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Anita Doron

filmmaker - curator of magic unrealism,

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Wealth and power have been our conventional measures of success. What definition will better sustain us now and how can we move into it?

The other day, my mother mentioned that she hasn't accomplished anything in her life. (She's a forest and machine engineer who hasn't found a suitable job since immigrating from the Soviet Union 20 years ago) It broke my heart to hear this. We live in a world that makes people value themselves more and more singularly by their career highs and financial prowess.

The conventional model of success has proven to be destructive, separating and pitting us against each other in competition.

What would be a better definition of accomplishment for us and how could we collectively shift toward embracing this?

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    May 25 2011: Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the measures of success. But, HOW you achieve your Wealth and your Power is fast changing.

    How Wealth is created and accumulated has changed dramatically from feudal times through the industrial revolution and then through the 20th Century. Let's be simplistic, and say that in the past to become Wealthy, you have to play, er..tough. Well, maybe that's not true in the 21st Century. Doing the right thing, having an amazing idea, having a pitch that being good guys is good business might make you rich now. Wealth rewards Innovation and new ideas that make us all better off. Wealth seems like a pretty good way of judging success.

    How do you achieve Power (must be a TED talk on this!!)? Well, isn't it about getting people to follow you, to do what you want them to, to exert influence? Power of course can come from the accumulation of Wealth, and if we think the folks making our lives better are now those getting Wealthy, than it's great that these folks are now the Powerful. Hey, I'm optimistic. I think the good guys are going to be the Powerful guys!
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      May 25 2011: "Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the measures of success." Maybe for you...
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        Jun 1 2011: Johnny hi there
        What about if I phrased it as Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the Rewards for your successful contribution to the economy?
        Innovation, creativity etc are what have driven progress in Western economies since the industrial revolution. Does Mark Zuckerberg deserve to be as rich as he is because he created something as amazing as Facebook? Or Bills Gates, Microsoft?
        You might think that system of behaviour and rewards is less relevant post-industrial-revolition now in 2011, but I would be intrigued to know your point of view on a. what actions do we want to encourage to make us ALL wealthier, healthier and happier, b. what Rewards system can work (if not money) to promote these behaviours?
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          Jun 1 2011: Our gauge of wealth has to change from money to planetary health. The trouble is that we are big trainable monkeys and our trainers have convinced us that it is all about wealth. I would argue that innovation and creativity have driven progress. In the current monetary based system all this does is create more destructive practices.
          I suggest looking into alternate monetary systems like a demmurage currency. It is a currency that devalues over time and is only valid for a short period (like 5 years). It would not allow hoarding or accumulation by individuals and would become a working currency. Look for a book called "On Human Wealth, Beyond Scarcity and Greed".
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          Jun 5 2011: Quote: "What about if I phrased it as Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the Rewards for your successful contribution to the economy?"

          Not always. The list of people who made significant contributions to the economy and died penniless and powerless is pretty long (Goodyear et al).

          And others exert great power through influence not through commerce. They may have power but not wealth (Gandhi and friends.)

          Aligning "success" with anything external is problematic: we do hold up exceptional accomplishment in any field as a measure of success. We idolize the great in many fields.

          One of my heroes is Alice Owino Oketch from Nairobi, Kenya. She was a baker in a local bakery. This is a truncated version of a few years in her life:

          Her husband died, leaving her with four children. One of her sons died. Another went mad (and died.) A third got a bone infection in his leg that she could not afford to have treated. (When I found out, I paid for an operation.) She lived in a small "flat" that was about four meters by four meters. There was no electricity or running water. She got up at three in the morning so she could walk the 45 minutes it took her to get to the closest bus station so she could take the hour-long bus ride into work. Work she was paid about $30 a month to do ... until she was fired so that her employers would not have to pay her the benefits she had become entitled to. (They rehired her the next day for less money.)

          There's more but you get the idea.

          Do you know what Alice Owino Oketch did in her "spare time?"

          She wrote love songs. Songs of gratitude. Songs of appreciation for her life.

          Who would you count as a "success" some VC who contributes to wealth generation but is miserable or Alice Owino Oketch who, in the face of circumstance that would crush me (and most of the people I know), expresses joy for the life she has?

          Regardless of what else we "do," if we are not feeling what she feels, I doubt we should be called truly successful.
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          Jun 18 2011: Sorry for such a late reply...surf was up in Hanalei! a. what actions do we want to encourage to make us ALL wealthier, healthier and happier? I believe that your question is the problem. Success is and should be highly personal. There is not (and shouldnt be) a definition for all, just your own personal definition. There are some that define it in similar ways such as monetary wealth, and thats ok....for them. For me personally its balance. b. what Rewards system can work (if not money) to promote these behaviours? Depends on what behaviors you consider good. Again, people are different and value different things. Its what makes humans wonderful. I personally believe in simple values such as balance, integrity, love, etc. And I try to exhibit them everyday. My reward for this is just as simple...happiness. I think if people exhibit behaviors such as hate, deception, etc. They will never be (no matter how much money they make or awards they receive) happy. I feel sad for them.... Great talkin with ya!
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      Jun 1 2011: Mr. Walker,

      I don't agree with you that wealth is a good way to judge success. This presumes non-wealthy people or groups don't qualify for success. But to engage what I think you are trying to say: How one achieves wealth might be a robust way to measure success.

      In, my mind, this goes beyond great ideas and innovation, and includes emotional intelligence. Such relation-based power is most remarkable when it less about about getting people to do what you want them to do, than it is about engaging with people to reach their highest potentials while working with you.

      Think Henry Ford. A "good guy" leader from the brutal Industrial Era. He built his success not by seeking followers, but by engaging them to work with him to build cars (which in turn built his wealth and power). His employees "followed" his lead because he engaged and abetted their abilities in humane ways. For example, he insisted all Ford's employees wages were ample enough that each--from assembly line worker to administrative executive--could afford to buy the cars they built.

      Ford possessed a global view and pioneered "welfare capitalism." He raised wages, which improved the welfare and productivity of his employees. To compete, Ford's competitors were forced to raise wages, too. He wasn't frivolous, he was pragmatic. To balance out the costs of his progressive policies, Ford simply didn't offer as many different colors of cars.

      I agree there are similar good girls and guys out there these days. And, like you, I'm an optimist. But I think they a silent majority, at best. To convince our cultures they are making our lives better, the wealthy have a lot more work to do.

      They might start by following Ford's model for success a bit more while decreasing their fancy-car fleets to a bit fewer. Especially, perhaps, the negative-impact big muscle models. Which don't imply kind, common-cause sincerity.

      Andrea
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        Jun 1 2011: Andrea, Bravo!
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        Jun 1 2011: Yes! Ford wanted not only the wealthy, but everybody in the city to be able to drive in the weekend to the countryside! And Mr 'Glassfactory' (forgot his name) wanted the average person be able to drink from a glass, rather than an iron cup. And Steve Jobs wants to put a ding in the universe!

        And coca cola wants 'a bottle of coke within everybody's arms reach. And is a self-proclaimed development worker to introduce economics in poor regions with their loyalty systems. Don't know if it is good to have a coke everywhere, though I sure feel good and fresh after a bottle ;)

        So we need more of this for the common good. If more people have a non-financial mission embedded in their material wealth goals, we might get somewhere.
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        Jun 2 2011: Andrea, er..... Hang on, are you seriously saying that we in 2011 would be better off if Henry Ford had not invented mass production on industrial lines; had not transformed manufacturing in the United Sates?
        Thomas Edison is famous for his inventions, but he was a brutal businessman - one of the reasons the movie industry fled from New York to LA was to escape Edison's thugs operating a protection racket over what equipment was used. But hey, he invented the lightbulb.
        I don't approve of many of the modus operandi of Ford or Edison, or for that matter Jobs or Gates... but that is Irrelevance. They transformed our lives, and they were rewarded for that.
        Separate question, were/are they nice people, did they break the law, will they go heaven etc etc? But that is irrelevant to why we have "Wealth" as part of a Rewards Systems to say thank you to what these folks have done for us.
        On the other hand... tell me if you would prefer to live in a World where Edison, Ford, Gates etc had never existed, and we still had horse and carts, gas lamps and abacuses?
        • Jun 2 2011: On the other hand, I am happy to live in a world where Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin - one of the truly world-changing discoveries of the 20th Century, and he generated nothing like the wealth of Ford - does this mean that he was less successful?
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          Jun 2 2011: James,

          I think you misread my comment. First, some background: I co-founded a satellite tracking and wireless communications company in 1993. We used the then-nascent internet to deliver data to customers. It's when I began appreciate the "Henry Ford" way.

          Ford was a pragmatic leader, whose lead is worth following. My larger point was that good leaders of today could learn from Ford's leadership model, by engaging the well-being of their stakeholders. Indeed, as I said, many do.

          The challenge is when their success depletes the success of others. I think it is naive to term "thug" behaviors used in the pursuit of wealth irrelevant to society's measurement of success.

          The leaders' intent behind these is of most salience.

          For example, as Paul notes: Ford wanted all citizens to share the "common" wealth of the countryside. Without vehicles, bottom of the pay scale workers wouldn't be able to commute to work if they lived in the countryside, nor could they visit the countryside for productivity-boosting rest and rejuvenation if they lived in the city.

          Fast forward to today. Ford might see his full vision of happy commutes to work and countryside haven't succeeded. Line employees struggle to pay for fuel to commute. The countryside is ever farther to commute to, in part due to vehicle-abbetted suburban sprawl. Vehicles produce pollution, which has negative impacts on employees' health, which in turn costs employers more in healthcare costs, lost productivity, etc.

          Lost financial wealth, thus likely.

          Could Ford have fully anticipated these unintended consequence? Likely not. Could good guy/girl leaders today anticipate their efforts might have such unintended consequences? Likely much more than Ford could. Because (your point!) of innovations.

          My point is about good girl/guy leaders intentionality engaging the best of, for and with stakeholders -- clearly modeling the power of this method. And avoiding "intent-depleting" behaviors.

          Andrea
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        Jun 2 2011: Mike, haha! excellent point!
        Well, sort of... actually, I'm sorry to say that Alexander Fleming was in fact rather unsuccessful, and he deserved to be. Sure, he stumbled upon Penicillin, but it was never produced, manufactured at scale, or ever commercialised under his purlieu. For that, we have to thank the 2nd Wold War and good friends in Big Pharma (Merck, Pfizer, Squibb) in the United States.
        The issue of Patents in ethical-pharma is a really interesting topic. Ie: are patents good as an incentive to innovation. I think, on balance, we have to say patents are good, and the commercialisation of medicines leads to more investment in R&D and amazing drugs. Fleming might not have made Wealth from Penicillin, but the folks that deserve (those who made it possible to mass produce it at scale, and made it accessible to us all) certainty did. There was a big fight in the 1940s over patent rights for Penicillin, but without commercialisation and scale production, the "discovery of Penicillin, would have been totally irrelevant. So, kinda fair really that Fleming was indeed "unsuccessful"....
        • Jun 2 2011: I suppose we make the same point, but perhaps from different perspectives. I would describe him as successful for making the creative step of the discovery (however inadvertent it may have been). You would describe him as unsuccessful as he did not personally commercialise it - so others built their success on his discovery.

          He was however very highly honoured for his discovery, including a Nobel Prize and a Knighthood - are these not other measures of success?

          Maybe we'll just have to agree to differ ;-)
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        Jun 2 2011: Mike hi
        Don't mean to sound viscous, but my point is he was not successful (by any meaning of our word), and was in fact a failure. We don't have Penicillin because of Fleming (he never actually made the stuff) but thanks to Merck etc. He actually failed to develop a production process. Thus, is was a "failure", and didn't deserve Wealth and Power as his rewards for "success".
        But Yeah, a shared Nobel Prize is certainly one more than I have won!! :)
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        Jun 3 2011: Hey Andrea, I like you!! I've found someone on TED who isn't just ranting!
        Now I see: You're talking more about "externalities" - railroads damage the countryside etc.
        Externalities are a fascinating part of economics, but I think they're more about Rights really. Simply, your freedom "to" versus someone else's freedom "from". Do I have the freedom to drive my noisy and polluting Sportscar through the countryside upsetting the residents, for example. The problem is, that externalities are very nuanced and very hard to adjudicate "freedom to" versus "freedom from". You'd need to have some kind of Externalities Adjudicator, passing judgement. Or, you'd have to have a completely planned economy, where Ford would ask permission to invent the motorcar and then it would go some committee who would figure out that in 100 years cars might be bad for the countryside? I don't care for that kind of "planned economy", and nor do the folks who tired it for a few years in Russia!!!
        Secondly, I think you're making a value statement that is very arbitrary that we make value damage to the county-side more than the freedom that the motorcar gives us. I think I disagree with you actually! Henry Ford made cheap cars so now we all commute to work from spacess villas in the suburbs rather than take the bus from our pokey apartments next to the factory. This is great, no? These evaluations of externalities are always very subjective.
        Final thought on the countryside: I live in the UK, and our countryside is entire fake and manmade. Forests have being cleared, swamps drained. There is nothing left that is original countryside, so building motorways for cars and suburbs for people is just another extension of what's being happening for centuries. Do we wish that Elizabeth 1 had saved the Oak Forests by building fewer warships? Er no, because then I'd be speaking Spanish! So, tough to figure out the long term consequences of anything we do.
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          Jun 3 2011: James,

          Agreed, it's tough forecasting long-term consequences. Still: imagine businesses that didn't do regression analysis or projections? Few (including funders) would perceive hope for their success.

          Ford didn't need an externalities adjudicator. His emotional intelligence and understandings of his interdependence with others was his 'internal adjudicator." This was his "secret sauce" for success -- higher-order humane thinking: what separates the "doers to" from the "engaging with" others model of success. It has to do with empathy--seeing others interests as equally valuable as one's self-interests. Which in turn, requires insight -- the ability to reflect on and question ones own values and behaviors.

          For example: Ford published anti-Semite writings. When Jews shed light on them, Ford apologized. Though the apology was triggered by a defamation lawsuit, the apology was not legally required. Nor were his later efforts to halt international distribution of the publication. Again, there was no government policy or rule that required Ford halt the publishing. In fact, due to copy-write complications, Ford had to fight policy to give Jewish people "freedom from" the effects of his earlier behaviors.

          Which, I would argue, gets at an answer to the conundrum you elucidate. No need for externally enforced values or "permission," (nor even, economic threat) to engage one's big-picture emotional intelligence. And consequences could be quite rich, for self and others.

          World Bank's Vijayendra Rao explains how this lays out in current contexts. Rao addresses the diverse externalities, variables and relativity of cultural nuances you speak of, from an economist's view.

          An aside: related to your gratitude to Elizabeth i for protecting you from speaking Spanish. I suppose it is, as you point out, all relative: Rao, who speaks English, is from India which was colonized by the British (supported by economic interests of East Indian Company.)

          Andrea
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        Jun 4 2011: Funnily enough Andrea, I am an econometrician, and regression analysis is my thing!
        And that's why I think it is a pretty useless forecasting tool - ok for looking back for looking back.
        As I like to say, "using regression to run your business is a bit like driving your car always looking in the rear view mirror. Ok to do that on a straight highway, but less successful on a twisty Swiss mountain pass!"
        I do think this gets to the heart of the matter - it is very hard to see the future consequences of our actions, and so we can't plan for them. We do what we want to do, that's God's gift to man. Yep figuring out consequences is funny!!!
        - Elizabeth 1 chopped down all the trees, but hey, saved me from speaking Spanish and eating paella. But, we probably would have played better soccer ;)
        - We colonised India, and it was a pretty good run. But OMG, now they all speak English, and I'm moving all our IT from Macclesfield to Bangalore and we're created a monster that's going to be an economic powerhouse. (Isn't Rao a Keralan name, so would have been colonised by the Portuguese actually not the Brits? Odd thing, most folks don't know, is that in WW2, Keralla was a Portuguese colony and was freely used by the Germans, a mere matter of metres from the allies).
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          Jun 5 2011: James,

          Your TED profile notes that you fund orphans and self-sustaining farming projects in Third-Wprld countries. Where traversing twisty roads requires forging paths through undeveloped terrain, literally and figuratively. Not for the risk averse. But, good global guys and girls are brave.

          So, some Qs:

          1. Why do you invest in these efforts?
          2. Do you forecast a ROI?
          2. And, how do you measure success?

          Regards Germany: Do you ever wish Churchill would have gone just a hair easier on them during WW2, given their history against Brits in soccer since? :-).

          As for me, I'm glad the U.S. has made peace with England. It helped my soccer-playing, be that (humble by global standards) as it was.

          One of your Macclesfield neighbors, Manchester United's Alan Merrick brought the sport to my state during the mid-70s as founder and player for the Minnesota Kicks. And volunteered his time to coach me (as he has many).

          Of course, we Americans still can't hold a candle to you Brits, our football-forebearers. But it is most definitely not for lack of sports-focused funding. And we kick India's butt in one big, but dubious category: obesity. In fact, we are world-leaders in childhood obesity.

          Which brings me back to our Q regards how to measure success. If economic wealth is how we motivate and measure success, how is it that the more money we spend on health, the less physically fit wealthy nations are?

          Yes, it would be silly (and dang dull!) to correlate fast and fun car rides on quiet country roads to childhood obesity. But stop-light impeded commutes to fast-food outlets on the way to soccer practice have been among the many twisty-turned variables experts accurately predicted during the US suburban sprawl 70s and 80s.

          Notably, economic implications were downplayed due to denial abetted, in part, by profit-driven interests lobbying against them. So here's a Q, to engage your econometrician expertise: were their well-funded efforts a success?

          Andrea
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        Jun 5 2011: It wasn't really "Henry Ford" who introduced the $5 work day although he ultimately had to approve of it. It was "Ford Motor Company."

        I believe it was James J. Couzens who came up with the idea. Ford resisted the idea quite vigourously.

        I'll see if I can confirm whether it was Couzens or someone else and let you know for sure.

        Henry Ford nearly ruined the company. He would have if he hadn't died when he did.

        Being the founder, Ford is often given quite a bit of credit for other people's ideas.

        Edit: That didn't take long: It was Couzens and you can reference it in several of the works by Peter Drucker.
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          Jun 5 2011: Thomas, hi there,
          Just thinking about your comments at the top about Alice.
          Sure. In my personal life as I have travelled, and tried to do 'my bit' I have encountered many amazing people, who have truly awful lives, but have found the time and energy to help others and make a difference to people around them.
          I've known men and women save lives, rescue the godforsaken, and ask for nothing.
          But.... these folk (who I love, and have inspired me) have touched the lives of a few dozen people. They have not has the scale impact of Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. As we create a rewards system for the World we want, Wealth works pretty well at encouraging Innovation and Creativity: the things that have driven the West forward so that Real GDP doubles every generation. Alice is amazing, but if she'd invented Facebook, her village probably would have been better off. I think we need to ask/answer two questions:
          - What are the behaviours we want to encourage to build the World we want (new technologies, efficiency, innovation, freedom etc etc) to see
          - What is the "Rewards System" that rewards folks for doing these thing?
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          Jun 6 2011: Thomas,

          Many thanks for the information on James J. Couzen. It fills in a larger picture of how Ford was influenced and benefited from others quite different from himself. And how public perceptions of success often miss the larger picture.

          Andrea
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        Jun 5 2011: I like you Andrea, you're funny and you write beautifully :)
        I prefer to keep my personal life away from TED - so don't really want to get drawn on my work, or the social causes, orphanages etc. But, I'll just confess that pretty much everything I do in life I do for deeply instinctive reasons, and my Conscious being (ie: thoughtful) is very different from my Instinctive being (ie: I love that girl; i am hungry; oh my god those kids are dying..).
        At the personal level, let alone for corporations or Governments, it's hard to figure out the unintended consequences or long term effect of our actions and I certainly don't...
        - If I pay for my kids to go to college rather than they take loans, does that dent their self reliance and ambition?
        - If we stop the orphans being left to die in Malawi, does that mean the villagers are locked into a circle of dependency?
        I just think long term outcomes are hard to predict, and short term if the kids are dying in Malawi or shooting each other over drugs in Manchester, then hey I'll help now, and figure out the long term consequences later.
        So to come back to your point, creating a system that valued "externalities" or long term plan that takes account of possible outcomes is hard. I just think it's easier to leave to fair trade, and the markets will clear. Either pay the farmer for the crops we destroy from sparks from the roadroads, or we'll fit fireboxes, whichever is cheaper.

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