we came to a small house next to a stream. A goat shed stood alongside a 1950’s pickup truck the color of rust. Near an ancient fence a horse dozed in the sun while goats and chickens ran around – chased by all the kids. A few acres worth of cabbage, corn, tomatoes and other garden crops grew out in different directions from their humble home. They had no electricity, no phone. Their home was guarded on all sides by large red hills covered with cactus and scrub.
Pancho shook my hand – his hand felt like a leather glove. Mercedes welcomed us underneath the olive tree in front of their house and served us a simple meal with home grown vegetables, amazing taquitos and cheese she had made herself. We ate outside in the shade of that olive tree. After we ate, Mercedes brought out a photo album. In it, she had pictures of Dina and I at our wedding, as well as many other photos chronicling the life and times of our family.
We climbed to the top of one of the hills and I will never forget looking down at their humble adobe brick house – out here in the middle of nowhere. Around me, hills glowing red in the setting sun stretched all the way back to snow capped peaks that run down the backbone of Baja. To the west I could see the blue Pacific ocean. Mercedes took care of the goats and chickens. Pancho drove his old truck to the local markets to sell their produce. A simple life.
In the years since, I have always remembered their obvious and deep contentment. In all my interactions with them that day and in all the comments and stories from the family before or since, I never saw or heard a hint of discontent. So when I hear the word Mercedes, I think of a kind of unspoiled happiness and success that runs deeper and lasts longer than the kind of success most of us have been willing to settle for.
Gauging the Value of our Stuff
Start a conversation about “Mercedes, BMW, and Chevrolet” and you’ll get a sense of our highly refined ability to assign comparative values to manufactured goods. Again, this has been a learned behavior, one that required persistent tutoring from 20th century branding and advertising firms. We have developed an advanced ability to understand, appreciate and gauge the value of manufactured goods.
By contrast we have not developed our capacity to understand, appreciate and gauge the value of the living sustainable wealth that our planet offers. We have barely begun to learn about managing and nurturing that living wealth. In fact, in the 19th and 20th centuries we came close to literally snuffing out this wealth without ever seeing it for what it was. We have been too focused on non-living materials.
For the last 500 years or so, “advanced” civilizations have focused on mining raw materials at an increasing pace and converting them into manufactured products, which then in a few short weeks or years become trash in the landfill. This – it is hoped – will allow Wall Street to keep their charts pointed in the right directions, so all will be well with the world.
But there’s a problem. The manufacturing process leaves behind waste and pollution by-products that are expensive to clean up. As the manufactured item itself is discarded, it also leaves behind waste and pollution which further degrades the natural wealth and future livability of our world. Annie Leonard compellingly explains this in The Story of Stuff, a short presentation which you can view at www.storyofstuff.com.
We’ve been trained!
We have to understand that our generation has been systematically trained to appreciate and value manufactured goods derived from non-replaceable mined materials. Our day to day awareness is dominated by superficial concerns about how many of these manufactured goods we possess, and whether or not we possess the manufactured goods perceived to signify a certain economic status.
Our values have been coming from a superficial source: an economic engine that uses marketing and advertising to train millions of us to consume at an increasing pace that our wallets and our environment cannot sustain.
Ultimately this economic engine sabotages itself. A few individuals gain a temporary and very superficial wealth while the world at large becomes truly impoverished, economically unsustainable, and politically unstable. In the next chapter, let’s take a closer look at the economy that results in an impoverished world.
CHAPTER 6 The Economy of an Impoverished World
In the prevailing economy of our world today, a tragedy unfolds at the macro level: uninformed people devote their lives to engineering an impoverished world for their children and grandchildren.
The economy of an impoverished world is a mindless competition to convert high value resources:
- natural resources
- people’s ideas and energy
…into low value residue:
- exhausted cynical people.
It follows the proven patterns of exploitation:
- Uninformed consumers: people who have been convinced that their main purpose in life is to consume, and that the more they consume, the more worthy they are.
- Unprotected natural resources whose value is not fully understood.
- Wasted human talent and time that was supposed to be spent living.
It cannibalizes the world’s wealth instead of cultivating it. You could call it the “Impoverished world economy” but I would like to simply refer to it as the “old economy.” It is definitely outdated. And there is reason to believe that can be replaced by something better.
In the old economy, life on this planet gets reduced to a game of counting dollars. Tree stumps, dirty water, unbreathable air, extinct species are all acceptable as long as the pile of dollars gets bigger.
All of this happens because values are inadvertently chosen – chosen without awareness. The good news is, we can decide to change how we participate. Just as we help drive the old economy, we can learn how to help drive the emergence of a wealthy world economy.
In the old economy, the greatest rewards go to two groups who are providing the least value:
- professions that specialize in performing optical illusions with other people’s money
- producers who systematically destroy the earth’s ability to sustain life.
Who is causing and enabling this warped situation? Ultimately? Me. And You.
Our careless consumption
Careless consumption enables and justifies a whole range of things – most of which are things you and I probably don’t approve of. Cumulatively these things impoverish the world. They all depend on one key player: The careless consumer.
The careless consumer doesn’t bother to know:
- Who made the product?
- Where it was made?
- What is it made out of?
- What are the living conditions of the people who helped make it?
- How many of these do I already own?
- What good or evil am I enabling?
If you think “who has the time to check all this out?” its a good indicator that you’re buying too much too fast.
The careful consumer looks for companies and merchants who make it a point to share 3 key pieces of information:
- Where and how their product is made.
- The individuals who made the product.
- What you can do with the product when you’re done with it.
So, sure it’s fun to say things like, “Wall Street screws everything up!” or “Its globalization’s fault!” or “Its corporate America’s fault!”
Its more accurate to say: I’m causing this.
The reality we have to face is, corporations and business trends cannot do much more than what you and I enable them to do with our choices: I can help Fast Food Burger Chain X clearcut thousands of acres of rainforest so they can turn it into cheap pastureland for beef cattle. Or I can choose to help local farmers who provide food in a responsible way. I can help Coffee Chain X blanket the fields in developing countries with unhealthy levels of pesticides. Or I can help Coffee Shop A support bird friendly organic coffee bean growers. I can buy products from manufacturers who pour toxins into rivers and hope no one will ever know. Or I can buy from manufacturers who conscientiously create their product with the minimum environmental impact.
One of the most liberating and empowering things I can do is to take responsibility for MY contribution to the problem. If I take the position that its someone else’s fault, then I put myself in a helpless position.
Here is a position of power: It’s my fault. I made choices that enabled it. I allowed it. I was quiet about it when it happened. I didn’t take the time to find out how this was made and where it came from. So…I’m going to change. I may have to pay a little more, research a little more, and be more selective in my purchases. It’s a relatively small investment on my part, but a powerful way to enable a wealthy world. And it will help me put the brakes on what would otherwise be careless and excessive consumption.
But don’t corporations, banks and governments have a role? Yes, its true that some things need to change within the government and financial systems as well as in the product and service life cycles that corporations enable. But governments, financial systems, and companies by their very nature do not change until their power base forces them to change.
Who is their power base? The taxpaying consumers of energy and material goods. In other words, me and you. The power to put the brakes on the wasteful ways of the old economy, and to activate and optimize a wealthy world economy is in our hands.
CHAPTER 7 A Pause
Before heading into the 2nd half of the book, stop and think for a moment about how all of this is hitting you, and how you are reacting to this. We’ve just been hit with a pretty heavy set of messages: We’ve progressed to the point where we need to graduate from a focus on individual wealth, to a focus on enabling a wealthy world economy. The current norms, if allowed to play out, impose unacceptable consequences on current and future generations.
To enable a wealthy world economy, we the taxpaying consumers of energy, services, and material goods have a pivotal role to play. What kind of responses are you feeling right now? Disbelief? Hopelessness? It is easy to conclude that this is all too big and too “out there” for us to address. How can you and I possibly do anything about this big problem when we already have busy lives and schedules we can barely keep up with?
Is a wealthy world even realistic? Yes it is. The practical reality is that ingenuity awakens and multiplies when we agree on what we will refuse to accept. One by one, each of us can make the prospect of a wealthy world more realistic by deciding that anything less is unacceptable.
This is one of those cases where we have to go slow before we can go fast. Like many of the complexities of our era, this is not something you can effectively solve with lots of elbow grease, legislation or posters and slogans. There is an engineering aspect that has to be understood. We must go on a journey of learning.
We need to understand the system – the economic engine that has been engineered over a period of time, and understand how our participation gives it the fuel it needs to survive. Once we gain that perspective, we can then work out a practical understanding of how to begin to deflate this problem and ultimately solve it.
In the following chapters you will have a chance to get a better understanding of poverty and to clarify your definition of wealth. We’ll learn how to set values deliberately, and how to make our choices more carefully. We will also learn how to become aware of, appreciate and nurture the living wealth of the world…those classes of living things that are sustainable, and can be cultivated and optimized. We will begin to see what a wealthy world economy looks like, and the kind of teamwork that enables it. Again, the first step is to decide that anything less is unacceptable.
Part II – The Wealthy World Economy
In the first half of the book we called out the problem. From the macro level down to the level of personal behaviors, we operate as if wealth were solely an individual thing. By operating as if individual wealth were the only thing that mattered, we achieve material wealth for a few by systematically impoverishing the world as a whole. Here in the second half of the book, we look at the alternative – a wealthy world – and describe in practical terms how you and I can work together to bring it to reality: Understanding wealth and what a wealthy world means Taking responsibility for our part in impoverishing the world Deliberately choosing our values, and resetting them if necessary. Shifting from careless to careful consumption Learning how to make the shift from exploitation to the art and science of cultivation. Understanding that a wealthy world is not only possible, it is our mission Learning, taking action, and engaging others to do the same We are going to learn a different way of looking at the world and at our lives. As we do, our behaviors will start to change, and a different kind of teamwork will begin to take shape. This different kind of teamwork is key. It ignites the economic engine that enables a wealthy world. Let’s see what a wealthy world economy would look like.
CHAPTER 8 Understanding Poverty
It may seem odd to start by talking about poverty, but the secret to activating and optimizing a wealthy world economy is in understanding the nature of poverty. Somewhere deep inside each of us, is a fear of poverty. This fear is the core “work motive” that drives us in different ways depending on how we interpret it.
Unfortunately, we traditionally have interpreted it in a very materialistic and incomplete way. We fear only the economic forms of poverty. We start to see the world differently when we recognize that the non-economic forms of poverty are what causes the economic forms of poverty to persist. Once we fully understand poverty in all of its forms, we then have a basis for understanding the interdependence and collaboration that can raise everyone’s quality of life and enable a truly wealthy world.
In this world, there are multiple forms of poverty. We should already be acutely aware of economic forms of poverty.
- There are also non-economic forms of poverty.
- Moral poverty: Lack of connection to any clear, good purpose. It results in oppression of others or of yourself:
- Oppression of others: Living a misguided life that abuses one’s power and position, and directly or indirectly enables the oppression of others.
- Oppression of self: Dissipating your energy on a treadmill kind of life where you allow yourself to be basically bullied by your employers or clients, or led astray by skewed priorities.
- Social poverty: Lack of time with loved ones, lack of quality relationships, lack of understanding of how to build rewarding relationships, and perhaps worst of all, a lack of appreciation for the amazing people who are in your life.
- Emotional poverty: A chronic lack of laughter, contentment and peace. Living a negative existence filled with resentment and cynicism, motivated by fear rather than love of life.
- Poverty of perspective: Being focused on the wrong things, self absorption, lack of ability to see the bigger picture, and to understand how things fit. Lack of vision, foresight and the inability to see the path to a better outcome. Inability to recognize how your actions impact others.
- Education poverty – lack of education or competence in key knowledge or skill areas.
- Poverty of confidence – Hesitance to do what you need to do, because of an underlying mistaken belief that you can’t learn how to do what you ought to do. It results in failures caused by lack of decisiveness and/or lack of effort, which tend to reinforce the lack of confidence.
Other forms of poverty could be added to this list. The key point is, poverty comes in multiple forms – and we tend to focus on the economic forms of poverty without realizing how they are connected to the non-economic forms of poverty.
Economic poverty persists because of non-economic poverty.
People who otherwise have the potential to banish economic poverty from a region, instead perpetuate it because their own non-economic poverty drives them into misguided quests for power and fulfillment. Valuable resources are hoarded, misdirected and wasted and people starve in the process.
Likewise in some cases, individuals who have the potential to banish poverty from their own lives and families, fail to do so because they are impacted by one or more kinds of non-economic poverty.
Every one of us is vulnerable to poverty in one form or other. Even if we think our level of income and assets puts us “above the poverty line”, we may still be vulnerable. Incomes and possessions come and go, and they are no protection – even in substantial quantities – from the non-economic forms of poverty.
Every one of us has the power to address and help banish someone else’s poverty. To be clear, the kind of poverty that deprives someone of food, personal safety and basic necessities is the most urgent.
So in addition to doing our best to help those who are impacted by economic poverty, we also need to be ready to help people impacted by non-economic poverty. You can help others find their purpose, discover the real life that lies beyond materialism and learn to direct their own lives. You can help people stop living under a dictatorship of to-do lists, email inboxes, and the senseless fear of “not getting everything done.” You can help others redirect their energies and resources away from paying for and taking care of stuff and toward living a life focused on rewarding achievements and experiences of enduring worth. You can help others gain perspective, knowledge, skills and confidence that will have a life long impact on them – and on others in their lives.
Each of us has the power to help someone else overcome. You can help others find a healthier lifestyle, expand their health potential and design a more balanced and contented life. You can bring laughter and joy to others lives and help them create rich memories they’ll treasure for a lifetime.
We summon this power by deciding to practice kindness and generosity. By putting ourselves out there and helping others. By putting our hearts into everything we do. Being aware. Keeping alert by asking questions like: “What does this person need today?” “What would be helpful to the individuals working on this project with me?” “How can I enrich this for everyone, and make it a better experience for them?” “What can I do to empower the others, and make this a great achievement opportunity for all of us?”
Embracing and using this power to banish poverty is the most rewarding thing you’ll do in life. It will fill you with happiness, and open doors to teamwork and career opportunities more rewarding than you can imagine. And on a larger scale, as more and more people practice this in their lives, it will activate and optimize the kind of high energy economic engine required to propel a truly wealthy world.
This presents us with an opportunity to learn and apprehend a very different kind of wealth. It also presents us with a crucial question: Is that the kind of wealth you will drive for? Or will you settle something that looks like wealth but is really just debt in disguise?
CHAPTER 9 Understanding Wealth
Debt has many clever disguises. No wonder we often confuse it with wealth. By the time we are adults, we have absorbed a lot of misinformation about what wealth is supposed to be:
- Having more stuff than others
- Having newer stuff than others
- Having more expensive stuff
These are examples of a fake wealth that is more about appearances and comparisons rather than lasting value. Unchecked, it causes us to impose debt and impoverishment on ourselves and others, including future generations.
True wealth is about abilities, not stuff. Wealth is:
- The ability to learn and grow
- The ability to enjoy and savor
- The ability to avoid debt or larger costs
- The ability to provide and give something of enduring value
Wealth is not money. Wealth is not accurately measured in money. Why? The purchasing power of money fluctuates too much against truly valuable things. And the value of the greatest sources of wealth cannot even be measured in terms of money. They are beyond the reach of money.
Think about a few forms of wealth, and their abilities:
- The wealth of wellness. Your body’s ability to do the things it can do. Your ability to take preventative steps and proactively live a healthy lifestyle. The ability of a healthy lifestyle to prevent potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical costs. The abilities that comprise true wealth can bypass the need for piles of money.
- The wealth of wisdom. The ability to seek and find timely advice. To learn from the experience of others. Think about the value of a friend who helps you regain perspective, and see the opportunities in front of you. When we keep a learning mindset and gather input in order to make good decisions, we can avoid costly mistakes and find the path to outcomes that exceed our expectations.
- The wealth of peace and contentment. A personal life that is fraught with conflict and suspicion is a poverty stricken existence – no matter how much money sits in the bank. A person who possesses quiet confidence and contentment will have the mental bandwidth and openness required to see rewarding opportunities that others will miss.
- The wealth of trust and teamwork. Communities driven by trust and teamwork possess capabilities and assets that are beyond the reach of money. They will demonstrate a level of resilience, cohesiveness and achievement that eludes other communities that are supposedly “better off” but fragmented by mistrust and self preoccupation.
These examples – and many others like them – underscore a simple rule: If money is all you have, then you’re going to need all you can get. And even that won’t be enough.
So, if wealth is really about abilities, not stuff and not money, then what would a wealthy world economy look like?
CHAPTER 10 A Different Kind of Economic Engine
Our beliefs and the information we act upon are very important. Do you believe that you’re destined to live in a world where a lucky few get to live in comfort by exploiting the unlucky majority (and the natural resources we force them to exploit for a meager living)? Do you want that to be the only option? What would it mean to you if you could help give a peaceful happy life to someone? To everyone? Including future generations? How does the wealthy world economy differ from the old economy?
Like most large systems, economies function because the participants have a set of generally held views about cause and effect: If we do this we’ll get that. If we don’t do x, we’ll lose y.
In other words there is a belief system at work. A wealthy world economy is different not because it has different currency or different processes, but primarily because its participants operate with different awareness and beliefs. In a wealthy world economy, three fundamental beliefs are held by the entire set of participants including the federal, state and banking policy makers, industry trend setters, and community stakeholders like you and me.
Three core beliefs that drive a wealthy world economy
1. The capabilities of nature have a value that is equal to or greater than the resources of nature. Instead of thinking in terms of “natural resources” just waiting to be mined, harvested and consumed, participants think about the capabilities of nature, the value of those capabilities, and how to preserve and enhance that value. Participants seek to cultivate the world, not cannibalize it. Historically, our valuation of natural resources tended to look only at the income potential of selling what could be harvested, mined and consumed. This mindset does not look at the value of the service or capability that the natural asset would have provided had it not been consumed (or degraded by an uninformed extraction or manufacturing process). A small forest can be chopped down and turned into a certain amount of toilet paper and furniture. But it could also provide air quality services, soil and erosion management services worth a lot more than the market value of the toilet paper and furniture. At the same time it could serve as an ecotourism attraction that drives additional local revenues, and its natural beauty and biodiversity could raise the valuations of homes in nearby neighborhoods. On top of this, there are multiple ways to get toilet paper and furniture. There are not nearly as many ways to get the kind of unique benefits and services that a healthy environment can provide. A wealthy world economy places a high value on the core capabilities of nature, which include the capabilities to: Provide clean air Provide clean water Provide food Provide beautiful spaces and experiences Manage erosion Enrich soil In this economy the participants do not support, reward or enable things that damage nature’s ability to provide these capabilities, because the participants realize this would reduce the survivability of future generations – if not their own. The attitude is: I will do my best to preserve and enhance those capabilities because doing so will enable a truly wealthy and secure world. To these participants, there is a clear choice: continue a consumption based economy that destroy’s natures capabilities; or shift to an approach that builds wealth by preserving and enhancing the capabilities of nature.
2. The market works best when its a collaboration of equally informed partners. The producer/consumer model is replaced by a partnership model. People previously thought of as “consumers” are increasingly seen as partners, codesigners, and advisors. This trend is already very pronounced among market leading companies for a couple of key reasons: The internet and mobile devices provide immediate access to information about products, their origins, and environmental impact. This enables a greater level of “information symmetry” than ever before. The uninformed, easily manipulated consumer becomes the well informed and influential partner. Companies have discovered the benefits of engaging their customers across more aspects of the product and strategy lifecycles. Data about the state of nature, its capabilities and its inhabitants is already highly available – often in realtime. The volume, usage, and understanding of this data will increase significantly as we go forward. Market leading companies have a keen recognition of the impact of this data and the awareness it will drive, and they are planning accordingly. If you want to compete and win in the market, you’d better get informed as well. The partnership aspect is central because it builds on the first tenet – that the capabilities of nature are as important as the resources of nature. The capabilities of nature, when combined with informed human creativity and collaboration, can enable a world that has an increasing ability to provide for not only this generation but future generations as well. This leads naturally to the third tenet.
3. It is not only possible but imperative to enable a wealthy world where people live happy successful lives without having to impoverish each other, and without having to impoverish future generations. Individual wealth takes its most durable form when it is supported by a carefully nurtured increase in the wealth of the planet overall. This very different from kind of economic engine that enables individual wealth by impoverishing the planet.
A wealthy world is made up of individuals who:
- Understand the true nature of poverty and wealth.
- Operate as informed partners rather than uninformed consumers, and factor the value of nature’s capabilities into their choices.
- Recognize that they have have the ability to banish poverty and help others find true wealth.
- Spend their energies in active generosity and teamwork, progressively enriching each other by providing, improving, solving and achieving together.
These core beliefs force us to rethink some key aspects and assumptions of the economy.
Rethinking the “Exit Strategy”
The commonly used investing phrase exit strategy refers to the portion of an investment plan that describes the point where the investor will sell or otherwise exit from an investment. At this point, it is expected that sufficient time, resources and attention have been allocated to the investment, and that the investment can bring an acceptable (hopefully optimal) return. While the exit strategy concept is a useful planning tool for investments with specific time windows, it can not however serve as the only metaphor for all forms of investing, especially the kind of investment required to cultivate rather than cannibalize the earth.
Unfortunately the exit strategy mentality has permeated too many levels of our thinking about investing and value. Too often, land investors, developers, and some corporations have been guilty of treating the land as if it were a library book, loaned out by a library that didn’t care what condition the book was in when it was returned.
This will change as these participants realize that some of the most important kinds of investments do not fit neatly into the exit strategy concept:
- Some investments have long time window before a return is realized.
- Some investments are perennial or cyclical – there are partial payouts or “harvests” at certain times, but then a new round of investment is required to ensure that the payouts or harvests continue.
Bottom line: There is no exit strategy for investing in the one home we have in the universe.
Rethinking Tax and Financial System Policy
Governments and financial systems need to rethink their policies and particularly look at what kind of behaviors they are incentivizing. Government tax policy in aggregate seems to have a current bias toward maximizing the flow of money past the highest number of tax collection points. This results in more tax revenue for governments but also tends to encourage two unwanted side effects:
- Unsustainable levels of consumption
- A rate of urbanization that threatens nature’s capacity to continue to provide the quality of air, water and food we need to live.
Likewise those who finance developments face the temptation to maximize revenue per acre by cramming as many sellable units into a given space, with no thought for how this impacts the capabilities of nature. When this short term profiteering is repeated across multiple developments and regions, the aggregate impact is sobering – and ugly.
Our monetary systems tend to behave as if money and the movement of money is the only kind of value that matters. Leaders with a wealthy world perspective will recognize that this needs to change. We need finance and tax policies that take into account the benefits of nature’s capabilities and encourage participants toward behaviors and projects that nurture these capabilities.
So how do we get started? This rethinking process is emerging now. And it will bring profound positive change. But to really get started on the project of enabling a wealthy world, some very specific personal change is needed. It starts with people like you and me. As we stop seeing ourselves as just consumers, and start seeing ourselves as partners, you and I can start that change in the following 3 ways:
- Choose our values deliberately
- Confront the reality of our limited time here on the planet
- Make some specific changes in our own behaviors
These points of personal change will be explored more fully in the next three chapters.
CHAPTER 11 Choosing our values deliberately
The concept of values is fuzzy for a lot of people. It was for me, for the longest time. What’s a value? If you’d asked me, “Do you have good values?” I would have said, “I have no idea”. You hear people say, “Oh this generation has lost their values”, or “You need to make sure you teach your kids good values”. What does that mean?
As I got older I began to learn about values in a very practical terms. And I finally started to arrive at a working definition of a value. For me, a value is simply: Something so important to me that I’m willing to sacrifice other important things in order to make sure it exists.
Your values are the things that are NOT optional for you. They’re non-negotiable. You will not trade these things for anything. You’ll give up other things before you surrender these things.
Let’s think about some examples of values that a person could have.
Values that relate to physical needs
- I value clean air
- I value pure water
- I value a pristine environment
- I value time
Values that relate to non-physical stuff…behaviors, spiritual things etc.
- I value Kindness
- I value Teamwork
- I value Foresight
- I value Learning
By default we do not select our values deliberately. We sort of adopt things we see others doing, and fall into patterns and habits. In other words our values were incidentally adopted, rather than deliberately scrutinized and selected. This makes us vulnerable to manipulation and prone to enable large errors – like miscalculating the worth of wetlands vs. strip malls – that we and future generations will sorely regret. To avoid this, we need to select our values deliberately.
When we set values we are recognizing some key realities:
- That not everything is of equal value. Some things deserve our full attention and devotion. Some things do not. You can last for up to 2 minutes without air, 2 days without water and maybe 2 weeks without food. How long could you go without 99% of the stuff that’s in the mall? Probably for a very long and happy lifetime.
- That there are no substitutes for certain things. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply motto used to be “There is no substitute for pure water.” There is no substitute for clean air. For your time. Your mental clarity and inner peace. These core enablers are more important – more valuable – than anything else.
- That we will need to live with awareness and hold ourselves accountable to be consistent with the values we have deliberately chosen. Sometimes with our statements we say we value certain things, but our behaviors reflect a different set of values. We will monitor our lives using our values as a standard and a guide.
When we set values we are making choices: Choosing what we will consider optional and less important Choosing to add the value of natural resources back into the equation and make choices accordingly. Choosing characteristics we want our lives to have Choosing the characteristics we want the world to have Choosing what we will treat as top priority, what we will focus on, nurture, and celebrate the most.
In a nutshell you are choosing to recognize your most critical needs, and those things that you want more than anything else. You are choosing your definition of success and wealth:
- Success = accomplishments and experiences that mean the most to us. What will make us say, “Wow! we did something really awesome.”
- Wealth = assets and abilities that mean the most to us. What will make us say, “We have everything we need, and plenty more”
This is an incredibly important step. Then, once you have deliberately chosen your values, there is something you have to confront: The reality of your limited time. It sounds unpleasant but it is the key to enabling the wealthy world economy.
CHAPTER 12 Confronting the Reality of Limited Time
You and I have limits. There is a limited number of years in my lifespan, and a limited number of hours in my day. I can only pay attention to a limited number of things each day.
This imposes certain realities: I cannot singlehandedly provide for all of my personal needs or for the needs of my family. And I cannot singlehandedly bring about and preserve all of the things that I want the world to have. I cannot even be aware of them all. I cannot bring about and preserve clean air, pure water, natural diversity, kindness, learning, etc., all by myself. I can help do these things through my work, my purchasing choices and my behaviors. I can choose to focus my life on bringing about these things, and try to reduce and eliminate anything that goes against what I feel is most valuable. But I can not do it alone.
This leads to a key point: Because I will not be able to single-handedly do all the work required to have a wealthy world, I will need to partner with you, and we will need to partner with others. We will all have to think and work together.
This partnership is the economic engine of a wealthy world. The economy of a wealthy world is a partnership to honor values that have been deliberately chosen. It is essentially the pact of a group of informed people who commit to working together to bring about and preserve the things that they decided are most important. These informed people work together in support of their deliberately chosen values.
It is different from other economic engines because it comes from the deliberate choices of people who live with awareness. Its based on the simple principle that people who depend on each other and learn from each other will always find new and exciting ways to work together and achieve great outcomes.
Wait – what about individual self interest? None of what is being stated here amounts to a denial of the self interest of the individual. It is a recognition that individuals now have the tools and knowledge available to be more highly and consistently aware of the consequences of their actions and purchase decisions.
With this higher level of awareness, our self interest can shift so it is driven by informed perspective rather than blind impulse. The truth is, the behaviors that enable a wealthy world economy will bring benefits and outcomes that are in all of our best interests.
As noted in previous chapters, we all are vulnerable to poverty in one form or other. And we all have the power to help each other escape from those forms of poverty. A wealthy world is in the best interest of all of us. We’re all in this together.
CHAPTER 13 What specifically do I need to change in my own life?
In the previous chapter we pointed out a couple of key culprits – me and you – who also happen to be the players most capable of making significant changes in ourselves, and then helping to bring significant change in others.
So what specifically do I need to change in my own life? You can start to answer that question by looking at how you relate to and use stuff – toys, cars, clothes, gadgets – and how your relationship to stuff changes when you decide that you are going to do your part to enable a wealthy world.
Remember, we the paying consumers of energy, goods and services have an especially pivotal role in enabling a wealthy world economy. So it’s crucial that we develop our awareness of what we buy and why we buy it. This is worth thinking about because as Daniel Kahneman points out in his great book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” our minds continuously develop intuitive conclusions without our awareness. We often accept and act on these conclusions without judging their accuracy or implications.
If we want to create a personal change in our lives, its important to spend time trying to understand our basic perceptions and habits, so we can evaluate how we want to change them.
4 Reasons We Love Stuff
Somewhere between grade school and college, you probably picked up on the several basic kinds of value that material goods provide. Let’s review.
- Positional Value. We love some kinds of stuff because of its positional value. It gives us the assurance or the appearance of being in a certain status, or income bracket (even if we aren’t). Economists call these “positional goods.” Their main function is to give you at least the appearance of a certain position in society. These products are supposed to signal that you’ve arrived, or attained a certain level of purchasing power. These products typically cost more, while providing utilitarian value that is in reality comparable to and often inferior to lower cost products. For example, a very “prestigious” car brand may have the inferior track record for reliability.
- Psychological Value. We love other kinds of stuff because it gives us a happiness boost. The boost can be overtly chemical, like a cup of coffee; or physical, like a very comfortable chair or flannel shirt. Psychological value can also be more subtle, like the feelings I have when I peruse the bird guide that my Grandpa gave my Dad on his 12th birthday. It can be a feeling of connection to a musician and her songs. Or an appreciation for the passion of an artisan who produces beautiful pottery. The good feelings could be feelings of validation or assurance noted in the paragraph about Positional stuff – the assurance of being “OK” or accepted.
- Utilitarian Value. Stuff with utilitarian value lets you get things done (ladders, pliers, spatulas), avoid undesirable real world consequences (helmets, steel toed boots) or gain capabilities you otherwise would not have (surfboards, wingsuits, canoes, bicycles). Things with utilitarian value can also offer psychological value – like a multi-tool that makes you feel like you’re ready for anything! In some cases utilitarian goods can provide positional value. “Ah! you bought the (whatever tool) – you must be a serious woodcarver!”
- Investment Value. Investments are things that you buy today because you believe they have some likelihood of having a higher value or benefit at some point in the future. While some investments are fairly intangible (stocks and bonds for example), tangible investments could include art, gold bars, vintage comic books, or real estate. As with most of the other “stuff” we’ve reviewed, investments can also offer psychological and positional value.
The Wealthy World Perspective
If I want to do my part to enable a wealthy world, I will value stuff a little differently. Why? Because when I think about a wealthy world, and how impactful that could be, it causes me to see the value of things in a different way.
Here are the same four types of value, but this time with the added realization that building a wealthy world would be much more beneficial and tangible than focusing on the illusion of individual wealth.
- Positional Value. If I am committed to doing my part to enable a Wealthy World, then I am going to limit my consumption of stuff that offers purely positional value. There simply is no reason why I would need to use material goods to position myself. Instead of paying a premium for goods that have apparent prestige, I am going to look at where thing was made, what purpose does it serve, what do I need from it, and make choices accordingly. If I sense that buying a certain product will cause certain people to perceive me a certain way, then I will be willing to question and challenge their perceptions, rather than act in fear of them. And I will try to remember that the most prestigious thing I can do – if prestige is my thing – is to be smart with the resources I am responsible for.
- Psychological Value. I will try to be aware of my own feelings about the things I have or want. I will realize that my feelings can serve as a powerful motivator to reuse things that deserve to be used, and to preserve things that are important. I am reusing my Dad’s binoculars because they remind me of him and of my childhood days spent observing birds and other animals through them.
- Utilitarian. I will try to find and learn to use the best tools. I will buy a few good ones if I need to, but also try to work out sharing arrangements so I can have access to utilitarian goods without having to actually “own” them. I will likewise share the things I have so others aren’t forced to purchase things they use infrequently. I will try to remember the adage “Don’t own what you can locate.” I will try not to be a sucker for tools and gadgets. I’ll be careful not to accumulate too many of them, or end up with ones that seem cool but are less than functional.
- Investments. I will try to make wise investments in natural resources, businesses, teams, and products that support the wealthy world concept. I will focus first on investing in people, their education and well being. I will invest heavily in my family’s education – both formal and informal. I will be very selective when accumulating stuff in hopes that it will be “worth a lot someday”. I will be open to investing in truly important things whose returns may not be realized in my lifetime.
Recognize what is most valuable to you
Live by that. Stuff has limited value. Beyond stuff is where the real meaning and real importance exists. Even people with billions of dollars bear this out. They don’t go buy a billion dollar thing. They give their money to a cause to try to achieve some kind of result! Which brings us to the theme of the next chapter: there is something better than stuff! What is better than consuming and collecting? Seeing good results from taking action and being part of the team effort to build a wealthy world!
CHAPTER 14 Nine Great Ways to Start
Once we have reset or refreshed our thinking about our values and our world, its exciting to think about how to we can take our new perspectives and turn them into action. So here are some great ways you can have fun with your family and friends while helping to build a wealthy world!
1. Keep learning.
This book is just a starting point. There are many books and resources that can help you educate yourself and your family. As I developed the wealthy world idea, the following books and online resources were very helpful. They challenged my thinking and gave me fresh perspectives:
- Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins
- Simple Prosperity by David Wann
- The Economics of Social Issues by Ansel Sharp, Charles Register, Paul Grimes
- The Future of the Wild by John Adams
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia
- Unthink by Erik Wahl
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
- Story of Stuff – started as a highly entertaining short online movie about consumerism. Has turned into a series of movies about related topics.
- The Stockholm Memorandum – A memo from the 2011 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability in Stockholm, Sweden asserting that the earth had entered a new era – the Anthropocene era – where human activity is now the dominant influence on the planet.
- http://www.globalrichlist.com – Enter your household income and see where you rank in the richest people on earth. Eye-opening.
2. Make a list of businesses that support your values.
The more you think from the wealthy world perspective, the more you will notice businesses and organizations that support your perspective (and those that do not). Keep a list and try to support and advocate those businesses. Start and maintain a dialogue with those businesses – let them know what you like and what you don’t like. Businesses come in all industries and sizes, and they are often in different stages of learning and maturing. They usually want your feedback, and it can be a very helpful influence in their future direction. Don’t be afraid to engage a business that you disapprove of, and tell them in a calm reasonable way how you feel.
3. Join a nature or conservation effort.
Consider formal membership or at least joining a Facebook group or other social network. Local chapters of conservation and wildlife groups typically have Facebook groups consisting of active members in the local area. These have multiple benefits, not only will you connect with like minded people but you will also get a chance to learn about many of great activities and initiatives that are happening locally and on a larger scale. I am part of the New Hope Audubon Society group on Facebook. Some of the benefits for me: Learn about and participate in trail building projects. Learn about issues and concerns I can support or help address. Post photos of species I’m unfamiliar with – and other members will chime in and help identify them. Plan hikes and bird walks.
4. Start a Nature Guide or Journal for your Neighborhood.
Start keeping a list of the plant and animal species that live in and around your neighborhood. Share the list on a blog or social media page with your neighbors and invite them to help you keep it up to date. Not only is this a fun way to build relationships with your neighbors but it can help you and your neighbors learn about what other creatures share their habitat with you. As you learn about what they need to thrive, you’ll find ways to enrich the natural beauty, diversity and significance of your neighborhood.
5. Plant native plants in your yard.
Native plant nurseries typically are willing to consult with you on your yard, and recommend the plants that are best for the sunny or shady parts of your yard. Native evergreens can provide shelter during cold months. Native flowers provide food for butterflies and hummingbirds. Leaving a portion of your yard in a gently managed natural state can help give native plants and animals the space they need to live out their lives.
6. Teach your children to treasure the wealth of nature.
Take walks in natural habitats. Notice the tiny things. They have great lessons to offer. Go to the same places over and over until you get to know them. Buy or download nature guides – some of the very best ones are available for mobile devices. Learn to identify not just the sights but also the sounds of nature: Insect sounds Frogs The songs of birds The contact calls of birds staying in touch with each other as they forage. You’ll enjoy hours of quality time together, and gain some wonderful memories. But you’ll also be doing something else: teaching them to care for and nurture the one home we have in the universe.
7. Learn and leverage the power of systems thinking.
Systems thinking is one of the incredibly important skills we can learn from the study of nature. Going forward, strong systems thinking is the mental skill set that people will need not only for rewarding careers but also for the key challenges and opportunities of the future. One of the most important ways you can position your self and your children for future success is to give them a strong foundation in systems thinking. Three key points to consider regarding the importance of systems thinking:
- The largest blunders of the 20th and 21st centuries were rooted in ignorance of systems thinking. The universe is made up of systems. Collections of factors, components, players, spaces that interact in complex ways and drive accumulating consequences. We entered the 20th century with very little understanding of the complex systems that enable our planet’s living populations. The colonial powers thought of the world’s peoples and resources largely as toys that they could manipulate as they saw fit, with no consequences. Even now in the opening years of the 21st century, many players continue to operate with crude oversimplified assumptions about cause and effect.
- Societies, economies, industries, and technology based networks are all collections of systems and super systems. They enable spaces where multiple kinds of players and capabilities interact. We can learn how to interact with systems and gain the outcomes we need. But we cannot control them, and we cannot manipulate them carelessly without consequences. That is why I argue that going forward, strong systems thinking is the mental skill set that people will need not only for rewarding careers but also for the key challenges and opportunities of the future. If you want to be at the forefront of opening up new economic opportunities that lead to a wealthy world, focus on systems thinking. If you want to position your children for positive and impactful lives, give them a strong foundation in systems thinking. And how to do this? Take them into nature. The observation skills and mental habits they develop there will have a huge positive impact on their ability to achieve their goals. Learning how to determine what influences what, learning what to change, and what to leave alone, what to cultivate rather than obliterate, what needs more time, and when the time is up. These kinds of factors play into the daily decisions of influential leaders. Those who lack a strong foundation in systems thinking will not have the mental endurance, the patient capacity for detailed observation, and the reliable pattern recognition ability required to drive good decisions and outcomes.
- You will find complex interdependent systems under logs, in streams, in the leaves. Each walk in the woods can give you views into the patterns of relationships between species of plants, animals and geological features, and their impact on each other. From the treetop level, to the soil level, to the molecular and chemistry levels, there are abundant lessons, usable patterns and game-changing insights worthy of a lifetime of learning. And they are directly applicable to problems in other complex systems and networks. Nature is the greatest laboratory in existence for those who wish to master systems thinking, and its lessons will be more applicable than ever to the future of human achievement.
8. Write an app or start a startup.
- Apps and startups often give us platforms to test theories about how things might work better. For example, will people be willing to listen to streaming music instead of downloading it to their devices? That was a key question that some music startups set out to answer, and some have done so quite successfully. In the wealthy world model there are many fascinating theories and questions that need to be tested and answered:
- What are the key measures of the true wealth of the world, and how would people participate in measuring and tracking them? We need to figure out better and more consistent ways to measure the wealth of communities and of the world. After all we want to know how well we’re doing, right? Food for thought: Indian economist Amartya Sen has worked on ideas for measuring the well being of communities. See http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amartya_Sen.
- What would people do differently if those measures were a more prominent part of the purchasing process? How would those measures affect the financing of development, and tax policy?
- Are there better ways to finance and sustain natural spaces and wilderness areas?
- What would enable the economic value of forests and parks to be tracked more equitably against the economic value of typical development projects?
Keep in mind there is an entire range of exciting ways to enable a wealthy world economy and these are just a selection. Many more ideas are waiting to be discovered by you and your co-conspirators!
With the help of several friends or neighbors, make a list of items you’d be willing to let each other borrow. Keep the list in a place that is easy for all of you to access (along with a method of contacting the owner). As the saying goes, Don’t own what you can borrow. This could apply to tools, clothes, vehicles and boats.
CHAPTER 15 From Here
You and your family and friends will have more ideas – better ones! – and find more ways to build a wealthy world. And that is the exciting thing about living with a wealthy world motive, and keeping it top of mind. You are now joining a growing group of people who look at the world through a different lens, and who live and work with a deliberate purpose in mind: to enable a wealthy world.
When you look at life through this lens you are going to see opportunities you wouldn’t have seen before. You will discover insights and fresh angles for solving tough problems. This becomes especially powerful when its a group of people, working and thinking together. Look for people who have a wealthy world in mind. Work and learn and have fun with them. Astonishing new ideas and opportunities await your discovery!
We can’t help but be at least mildly impressed when we look across the night sky at our achievements. The city skylines, the airplanes with their little blinking lights, or the sparking glint of satellites zooming above the earth.
But imagine what it would be like to be able to look up into the stars one evening and say: On this planet, in this corner of the universe, no one is hungry. No one is poor. The air is clean, the water is pure, and there is a tapestry of abundant life and opportunity every where you look. We live in a truly wealthy world.