Generating Value and Impact, for Whom?

A group’s impact, the value it generates, is a common measure of its success.  Groups that generate greater impact and value tend to have greater access to the resources they need to continue generating impact and value.

We can understand a group’s impact and value generated as the energy it is able to engage, transform, and transfer.  This energy engagement, transformation, and transfer is described by the geometries of the agreements field.  The transferred energy can then generate even more energy, a surplus.  Who ends up with the energy and the future impact it generates depends on the agreement about the energy transfer–the giver who engaged, transformed, and transferred the energy or the recipient to whom the energy was transferred.

  • Transaction.  In a transaction, energy flows towards the giver (payment) and towards the recipient (transferred energy).  Energy flows both ways, in the moment.  The giver no longer has a relationship with the transferred energy: the energy transferred now belongs to the recipient.  The recipient keeps any future surplus generated from the energy received.  The recipient now has the energy, and can use it to generate new impacts and value.  The giver receives energy, in another form, for having engaged, transformed, and transferred energy.
  • Loan.  In a loan, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient, for awhile, with the requirement that the amount of energy transferred plus some surplus be returned to the giver in the future.  Energy flows first to the recipient and then back to the giver.  The giver receives the energy and surplus for having let the recipient use the energy for awhile.
  • Gift.  With a gift, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  Any future surplus generated is for the recipient.  Energy flows to the recipient.  The giver receives the awareness of the future impacts the recipient generates and retains.
  • Reciprocity.  In a gift ecology, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  The recipient generates surplus value with the energy, and transfers it to someone else.  The energy transferred, plus the surpluses generated along the way, eventually are transferred to the initial giver.  The energy and accumulating surplus flows around, through the circle, with all participants receiving and generating more.

People often label what they are doing as a gift, a loan, a transaction, or reciprocal.  Sometimes it is what they say it is.  Other times, they are not. For example, what is labeled a gift might have expectations of return, thus it is a loan.  By looking at what the giver receives back and who receives future surplus the energy transferred generates, you can see what is actually happening.  All four forms are valid.  The point is to be clear on the intention, and what is actually flowing.  Who do you want to benefit from the value/impact generated?  Who do you want to end up with the energy generated?  It is a choice.

4 Lenses on Money, Its Economic, Political, Cultural, and Social History — Recommended Readings

Dodd, Nigel, The Social Life of Money, 2014, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.  See introduction here.

Graeber, David, Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Ideas, 2002, New York: Palgrave.  See online here.

Martin, Felix, Money: The Unauthorized Biography, 2013, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  Read an excerpt here.

Simmel, Georg, The Philosophy of Money, 2004, New York: Routledge.  See online here.

In my continuing deep dive into the Ecosynomics of money, I highly recommend these four huge sweeps through the broad and deep literature of money, from the perspective of economists, political philosophers, cultural anthropologists, and sociologists.  They represent four very different, seldom overlapping explorations of millennia of thinking and practice with money across hundreds of groupings of people.  Not a single one of these is a quick read, rather authoritative, deeply mesmerizing journeys through thousands of minds, with clear frameworks, disciplinary perspectives, and excellent writing.

Given the massive sweep, both broad and deep, each author takes in these four tomes, I will not attempt to summarize or synthesize their work here, rather acknowledge the perspective they bring, showing you the invitation they offer you, if you choose to dive into their waters.

In The Philosophy of Money, Georg Simmel, a German philosopher and sociologist writing in the late 1800s, takes the philosopher’s stance, specifying what value is, how money is a symbol for value, how this symbol plays out in the consequences of money as a substance in social processes, and its impact on social values, such as individual freedom, and on specific institutions, such as marriage, work, manual labor, and life style.  Very dense and full of extraordinary insights.

Oxford-trained economist Felix Martin takes a historical dive into a wide range of stories in Money, taking the reader into the deeper stories and context in which political-economic innovations played important roles in the evolution of money, from shifts in its form to the expansion of markets, political and economic actors, and levers of monies use, such as interest rates and success metrics.  A very entertaining read, diving into the rich stories along the way of money’s evolution.

David Graeber, a Chicago-trained anthropologist, provides a beautifully articulated exploration of what hundreds of anthropologists have learned about how peoples around the world have evolved their own understanding of and application of systems of value.  Typical to Graeber’s writing, like his book Debt, he shows how the economist’s assumptions about how money evolved out of barter run completely against the hundreds of deep, long-term anthropological studies of the very societies economists claim to represent.  There have been many nuanced perspectives of what people value and how they reflect those values in the currencies they use.  This is a deeper, nuanced read for the more academically inclined.

Sociology professor at the London School of Economics, Nigel Dodd explores the development of many streams of sociological research into money systems, diving into what the original authors meant, contemporary interpretations, and how these various streams have evolved.  This deep literature review covers sociological perspectives that see money as capital, as debt, as guilt,  as waste, as territory, as culture, and as a variety of monetary utopian visions.  If you can’t see the forest through the trees or the terrain through the forests, this broad scholarly journey through dozens of thick journals, shows the patterns of forests, highlighting the dimensions for a synthesis of the sociology of money, as seen from different cultures on the planet and different points in time.

Four perspectives on money and what hundreds of deep-thinking, often very practical, philosophers have observed across the planet for millennia.


Money’s Nature, Big History, and Tools of the Richest — Recommended Readings

A few colleagues and I are working on cracking the Ecosynomics of money.  What is money, from a scientific, abundance-based perspective?  What money agreements would Ecosynomics suggest?  What are we learning from high vibrancy groups working with money agreements?  That is our exploration.  We will be sharing what we are seeing over the next months.

Building on our earlier exploration of money agreements and dynamics, I have been reading a wide variety of perspectives on money, from different social sciences.  For a broad bibliography on money from my earlier readings, click here, and for a movie on money that brings many thought leaders together, click here for a conventional view and here for an unconventional view.  From my recent readings, here is an initial list I highly recommend (with links to the book on and GoogleBooks).

  • The Nature of Money 2004 by Geoffrey Ingham. A Cambridge U sociologist scans the sociological and political history of insights into money.  Amazon Google
  • Money: Master the Game 2014 by Tony Robbins.  The best-selling author highlights how 50 legendary financial experts alive today think about money.  Amazon Google
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years 2011 by David Graeber.  A cultural anthropologist synthesizes the vast field of ethnographic field research on money and credit systems.  Amazon Google

I am looking for a wide variety of perspectives on what money is.  From economics, political science, cultural anthropology, sociology, and philosophy and any other perspective you can think of.  Are there any well written reflections on money that you would recommend?

Guest post — An Abundance-based Approach to Fostering LOcal Wellbeing (FLOW)

Guest post by Anna Cowen, Meshfield co-founder, architect, urbanist, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward and John Ziniades, Meshfield co-founder, internet entrepreneur, engineer, facilitator, and Vibrancy South Africa steward


What is the light touch needed to awaken a place into its’ full expression of “grounded possibility”? How can we foster the kind of growing conditions that will support human beings’ capacity to thrive in the face of mounting inequality and poverty, devastating climate change, peak energy and water, widespread resource depletion and eco-system destruction?

These are the key guiding questions that inspire the FLOW project, a new initiative with deep, old roots that is currently unfolding in two South African locales simultaneously.

A sense of “what is possible”: imagine interconnected networks of self-governing, self-regulating, agile communities that are intimately connected to and protective of their locales, each living within the carrying capacity of their place. Communities that know the contours of their landscapes, in their physicality, and communities that are peopled with individuals who know and are known through their relationships with one another. Places where the idea of “work” is fundamentally reframed into something that is enjoyed, not endured, where “work” is expressing the fullness of being human, in all our abundant creativity, in service of both our selves and our communities. Communities that are rooted in the local, yet connected globally, part of planetary networks of iterative learning and rapid feedback, where knowledge is a common good and the enclosure of the knowledge commons a distant memory. Places where everyone has enough – where most basic needs are met through hyper-localized production of food, energy, water, shelter and clothing supported by systems of globally networked, distributed manufacturing using open methods of production. And where trade and learning between bioregions and countries and continents ensure access to the goods and services that can’t be made locally. These are communities where the elderly are honored as the keepers of wisdom, are included and taken care of, and where preventative health care and life long education are knitted into the very fabric of daily life.

The FLOW Project proposes that the ‘growing conditions’ needed to both ground this imagining and to support the kind of innovation, creativity and adaptive capacity that will ensure that sentient life can still thrive on earth require three interpenetrating, foundational dimensions. Each dimension is expressed in both individuals as well as in communities as a whole. The first is a thorough and embodied awareness, understanding and knowledge of the systems that support life, both the natural and human made systems. The second is a grounded sense of self-worth, autonomy and agency. The third – robust community bonds and strong social ties – a sense of communion and belonging. FLOW suggests that if these three cornerstones are strong, and are nourished and replenished on an ongoing basis, then a thick and fecund mesh of ‘grounded possibility’ will develop, enabling the kind of bold new thinking, doing and being that is needed if life is going to flourish on earth again.

The FLOW project goes about building and enhancing these three cornerstones in any given community through three interconnected activities. The first is through developing the leadership skills and capacities of groups of local youth – the FLOW Ambassadors. The second is through making visible, by mapping and storytelling using appreciative enquiry lenses resource flows, natural and human made systems, skills, goods and services, local heroes and heroines. The third is through bolstering localized economic exchange through the introduction of a local currency, a mutual credit system entirely backed by the goods and services of local businesses.

The intention is to create, within FLOW’s first year in any given community:

  • A cohort of trained, empowered local youth in each locale – the FLOW Ambassadors – that will play an awareness raising role in their local communities around the use of the local currencies, general environmental and social awareness and the identification and catalysing of new green and social entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • A first iteration of a functional, context responsive, locally appropriate community currency in place in each town, backed by the goods and services of the FLOW Business Network in each place respectively.
  • A series of FLOW Ambassador generated and community-owned maps (both digital and physical) that include representation of the economic activity in each locale, the resource flows, the unique assets and dependencies of each place, and locally appropriate social and green entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • A series of short movies made on mobile phones by the FLOW Ambassadors that include 30-second “marketing” videos promoting the FLOW Business Network members (also linked to the digital map), a series of 2-minute movies called “Loving Local” that showcase local heroes and assets, 2-minute documentary movies that describe the local resource flows and dependencies, as well as the “Seeds of Transition” movie series – local “positive deviants” that are already demonstrating green and social entrepreneurial activity that can both inspire others, and be enhanced and amplified in their own right.

FLOW has been on the ground since October 2014. See for ongoing updates and more information.

Money, Power, and a 3rd Metric for Thriving — Recommended Reading

Huffington, Arianna, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder. 2014, New York: Harmony Books.  

[You can see a reader’s guide to the book here.]

While most people seem to be quite clear on what it means to experience a life well lived, how to achieve it seems to elude the great majority.  The gap between the what and the how of a good life is wide.  Why?  The emerging science of abundance, Ecosynomics, suggests that much of the gap can be explained by the agreements most people unconsciously accept.  By not being aware of the deeply embedded assumptions we all accept in our daily interactions, we unconsciously live in to a “how” of achieving a life well lived that is misaligned with our intentions.  We accept a means that does not get us to the ends we want.  We accept this means because it seems to make sense.  Yet, the means we accept is incomplete, describing only part of the path towards a full life.  This incompleteness is hidden in the economic, political, cultural, and social assumptions we unknowingly accept.  Author and founder of Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, suggests a more complete set of metrics for success.

“The way we’ve defined success is not enough.  And it’s no longer sustainable: It’s no longer sustainable for human beings or for societies.  To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.” (pages 3-4 of book)

Arianna describes and illustrates these four pillars of the third metric with vivid examples from her own life, from a wide breadth of recent research, and from many examples of people making more conscious choices about these critical assumptions.  I highly recommend this practical look at a life well lived.

The Dynamics of Our Relationship with Money

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Ned Hulbert. 2009. The Dynamics of Our Relationship with Money, White Paper, Belchertown, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, March.

We have been studying newly emerging agreements about money that are shifting human behavior in fundamental ways at a societal level. Based on our study of a number of authors on the topic of money, this paper seeks to synthesize their perspectives and to explore the dynamics of newly emerging systems of societal relationships at economic, political and cultural levels. By mapping these new relationships and behaviors, we hope to integrate and present them as helpful social insights.

The new ways of understanding and working with money have not yet been presented in a whole system picture. The presentation of a larger societal systems picture, along with analysis of the archetypal patterns behind it, can further dialogue among those concerned to understand and support a shift to a healthier social order.

Strings of Agreements with Money

Past-cast Series — Seeing relevance in earlier publications

Ritchie-Dunham, James L., and Ned Hulbert. 2009. Strings of Agreements with Money, White Paper, Belchertown, MA: Institute for Strategic Clarity, February.

The breakdown in September 2008 of the world’s financial and money systems has created a crisis that endangers the stability and vitality of societies world-wide. We must reshape our now broken systems with new, healthy agreements for working with money and one another. We can restore a social balance and enable the basic needs of individuals and society to be met. Organizations and the larger systems within which they function can benefit from articulating and working with the new agreements. The financial crisis shows us very clearly what is unhealthy.

To Be or Not to Be, Happy with Money, That Is the Question

Dunn, Elizabeth, & Norton, Michael. (2013). Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Most experiences of money do not increase happiness.  Some do.  So say 2002 Nobel laureate in economics Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues (Kahneman & Deaton, 2010; Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone, 2006).  In their new book Happy Money (2013), professors Dunn and Norton show us the research that explains why.  From an Ecosynomics perspective, this research shows that happiness comes from the experience of potential and development and things, light and motion and matterthe interweaving experience of all three levels of perceived reality.  The lack of happiness comes from valuing only the things level of reality.  Dunn and Norton say it so well, that I use quotes from their book to explain the observation.

Only the Things Level.  What happens when people experience money only at the things-matter level? “Material purchases offer clear, concrete benefits, explaining their appeal.  We can see them in front of us and hold them in our hands” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 22).  And the value we experience, in terms of increased happiness, fades quickly with material purchases.  In many cases, we derive more happiness from the anticipation of the purchase than the actual purchase.  “Why do we fail to recognize that consuming later can enhance enjoyment?  Research shows that when something nice is available immediately, the “power of now” dwarfs all else” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 90).  “It’s difficult to overcome the power of now, but it’s possible to harness this force” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 102-103).

Both the Development and Things Levels.  What happens in experiential purchases (over time) versus material-transaction purchases, when both the development and things levels of reality are perceived?  “Research shows that satisfaction with experiential purchases tends to increase with the passage of time, while satisfaction with material purchases tends to decrease” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, pp. 23-24).  “Because the benefits of experiences are often more abstract than the benefits of material goods, it’s easier to appreciate the value of experiential purchases with the psychological distance that time provides”  (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 23).

And the Possibility Level. “The ability to generate pleasant thoughts about the future is a hallmark of psychological health…Anticipating good things produces a distinct pattern of neural activation in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain linked to the experience of pleasure and reward” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 82; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).  “The same region of the brain that responds when we anticipate something good (the nucleus accumbens) loses interest once we’ve gotten it” (Dunn & Norton, 2013, p. 86; Knutson & Peterson, 2005, p. 310).

The authors suggest five principles of happy money, making choices about how we spend money on experiences we have in all three levels of perceived reality (possibility, development, things), and not just the things level.  They provide the research that shows these five principles will increase the happiness we derive from the use of our money.  I highly recommend Happy Money as a very accessible journey through the research that shows how to get the most value of one’s experiences around money.


Kahneman, Daniel, & Deaton, Angus. (2010). High Income Improves Evaluation of Life But Not Emotional Well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493.

Kahneman, Daniel, Krueger, Alan B, Schkade, David, Schwarz, Norbert, & Stone, Arthur A. (2006). Would You Be Happier If You Were Richer?  A Focusing Illusion. Science, 312(5782), 1908-1910.

Knutson, Brian, & Peterson, Richard. (2005). Neurally Reconstructing Expected Utility. Games and Economic Behavior, 52(2), 305-315.

Money — The Agreements We Seldom See — A New Movie

A movie that will change your perception of money, @moneylifemovie, available for anyone to view or to host a screening.

What Do We Agree to in Our Money System — Complementary Currencies

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend about the beauty of the paper currency in some countries.  He showed me a BerkShare.[1]  At first I thought it was play money.  Assuring me it was real, he told me about a community in the western part of Massachusetts that had created its own complementary currency.  In the moment, this sounded like a great innovation.  In all of the economics classes I had taken, and after years as a business professor, I had never heard of these complementary currencies.  How many could there be?  Two to three?  I then found Bernard Lietaer’s writings.[2]  He identified two complementary currencies existing in 1984, growing to 200 in 1990.  He has documented over 4,800 in existence today![3]

These are called complementary currencies or alternative currencies, because people use these currencies alongside the national currencies – they complement the national currency.

This verb-level innovation speaks directly to the nature of agreements people make around the value questions: what is the value of an exchange, what is the mode of the exchange, and who participates in the distribution of value in the exchange?  To see the innovation in complementary currencies, I will start by describing the currencies we all know, national currencies.

Most countries have their own national currencies, the money people can use to buy stuff in that country.  Governments decree the value they place on a piece of paper they call their national currency.  For example, Japan has the yen, and Mexico has the peso.  With approximately 195 countries in the world, there are about 180 “national” currencies, allowing for some shared currencies like the euro and the dollar.[4]  Economists describe three functions this form of money has: medium of exchange; unit of account; and store of value.[5]  These three functions described the things-noun levels attributes of value, as seen through the value lens of “what criteria.”  The paper the currency is printed on has no value of its own, and it symbolizes a liquid form of something that does have value.  This liquidity makes it easy to exchange, and the paper form makes it easy to keep track of and store for awhile.  This money is designed to be scarce.  Governments and banks carefully control who gets to print it and who decides how much there is.[6]

Complementary currencies shift the things-noun level assumption of scarcity into a development-verb level assumption of abundance by changing the agreements that back up the currency.  When looking through lens #3 of “what critieria,” I showed how the three value questions look quite different at the light, verb, and noun levels.  The three questions address the value, mode, and distribution of exchange.  The verb-level expands the “what is of value?” question to include both the things we pay for and the things we do not usually pay for in our experience of the journey of life and our own development.  Examples include our time taking care of family and volunteering at the local soup kitchen.[7]  The verb-level also expands the “mode of exchange” question to include a broader definition of how we might exchange it, bringing into question noun-level concepts such as interest rates (e.g., positive, neutral, negative) and what is being exchanged (e.g., paper, time, bartered things and services).

The distribution question at the verb level suggests that the person who is doing something perceives the value, in addition to the noun-level fixation on value goes to the person who has the money.  One way this is done is by keeping the currency moving locally.  Economists use the “velocity of money” to determine how much a currency is exchanged in a given period of time within a given geography.  Simply defined, the amount of value exchanged equals the amount of money times the velocity of money.  This means that when $100 comes into a community, it is available for increasing the total value exchanged in the community.  National currencies promote coming into the community, say via wages and then being spent at a large store, which usually takes the money right back out of the community.  It was exchanged once for a total value to the community of $100.  A very different approach uses complementary currencies, such as the BerkShare to local use.  A consumer buys $1 of BerkShares at the bank for 90 cents of USA national currency.  This BerkShare can only be redeemed at the bank by local businesses.  This design promotes that same $100 to be used a dozen times locally before it comes back to the bank and leaves the community.  This would be $1,200 of total value exchanged with that $100.  This greatly increases the local output.

Each complementary currency decides which of these verb and noun-level features it designs into its complementary currency.[8]  In the case of time banks, a complementary currency now if effect in communities across the globe, people create their own “currency” by giving hours of their own time to an activity that someone else wants and receiving credit they can use to obtain services they need.  For example, I can give a day of management consulting to a local business, knowing I can get two weeks of daycare for my child with the credit I create.  This is different from having to work under a contract for a national currency, in which case employers tend to have the upper hand in determining how much they will give you for how much time you give them.  With the time bank, you as an individual decide how much currency you want to create.

As you can see from these examples of ABCD, town meetings, cooperatives, and complementary currencies, many groups around the world, involving millions of people, have succeeded in making agreements that bring greater abundance into their lives.  So far we have looked at how this can be done by shifting from a things-noun perspective to embrace the more dynamic perspective of development-verb.  I now want examples of innovations that generate much greater abundance by including those two levels and, simultaneously, taking on the perspective of possibility-light.

[1] For more on the story of BerkShares, visit ( or see (Barry, 2007).

[2] Bernard Lietaer has documented the development of complementary currencies, which you can follow at ( or read in (B. A. Lietaer, 2001).  Bernard co-designed and implemented the convergence mechanism to the single European currency system (the Euro) and served as president of the Electronic Payment System at the National Bank of Belgium (the Belgian Central Bank)

[3] For the number of complementary currencies, visit the Complementary Currency database or see (B. Lietaer, 2003, p. 12).  Bernard Lietaer estimates there are over 5,000 community currency systems in operation, as of 2009, as cited in (Gelleri, 2009).  Another estimate in 2006 was 4,000 (Wheatley, 2006).

[4] I say that the number of countries in the world is approximate, because it depends on who is counting, and the criteria they use, which are mostly political.  The CIA’s World Factbook counts 195 countries (The World Factbook 2011, 2011).  There are 193 member states in the United Nations.  One source for the number of active currencies in the world is (The World Factbook 2011, 2009).

[5] For standard, economic descriptions of the functions of money, see (Greenwald, 1983, p. 300; Mankiw, 2008, pp. 642-643).  For economic and anthropologic perspectives on the historical development of money, see (Ferguson, 2008; Galbraith, 1975; Graeber, 2011; Needleman, 1991).

[6] Currencies also have specific dynamics designed into them, which influence who has it, who does not have it, and who accumulates it.  For example, inflation is designed into national currencies, with money losing value over time – the costs are higher tomorrow, so the dollar you earned in 1990 will buy you less in 2000.  To compensate for inflation, people loan money to others with a requirement that they pay it back in the future, with interest.  While this interest covers the risk involved in loaning the money, the interest rate is higher because of inflation.  Because this national money is both scarce and inflationary, people require a positive rate of return for the use of their money – this means that their money makes money.  Once someone has surplus money, more than they need, then their money can make money on its own.  This feature is designed into the currency.  For more on the dynamics of money, see (Ritchie-Dunham, 2009).

[7] Riane Eisler, Lynne Twist, and colleagues have written extensively about the “caring economy” and new models for incorporating it into what is counted in the economy (Eisler, 2007; Twist, 2003).

[8] For recent descriptions of complementary currencies in use, see (Hallsmith & Lietaer, 2011; North, 2010).