Personal Wealth by Julia Macintosh
So on Friday, I finally met up with Alex here at Ragged University. We talked about this and that, swapped ideas and leads, and toasted pints of water to the innate goodness of humanity. We also discovered in our conversational meanderings that the Ragged Project and Personal Wealth are kindred spirits.
Personal Wealth is the social enterprise recently established by myself and my friend and colleague Nina. Our founding belief is that every person possesses unrecognised and untapped personal wealth – their strengths, their gifts, their knowledge and skills and experiences and insights and ideas and innate goodness. Far too often we are prevented from using and sharing what we have to contribute. Nina and I want to help people find ways to unlock their own personal wealth; we want to help groups and organisations and communities unlock the collective wealth that resides within them.
We want to help people tap into the best of themselves and to work well together – and we want to support them in the challenging job of removing the barriers that prevent them from doing so. The barriers – as we all know too well – are both internal and external. It is the work of a lifetime to learn one’s way through those barriers. It can feel overwhelming, even frightening. We all need help and support.
Okay, so how does this actually translate into our work? Let me begin with where Nina and I met. We worked together for five years at an organisation that represents the voluntary sector in strategic planning structures across local government and statutory services. Those working in public services of all shapes and sizes will be familiar with the new normal: less resources + more demand = cross-sectoral partnerships… community-based solutions… (all together now) COPRODUCTION.
We can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them, is the mantra. We need to build capacity, we need to collaborate, we need to innovate. We need BETTER OUTCOMES.
For five years we heard this enthusiastic rhetoric – but what we witnessed was a tremendous unwillingness to really change. Change involves personal risk and personal commitment. For all the rhetoric we heard, our experiences showed us that the rules of the game were for the most part firmly entrenched in business-as-usual.
During those five years of working together, Nina and I became friends. We learned to trust one another, and discovered that our synergy was bursting at the seams. We also learned to recognise our mission, and realised that responsibility for its undertaking lay in our own hands, and would require us to take our own personal risk. We left secure employment at that organisation in order to set up Personal Wealth – and here we are.
Here is what Alex has to say about it: “The work you are doing at Personal Wealth is very important in the prevailing outcomes paradigm.” Thank you, Alex – but I think that your 140-character limit on Twitter has led you to inadvertently miss out a word. We believe the work we’re doing at Personal Wealth is very important in challenging the prevailing outcomes paradigm.
Actually, to be more precise: what we’re challenging is the control paradigm. What you refer to as the prevailing outcomes paradigm, at Personal Wealth we prefer to think of as the prevailing control paradigm. There’s nothing wrong with desiring and planning for better outcomes – why on earth should there be? But when this happens within a control paradigm, we lose sight of how complex our interactions really are. The control paradigm operates on the assumption that a planned output guarantees a planned outcome: add this input to that input, stir well and bake in a preheated oven: out comes your outcome. Follow the recipe to scale in order to maximise your efficiency and minimise your cost margin. So tasty!
There is a popular quote by Albert Einstein doing the rounds in professional circles and across social media: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
This desire to control for particular outcomes – this is part of “the same thinking.” Outcomes are going to happen, whatever we do. Think about it: can anything happen without an outcome? Change is the constant: it’s like we live within an endless animation, and outcomes are merely still shots captured in a frame.
Here’s an example: several years ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown set a target to end child poverty in the UK – a noble output for which to strive. Under the present government in Westminster, child poverty is increasing and Brown’s target is consigned to a historic footnote. Hey, this is what happens. You can plan all you like, but you’ll never hold the trump card. As John Lennon observed, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
The control paradigm arises from the Enlightenment, from the philosophies of rationalism and humanism. It is the paradigm which describes the world as complicated but functional, and containable within a set of natural laws which need only be understood and manipulated. The control paradigm is what allows us to imagine that we can create outcomes on spec. It is what keeps us forever focused on promises of a better future. We live out our entire lives aiming for that better future and never reach it; it forever slips away from our grasp and leaves us clutching the imperfect present.
So how is Personal Wealth challenging the control paradigm? Our mission is to help people and organisations recognise their individual and collective personal wealth for what it is: the source of all outcomes. We help people and organisations focus on what they have to work with, and we help them to remove the internal and external barriers which are blocking their potential.
The outcomes will take care of themselves. There will always be negative and positive aspects to our individual and collective experiences. How we cope with them, and what we are able to contribute to them, is what colours our outcomes. You might say that our mission, Nina and I, is to bring the Technicolour of personal wealth to the black and white world of the prevailing control paradigm.
We don’t have a recipe to sell you. We do not have a guarantee for what will create better outcomes – everyone must find their own answers – but we will support you to imagine and explore different possibilities and to learn new mindsets and behaviours. We will support you in learning how to learn, and how to contribute. We will help you to unlock what you’ve already got: infinite resources and innate goodness which will help to shape those constantly changing outcomes within which we live.
When I met with Alex, he described his guiding philosophy for the Ragged Project: every individual, he said, is a university with a membership of one and whose personal experience and understanding provides accreditation. Nina and I would add that every individual is endowed with personal wealth. Ragged and Personal Wealth together share the understanding that we never know, we only learn, ever. When we live to learn, we learn to live.