Possession-based Economy

I recently read a blog post by Tom Graves (Tetradian, known as @tetradian on twitter!) which can be accessed here:
and posted a comment. Mr Graves was kind enough to respond to my comment, and brought up some points that I’d like to talk about, but my posts are likely to be long and I’d prefer not to hijack his blog, so I thought this was a good opportunity to start my own blog. In this post I’d like to do two things – explain a little of my background, and answer some of the points that Mr Graves has made in his initial post, and in his response to me. If I’m very lucky, this may result in a conversation:-)

The original post was talking about this: “there is no way to make a possession-based economy sustainable.”

Well – I agree. I think the way the economy works worldwide at the moment is not sustainable, and that if we are to avoid our future looking very much like some of the post-apocalyptic novels that have been very popular in the Miller household over the last decade or so, something fundamental has to change, radically and soon.

My problem is – what? How? When? Where? I’m guessing this exposes me for the analyst that I truly am at heart:-) Tom Graves is an architect, and is writing about high level theory. All of my adult life I have had the company of people who think at a very high level, who have great ideas, who can grasp the high-level concepts. I married one. But I’m not one. I am not an architect, in the context that I’ve seen the word being used in work and on Twitter and in this community that I’ve recently discovered of people who call themselves business architects and enterprise architects and talk of philosophies, techniques, methods, theories and frameworks that are all completely new to me.

I’m not saying that I can’t understand concepts at the high level, but it certainly doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t have the degree of creativity and vision that these people do, the blue sky thinking, the muse. It would appear that my purpose in life is to enable or empower or assist these people with the high level visions to make their dreams come true.

This can take the form of business analysis for instance, in the workplace, diving into requirements, finding out what people need and how this can be achieved by asking the right questions. It can also be by acting as a sounding board, or by networking – listening to people, assessing their capabilities, understanding their needs, matching capability to need. I have done this with slowly growing levels of success and awareness for over twenty years now. I’ve had some spectacular failures – started up a couple of businesses that tanked for example, and some equally spectacular successes (including introducing two friends whom I thought might like each other and who ended up getting married – I’m particularly proud of that one:-)

I don’t have the vision, the high-level sight, the initial idea myself. But if I agree with it, I add my input, my energy, my will to it and hopefully empower it.

So that’s a little about my background. And so on to Mr Graves’ post:

Well, I get quite a long way into the post without anything more constructive than ‘I agree’. And then I get to:

“The alternative to a possession-based economy is a responsibility-based model: one in which we ‘own’ something because we declare responsibility for it and manage it accordingly – much like the notion of ‘process-owner’ or ‘project-owner’ in a business-context, but on the scale of an entire global economy rather than solely within one organisation.”

So please tell me what I’m missing here – but is the goal here to get people to take responsibility for their own actions? Obviously this is on a global scale – but getting people to take responsibility for their own actions to a level where they recycle, turn the heating down or buy fairtrade is a huge mission that’s only just about taking off, and can result in heated and emotional arguments… in fact I believe this is a struggle that’s been going on probably since mankind became mankind (that’s the taking responsibility rather than recycling:-) I can see that it’s crucial that the world, or the majority of it, makes this cultural change otherwise mankind will cease to exist – but we’ve not managed it yet…

“cultural changes cannot be imposed from outside: to succeed, they have to be chosen as an act of personal free will – which means that we have to find a way to show that this worldview is preferable by and for everyone.”

Yes. I totally agree. And this is where I start to get nervous. I don’t know whether I believe this can be done. I do believe that if it can’t be done, we’re stuffed – end of the human race. So even if it can’t be done I have to do anything in my power to try.

I have always been drawn to people with high level visions and dreams, especially if I find them to have similar opinions to me. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who like to dream and have no interest in manifesting the dream – for them it’s too much like hard work. I’ve been used and let down by such people more times than I care to admit. They engage me and my efforts to empower them to give themselves a personal validation, an ego boost, without any intention of following through. They lie. They waste my time and energy. And now I am severely allergic to people who talk a good talk and then don’t actually do anything. Which is why I am always very keen to find a starting point, something concrete that I can actually do, which will have a tangible result. Put your money where your mouth is, find a way for me to work with you that goes beyond just talking the talk, and you’ll have my respect and my buy-in. (That’s kind of how I ended up co-driving a Hillman Imp to Budapest and back when I was seven months pregnant:-)

I must emphasise – I’m not saying at all that Mr Graves is a time waster as mentioned above – the evidence so far is swinging the other way. But this might explain why I’m so focussed on driving the ‘project’ forward in some way…

With regard to whiteboards and communes – they are concrete examples of things that can be done. I understand that whiteboards may come further down the line – I look forward to it:-) Communes of a kind are an idea that my husband is very keen on at the moment, and he’s trying to develop his visions of how this could work in different directions than conventional communes, and for different reasons. But that’s his story, and hopefully soon the detail will appear on his own blog too…

So later on in the comment on my comment I actually do find something approaching my starting point:

“We need to get much more clear on the direction first, with the main efforts at this point focussed on the deep-myth layer. (Sohail Inayatullah’s ‘Causal Layered Analysis‘ is a useful tool for this work, for example.)”

Mr Graves, or rather his high level view of the future, has my buy-in on the conditions that a) it actually does progress somehow, tangibly and soon (and I can see that we have a firm deadline of around 2020, which is very positive for me), and that b) I can somehow add value. But in order for me to add value I guess I need to know – who are ‘we’? And how exactly can I help? Causal Layered Analysis is totally new to me and currently somewhat over my head – what is the best use of my energy and time here?

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2 Responses to Possession-based Economy

  1. Tom Graves says:

    Hi Eleanor – thanks for the pointer to here, and for the comments.

    (Don’t bother with the ‘Mr’, by the way – I’m just Tom Graves, plain ordinary nothing-much me. 🙂 )

    Practical stuff: everyone has something different to offer, something to do – and your need is for something to do rather than talk, yes? So the best place is to start from where you already are, wearing your analyst’s hat.

    Think of this in exactly the same way as for any other change-project. (Sure, the scale is vastly larger than anything else you would usually deal with in a conventional business context, but the principles and practices are pretty much the same.) For example:
    – what is the overall vision that would guide this change?
    – what are the values that underpin and express that vision?
    – what are the overall requirements to reach towards that vision?
    – who are the stakeholders in this change?
    – what are their drivers, needs and fears?
    – how would you elicit their requirements for and in this change?
    – how would you establish ‘buy-in’ with stakeholders at every level and role within this change?
    – what projects and sub-tasks would be needed to implement this change?
    – what governance would you need in project-development, design and implementation?
    – what metrics do you need to ensure that each project keeps on-track to the overall vision?

    And so on: at the practical level it’s a bog-standard large-scale change-project, with all that that implies. (If you don’t already have a defined method for this, perhaps take a look at the extended version of the TOGAF ADM [Architecture Development Method] summarised in the ‘cheat-sheet’ here here, or explore the more detailed but more ‘people-oriented’ methods in my book ‘Everyday Enterprise Architecture’, which you can still download for free from here.)

    You already know how to do this stuff, through whiteboard-sessions and the like: you’re comfortable there, it’s familiar ground, so that’s the best place to start, and probably where you would spend most of your time. The only thing I’d add is to remind you to deliberately push yourself out of your comfort-zone from time to time, because that’s where real personal change tends most often to happen.

    Hope that makes more practical sense for you than the architect-style ‘theory-stuff’, anyway? (And thanks again for taking me seriously, too. 🙂 )

    Best etc
    – tom g.

    • I do like to be polite but Tom it is:-) Thanks for your reply. I’ll investigate those sources. I notice that in your next post you’re expanding on some of the questions you pose here, so I will continue to read, absorb and question. In the meantime though, I think education and dissemination are important, so I’m going to try to bring this discussion and these concepts to an audience that wouldn’t find it otherwise….

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