Money fascinates me. On the one hand, it seems to make the world go round; on the other hand, it clearly has no intrinsic value, worth, or power outside of the system of agreements we operate inside of. So how has something as abstract and fungible as “money” become so tangible in driving human behavior?
While there are times where money seems remarkably complex to me (like pretty much any time I try to read a book about investment algorithms or predicting market forces), most of the time it seems remarkably simple.
In the Coaching from the Inside Out self-study program, I speak to the two fundamental reasons that people build businesses. While this is just a model, I’ve found it to be a useful one as it quickly delineates whether we have a money problem (which can be solved with more money) or a fundamental misunderstanding problem, which can’t be solved with money but dissolves all by itself in the face of a deeper truth.
In some ways, human beings are remarkably straightforward. We will always do what makes sense to us at the time as best we can, given the thinking we have that looks real to us.
Since most of us don’t think that we are innately happy, secure, or free, it’s only natural to look outside ourselves for security, happiness, and freedom. And in our culture, the most popular place to look for those things is to money. We look around us and see people with money who seem happy, secure, and free, and we not only buy into that appearance, we assume that there must be some kind of causal or even correlative element to the amount of money we think they have and the experience of life we make up they’re having.
“Business” can be defined in many ways, but it’s simply a vehicle to facilitate the exchange of value. We put in value, generally in the form of our time and creativity, and the business gives us back value, generally in the form of money.
The reason we would build a business (as opposed to simply making the exchange directly one on one as an employee or service professional) is leverage. With a well-designed business, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and we don’t have to keep doing everything ourselves. We’re effectively putting our time and creativity into designing a goose that if properly fed will give us access to a theoretically unlimited number of golden eggs on demand.
But if we’re trying to grow a business in order to buy as much power, freedom, or security as we think we need, the problem is that the goose starts to take on some pretty monstrous qualities. It starts to get ravenous to the point where it needs to eat more and more in order to continue to produce golden eggs. Not only does it begin to consume more and more of our time and our energy, it needs to consume consumers.
And rather than question our basic premises, we spend even more of our time and energy looking for food for the “goose monster” so that it will keep laying more and more eggs so that we can be even more ok and even more free. And before we know it, our lives have become about creating golden eggs to buy our happiness by feeding more and more people to our business.
A popular strategy for finding food for the monster is called “service”. We’re taught that if we put our attention on serving people, they’ll get interested enough in what we do to spend time with our business – which can then eat them up and lay more golden eggs. So “service” goes from being a common sense way of creating value to a strategy for creating golden eggs. But because we don’t see that this whole cycle has been created out of our own insecurity, it gets to the point where we start worrying that if we don’t keep finding food for the monster, it’s going to turn around and consume us. And the very thing that we created to help becomes the biggest problem in our lives.
A quick aside – this is my story as much as it may be yours. For the first 20 years of my career, I built businesses in an attempt to keep myself safe, make myself happy, and give myself more freedom. And I wound up feeling more and more insecure, miserable, and stuck.
The way out, at least for me, was in seeing that the fundamental premise from which I was starting was just wrong. I saw that I was absolutely OK, intrinsically secure, and already free. I was born happy – and it was only later on in life that I came to think that my levels of security, freedom, and OKness were correlated to a specific amount of money in the bank.
Here’s how “strategy two” works – a business built from the starting point of already being complete, whole, happy, safe, secure, and well. You begin in the unknown – the big nothing – the fertile void of the present moment. An impulse arises to create. It might be a song or painting, a book or a training, a piece of furniture or a space where people can go to make their work lives easier. It could be a service or product that would meet a real human need arising from a genuine compassion for those that are stuck in an outside-in misunderstanding or whose circumstances limit their access to opportunities in the wider world.
These creations are not designed to create golden eggs – they’re designed to express something that wants to be expressed through us and/or contribute to the wellbeing of the planet. And when our business is an expression of that desire and intention, something very different comes into form. When we look out at the world from the field of pure possibility, we don’t see people as potential monster food. We see them as our friends and family, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.
I get that might sound idealistic. But when we’re not obsessing about keeping the goose alive (to keep ourselves safe and happy or make ourselves free), we start to see places where we can share our expression and people who will benefit from what we have on offer. We stop looking to reach some arbitrary external targets and look instead for opportunities to do what we do, give what we give, offer what we offer and share what we share. And the business starts to take care of itself.
We grow from need, not to grow our business into whatever form we think business should take. Form follows function instead of continually morphing into whatever shape we think will attract enough people to feed the goose. If we can’t do it ourselves anymore, we bring in people to help. If we realize there’s too much information to process and track with pen and paper, we implement computer systems. If we see the scope of our creative vision is such that it will take time before we can be self-sustaining, we seek outside investment.
Our business may wind up looking (from the outside) remarkably similar to one that exists purely to make enough money for its founders to thrive. But it’s all coming from what’s wanted and needed in real time.
It’s coming from the best we have inside us – our compassion love and creativity – not our insecure thinking, fear, and lack. It’s coming from presence and possibility, not from a place of cleverly tricking people into being eaten by my monster so that it will lay enough eggs so that me and my loved ones will be OK.
And here’s the payoff:
Anything that comes from presence, possibility, freedom, and love carries the flavor of its origin in everything it does.
With all my love,